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How to batch prime your beer or cider

Simplifying bottling, by batch priming and using a bottling stick

Although brewing your own beer and cider is very rewarding, there are a few parts to the process which can be a little tedious. Bottling is one of these tasks. A typical beer or cider kit makes 40 pints, or 23 litres, which depending on how good you are at siphoning, means filling 45 or so bottles.

If you want your beer or cider to have some fizz, then you need to add sugar to each bottle (known as priming), so that the yeast can turn that into CO2 gas, carbonating the drink. Adding sugar to every bottle is time consuming, and you may not add exactly the same amount of sugar to each bottle. You can use carbonation drops, which certainly simplifies the measuring, but there is a much easier way: batch priming.

What is batch priming?

Batch priming is a technique where you add sugar to the entire volume of beer or cider, rather than individual bottles. It has several advantages, firstly it's much simpler and therefore quicker and secondly, you will achieve the same level of carbonation across every single bottle.

Sounds great, how do I make bottling even easier?

Siphoning into individual bottles is time consuming and depending on how good you are at siphoning can lead to quite a lot of spillage. Using a bottling stick really takes the pain out of bottling, as it enables you to fill every bottle to the same level, without wastage. It's faster, cleaner and easier than siphoning.

What is a bottling stick?

A bottling stick is a rigid, hollow tube, with a one-way valve at the bottom. It can connect to a tap, or a piece of siphon tubing. The way it works is that you put inside the bottle and press it against the bottom of the bottle. This pushes on the valve, allowing the liquid to flow out, filling your bottle. Once the liquid level reaches the top, simply lower the bottle, or raise the stick, the valve shuts and the flow stops. When you remove the stick from the bottle completely, the liquid level drops slightly, leaving exactly the right amount of head space. The little bottler complete consists of a tap and bottling stick and is one of the best ways of filling your bottles.

Step-by-step guide to batch priming and bottling, using the little bottler complete

Step 1

To batch prime, you will need two fermentation vessels, one with your beer or cider in, the other will be your bottling bucket. Using a 25mm drill bit (such as a spade bit), make a hole in your bottling bucket, a few inches from the bottom. Make it high enough that the lowest part of the tap won't touch the floor. Put a little bit of Vaseline on the tap's thread and washer and screw the tap into the bucket, making sure the washer is on the outside of the bucket. Sterilise the nut and the tap's thread inside the bucket and tighten up the nut - don't over tighten, finger tight is enough.

 

Tap in bottling bucket

Fit your tap a little higher than this one, nearer the 5 litre mark!

Step 2

You need to clean and sterilise each bottle that you are going to fill. For a 23 litre kit, you will need 45-46 bottles. If the bottles are very dirty, use a bottle brush to clean them out, the sterilise them and if necessary, rinse out. Using a bottle tree enables the bottle to drain, while also making them easier to access come bottling time

Bottle drainer

A bottle drainer makes bottling simpler

Step 3

The next stage is to make up the sugar solution to prime your beer or cider. For ales, use 1 teaspoon per litre or approx. 3-4 grams. For lagers and ciders, use 2 teaspoons per litre or 6-8 grams. So, for a standard 40 pint beer kit, which is 23 litres, measure out between 69 and 92g of sugar (or malt extract) into a saucepan. We find that 80g is about right for most ales, but you may want your beer more or less fizzy, so you will need to experiment to find the carbonation level that suits you.

 

For lagers and ciders, which tend to be more highly carbonated, measure out between 138 and 184g of sugar or malt extract, depending on how much carbonation you want.

Weigh your priming sugar

Weigh your priming sugar into a saucepan

Step 4

The priming sugar needs to be made into a syrup, so boil up the kettle and pour on a small amount of boiling water - just enough to dissolve the sugar, then give it a stir with a sterilised spoon, until all the sugar has dissolved.

Add a small amount of boiling water to dissolve the sugar

Dissolve the sugar in a small amount of boiling water

Step 5

Allow the sugar solution to cool. While it is cooling, sterilise your bottling bucket. Once the sugar syrup has cooled slightly, pour it into the bottom of the bottling bucket.

Pour the sugar syrup into the bottling bucket

Pour the syrup into the sterilised bottling bucket
(the foam is from our no-rinse sanitiser)

Step 6

Now you need to siphon the beer or cider onto the sugar syrup, inside the bottling bucket. Sterilise a piece of siphon tube, and a rigid siphon tube (also called a racking cane), if using one. Half fill the siphon tube with water and attach one end to the rigid siphon tube, then lower the other end into the bottling bucket. As the water runs out of the tube, it will create suction, pulling the beer/cider with it. Try not to splash the beer or cider, by holding the end of the tube close to the liquid's surface.

Siphon the beer onto the sugar syrup

Hold the end of the siphon tube close to the liquid, to avoid splashing

Step 7

In order that you transfer the maximum amount of your brew to the bottling bucket, gently tilt it forward as the level approaches the bottom, avoid stirring up the sediment if you can. Using a rigid siphon tube with a sediment trap will help to reduce the transfer of sediment to your bottling bucket.

Tilt the FV to get all the beer out when you siphon

Tilt the FV so that you get as much of the beer/cider out, without sucking up sediment


All that's left is the yeast and less than half a pint of beer

As you can see, all that's left is less than half a pint of beer and the yeast (the yellow goo)

Step 8

You can wash the dead yeast sediment (called lees, or trub) down the drain, or put it on your garden, as it has lots of nutrients in it. Lift the bottling bucket up onto a worktop or counter, and fit the bottling stick to the tap. Open the tap to let the stick fill up. If you haven't already done so, put a lid over the bottling bucket, but don't clip it down. This will stop anything falling in while you are bottling.

Fit the bottling stick to the tap and open the tap to fill it

Fit the stick to the tap and open the tap to fill the stick

Step 9

Put a container on the floor, under the bottling stick, to catch any drips. Now take your first sterilised bottle and bring it up under the stick, putting the stick inside the bottle's neck. Push the bottle up so that the valve touches the bottom of the bottle and opens, allowing the beer/cider to flow out. Once the level reaches the top of the neck, remove the bottle and the flow will automatically stop

Use the stick to fill each bottle

Push the bottle up so that the valve opens and the bottle fills

Step 10

Repeat the filling process until all the bucket is empty. You will need to tilt the bucket forward for the last 4-6 bottles. Once you have finished, you need to seal your bottles. If using crown caps, sterilise the caps, then use a capper to fix each cap in place. Label your bottles and keep them somewhere warm for 2 weeks to carbonate, then move them somewhere cold to condition for 2-4 weeks, before drinking.

Cap your bottles using crown caps and a capper

Glass bottles can be capped with crown caps and a capping tool