You had a successful brew day. Fermentation went off without any problems, and now you are ready to enjoy your delicious brew. But will you bottle it up or toss it in a keg? There are pros and cons for both and today we will give you a scoop on how each method works and why you might want to choose one or the other.
The two main methods for homebrewers to package their beverages are either bottle or keg. And when we talk about those two methods we often distinguish them by the way we infuse carbon dioxide into the drink to create the fizz we crave.
With bottling, we use a technique called bottle conditioning which is where we use added sugars to feed the remaining yeast. And in return create more carbon dioxide and then the bottle is sealed it will build pressure creating bubbles.
For kegging, we use forced carbonation which is where we use a tank of carbon dioxide to inject gas into the beverage to make it fizzy. For most beginner brewers the cheapest option is to start with bottling.
The most positive thing about bottling is that it’s cheap. Saving old bottles or collecting some from your friends and you can package your beer for free. You just need to make sure to clean them. By using beer bottles you can ensure they can withstand fermentation pressure. Flip-top bottles also work great but again just make sure they can handle pressure so they don’t explode. To avoid exploding bottles check our Common Causes & Remedies of Exploding Bottles in Homebrewing.
There are a few great tools to make your bottling life easier.
Bottle calculator to know how many bottles you’ll need to fill. All you need to do is add the total amount of beer and then start adding in a number of bottles until you hit the target amount needed. Always add a few more just in case.
Priming calculator, priming is a process of adding sugar to fermented beer. This is a crucial step because if you miscalculate how much sugar you add you can either have under carbonated beer or worse. On the other hand, over-carbonated beer can be a potential risk for an exploding bottle. The way you use this calculator is to input your total volume, desired pressure rate or volumes of carbon dioxide from the chart, and the highest temperature your beer hit during fermentation. That temperature is an important factor for getting the right pressure so try to be accurate on how high the temperature got. Then you get the amount of sugar to use.
There are many types of sugar that can be used. Anything that has real sugar in it will work. But no artificial sweeteners. The best to use in our opinion is dextrose or corn sugar as it easily dissolves, unlike table sugar that can take a while to fully dissolve.
There are also pre-made sugar tablets that you can just drop into bottles. You can either divide the sugar by the number of bottles you have and put that amount to each one. Or you can use a bottling bucket to make your life easier. All you need to do is put the full amount of sugar in a separate bucket and carefully transfer your beer on top. Make sure not to oxidize your beer as much as you can. Gently stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar evenly and then you can just rack it into the bottles.
Filling up your bottles
Bottling is usually done with an auto-siphon and tubing. The way it works is you submerge the siphon into the beer and then lift up the inner part and swiftly push down until the liquid begins moving through. It might take a few pumps to get going. A bottling wand helps you move from bottle to bottle with minimal mess. Then you just need to seal the bottle with a cap.
Caps are very cheap and you can buy them in bulk. A hand capper is a cheap option and a one time purchase that should last you forever. Set those bottles somewhere dark and cool for 2 weeks. Thats how long is going to take to get the right amount of pressure. Bottle conditioned beers are desired by some beer lovers especially in certain styles like Belgian ales and other strong beers.
They’re said to have a cleaner and more complex flavor, more defined carbonation, and longer shelf life. At the bottom of your bottle, there will be remains of dead yeast much like at the bottom of your fermenter. So unless you like the flavor of yeast it might be best to dump the last sip or two.
Kegging can be simpler and faster. Kegs come in all shapes and sizes but for the most part, they don’t come cheap. The typical homebrewing keg is known as Cornelius keg or Corny keg. They can hold 5 gallons of liquid. That’s why most beer recipes you see are for 5 gallons. There are 2 main types of Cornies. Pin lock and Ball lock. This just refers to the type of connection needed for the keg.
We would suggest you pick one type and stick to it so you don’t need a lot of different parts. On top of the keg, there is the main opening for putting beer in and to easily clean. There are also two posts on top. One for the gas to go in and another for the beverage to come out. Each of these posts has its respective connectors. Gray is for gas and black is for a beverage.
Also on some kegs, you will have a PRV or pressure relief valve. That will release pressure when it gets too high. This makes purging the keg with CO2 super easy to minimize oxidation when transferring beer in.
CO2 tanks also come in different sizes, but the 5 pound is the most common size for an average homebrewer. You also need a regulator to set the desired pressure. To fill them up head over to your closest welding supply store. Most of them will fill up a tank for a decent price. The bigger the tank the better value you will get and the more beers you can carbonate. A 5-pound tank should last you 6 to 8 kegs of beer.
With a little more upfront cost you can now keg. Transfer your beer into a clean sanitized and purged keg. Close it up and add pressure from your CO2 tank. We set our regulator to 10 PSI and then we just let it sit for about a week.
To serve from a keg you need to attach your liquid tubing to a liquid connect. And then have some sort of tap. Cobra taps or picnic taps are the cheapest options. Forced carbonating beer cold works much better than warm as CO 2 dissolves into liquid better at cold temperatures.
While kegging, in general, is a simpler and quicker method of packaging it has a much more expensive price tag to start. But after you have bottled few hundreds of bottles you’ll begin to learn how much convenience and time can cost to you if you find homebrewing to be a hobby for you. We can’t recommend enough into kegging. Cheers.