- What is “bottle conditioning”? Most homebrewed beer – and some commercial beer too – carbonates naturally in the bottle using the live yeast. This is called bottle conditioning. These beers will have yeast sediment in the bottle so you should slowly pour them into a glass before drinking.
- How long until my beer is ready to bottle? Primary fermentation usually takes a week or two. You want to make sure fermentation is totally finished before bottling. If you’re unsure, just let the beer sit for a few more days or even weeks, more time will only improve the flavor.
- What is priming sugar? Can I use something else? Priming sugar is the sugar you add just before bottling that creates the carbonation in bottle conditioned beer. The term usually refers to dextrose corn sugar but other sugars can be used. Honey or table sugar will work though they could potentially alter the taste. Most brewers use dextrose because it is inexpensive and has almost no flavor.
- How much sugar should I use to carbonate my bottles? 1 ounce per gallon is a good rule. If you don’t have a scale, use ¾ cup in a 5 gallon batch. Or you can always use “carb drops” - they are little sugar tablets, each tablet is good for one 12oz bottle.
- How long until my bottled beer is ready to drink? Two weeks is typical for a beer to naturally carbonate, though it might take longer if it is cold or the yeast is not healthy. A little bit of aging is good for beer anyway so four weeks is actually better if you can stand the wait.
- How long can I keep my bottled beer? It depends on the type of beer. The average beer will be at its peak for about 1 to 6 months. However, beer doesn’t really “go bad” like say, milk. The flavor just evolves over time. In some cases the taste degrades after awhile, in others it might actually improve. As a rule of thumb, lighter/weaker beers should be drank right away while darker/stronger beers can stand some aging. Really strong beers like barley wine are often aged for years.
- Where should I store my bottled beer? Beer does not have to be stored cold but avoid places with drastic temperature fluctuations. Bottle conditioned beer should be stored at room temperature for at least the first few days to make sure the yeast starts carbonation.
- Can my bottles really explode? Yes. If you use too much priming sugar or if the beer wasn’t done fermenting you can end up with “bottle bombs”. That’s why if you’re not sure, it’s always a good idea to keep the beer in the fermenter for a few extra days to be sure.
- What’s the best way to clean/sanitize bottles? For cleaning, I find soaking them overnight in hot water and PBW works wonders. If you’re recycling bottles this is good for taking off the labels as well. For sanitizing, a quick dunk in StarSan or Iodophor works best. If your dishwasher has a high heat/disinfect setting you could run bottles through, but I’d be wary of food particles and soap residue. You could boil them or bake them but of course you’d have to let them cool down before filling them with beer.
- When should I clean/sanitize my bottles? You can clean them anytime but I find washing them out before the beer residue gets sticky is helpful. You’ll want to sanitize your bottles right before you fill them.
- What type of bottles can I use? You’re going to need bottles that can seal air tight so avoid twist-offs. Standard crown cap bottles that require a bottle opener are your best bet. They are cheap and plentiful; you can just pull them out of the recycling can and wash them. The flip-top, grolsch-type work well too and you don’t need caps or a capper. They tend to be a bit more costly however. Also, try to get dark glass, brown or blue, green is OK but not great and clear bottles should only be used as a last resort.
- Man, bottling is tedious is there another option? Yes, I hate bottling and started kegging years ago. I have never met a home brewer who regrets switching to kegs. The trick is you need the space and some pricey equipment to get set-up; but it is a one-time cost and will save you hours of labor down the road. There are lots of options for kegerators so do some reading before you decide. There are some alternate systems out there like Party Pig and Tap-a-Draft but I’ve heard mixed reviews and could not personally recommend any of them.
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