Home brewing facts

 

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Bottling, barrelling & conditioning questions for beer, wine and cider

When can I bottle / keg / barrel my beer or cider?

Many off-the-shelf beer and cider kits will tell you that your beer or cider is ready to bottle in a week, however, in many cases this is too soon. While the bulk of fermentation may have completed after a week, your beer or cider will benefit from being left for at least two weeks before bottling. This will give the yeast time to completely finish fermenting all the sugar, including some of the harder to ferment products. If beer is bottled too soon, some of these products can give your beer off flavours, typically apple-like and yeasty.

The longer the beer or cider  is left in the fermentation vessel before bottling, the more time your brew has to condition, and the more yeast will sink to bottom, giving a clearer pint and less sediment in your bottles. However, the maximum time your beer or cider should be left in the primary fermenter, on top of the yeast, is three weeks. If you wish to allow your brew to condition for longer, before bottling, then it should be siphoned into a clean, sterilised secondary fermenter, preferably one where the volume is only just larger than the brew, to reduce the headspace and minimise the oxidation risk.


How do I bottle my beer / wine / cider?

You can use a piece of siphon tubing to fill your bottles, although it can be quite tricky and messy! Using a rigid siphon tube with a sediment trap will help prevent you transferring sediment to your bottles, but a plain piece of siphon tubing is otherwise OK. While you can suck on the end of the siphon tube to create suction, this isn’t very hygienic, so it’s best to either use an auto-siphon, or to have the siphon tube filled with water. First of all, put your fermentation vessel on a worktop, and a bucket on the floor, or a chair. Fill the siphon 2/3 full with water and place your thumbs over each end. Lower one end of the tube over the bucket, but keep your thumb over the end. Now place the upper end into your beer/cider/wine. Take your thumb off the end of the lower end of the siphon tube, the water will run out into the bucket, creating suction and bringing your beer/wine/cider into the tube. Once it reaches the end, put the siphon tube in your first bottle. You can use a clamp to stop the flow, between bottles.

A much easier method is to use a bottling stick, such as the little bottler complete. This comprises of a tap, which can be fitted to your fermentation vessel, and a bottle stick with a one-way valve on the end. Simply attach the bottling stick to the tap and open the tap to allow the stick to fill. Now, push a bottle up, until the valve touches the bottom, push up to release the valve and the bottle will fill. Once full, simply remove the bottle and the flow will stop. If you don’t want to drill a hole in the fermenter to fit the tap, the little bottler will also fit onto the end of a piece of 5/16-inch siphon tube. Simply start the siphon process using water, as described above, then use the bottling stick to fill each bottle.


How do I transfer my beer or cider to a barrel?

You should siphon your beer or cider out of the fermentation vessel, into the barrel (See above for siphoning tips). Do not pour the beer or cider, as this will oxygenate your brew and cause it to go off within days! If you want to carbonate your beer or cider in the barrel, add the sugar to the bottom of the barrel and siphon the beer or cider onto it. Once siphoning is complete, use a sterilised plastic spoon to give the brew a gentle stir, before sealing with the lid.

 

Why do I need to add sugar to my bottles / keg?

Adding sugar to your bottles or keg provides more food for the yeast, which will produce a little alcohol and some Carbon Dioxide gas. As the bottles and barrel are sealed, the gas has now where to go, so dissolves into your beer / cider. This is known as carbonation. When you open the bottle, or pour a pint from the barrel, the Carbon Dioxide is released from the drink, giving it fizz.

 

How much sugar do I need for carbonation/priming?

For a beer, use about ½ tsp per bottle (or 1tsp per litre). For lagers and ciders, you can use up to 1tsp per bottle (2tsp per litre). For pressure barrels, only use about 85-100g, maximum. Any more than this will cause the pressure to become too high and the excess pressure will vent out of the safety valve. Barrels are good for beers and ales, but are not suited to highly carbonated lagers and ciders, use bottles instead.

 

How long does carbonation take?

Carbonation should be done at room temperature (around 20C) and will take 4-5 days. However, we usually recommend allowing a full two weeks for your beer or cider to carbonate properly.

 

What is Brewing sugar?

Brewing sugar is pure dextrose, a type of sugar that yeast find easier to use than table sugar.

 

What is that stuff floating on my beer?

It’s a combination of yeast, which hasn’t settled to the bottom, proteins and other residues from the fermentation process. It’s all natural and will usually be left behind when you siphon, especially if you use a sediment trap. Even if it does go into your bottles or barrel, don’t worry about it, it will settle out as part of the sediment during the conditioning process.

 

How soon can I bottle my wine?

You must only bottle your wine once fermentation has completely finished. The best way to tell if fermentation has finished is to use a hydrometer (see guides section). Bottling your wine before fermentation has stopped can cause the corks to be forced out, or the bottles to explode (especially if you are using screw caps). Most wine kits come with a fermentation stopper (called wine stabiliser), but if you are making country wines, you can buy fermentation stopper to add to your wine, prior to bottling.

 

Do I need to lay my wine bottles on their sides?

If you have corked your wine bottles, then you should leave them upright for 24 hours, before laying them on their sides for storage. This keeps the cork wet, which prevents it from shrinking and your wine spoiling. If you use novatwist screw caps or plastic corks, then bottles can be stored upright.

 

What type of bottles can I use for sparkling wines / champagne-style wines?

You must use champagne bottles together with champagne corks and wire cages. Sparkling wine carbonates in the bottle, building up pressure, which champagne bottles are designed to withstand. Do not use regular wine bottles and corks or screw caps – the bottles are highly likely to explode

 

What is conditioning?

This is basically a maturing process, which enables the yeast to drop to the bottom of the bottle or barrel to form a sediment, as well as develop the body and flavour of your beer or cider. The minimum recommend conditioning time is two weeks, but leaving your bottles or barrel to condition for a month or more, will usually improve your beer or cider substantially.


How long do I need to condition my beer / cider for?

We recommend a minimum of two weeks, but the longer the better.


Is it better to use bottles or a keg/pressure barrel for my beer?

The choice is yours and each has its own advantages and drawbacks. Bottles can be put in a fridge, whereas barrels generally can’t, unless you have a spare fridge. Bottles are easier to transport, although it takes more time to clean them and fill them than a barrel.


Can I put lager or cider in a keg / pressure barrel?

While barrels are great for ales and still ciders, they are not recommended for lager or sparkling ciders. The reason for this is that lagers and ciders require a much higher level of carbonation than ales. A pressure barrel is unable to withstand the pressure of the high level of carbonation required, so the excess is vented from a safety valve, the result of which is that lagers and ciders taste flat. Use bottles for lager and sparkling cider, instead.


What type of bottles can I use?

You can reuse glass and plastic bottles which have had carbonated drinks in them, providing that they are not made of very thin glass. As a general rule of thumb any 500ml glass bottle which weighs less than 320g, is unsuitable and liable to break during the carbonation phase. Sparkling wines must be bottled into champagne bottles with the proper corks and cages. All our bottles are designed for homebrew and of the correct strength.


What are bottle bombs?

This is where a bottle bursts or shatters, due to the build-up of pressure during the carbonation process. This is very dangerous, as the explosion can send pieces of glass flying some distance. This is why it is important to always ensure that fermentation has stopped before bottling and to use the correct bottles.