You little beer fermenter has been bubbling away and the air lock is no longer showing any bubbles. Now if you have a hydrometer you will want to take a measurement and see if your yeast has converted all available sugars into alcohol. For these recipes I get about a 1.010-1.015 for both the ales and lagers on my hydrometer. I would not make any checks with the hydrometer until the airlock stops bubbling as you want to avoid any possible air contamination. When I started brewing I didn’t have a hydrometer and just worked ales by if the bubbling had stopped. But the Hydrometer is a really good to have on hand if you are doing lagers as they don’t buble quite as much as ales and work a bit slower than the ales. The hydrometer gives better readings and is very important to your recipes. If your yeast is still working and you bottle you can have bottles explode when you start the carbonation process! Letting your beer sit a little extra time in the fermenter will not hurt the flavor, so if in doubt wait a day or 2 and take another reading.
- Your fermenting is done and now you are ready to bottle. If you are carbonating via sugars and in the bottle you want to get those sugars dissolved in some water and then cooled. Some folks swear by “corn sugar” but I use 2/3 of a cup of plain white sugar dissolved in 2 cups of almost boiling water then cooled to room temp. The heads of both my ales and lagers are rich and thick with a nice “lace” left on the glass. Some folks use Kegerator’s or CO2 gas, but I haven’t so you if you go for that on your carbonation ask them for the directions on what you should do or your beer ingredient supplier. They will have better info for that process than I do!
- Sanitation again is critical. Make sure your bottles are clean and I give each bottle a little spritz from my spray bottle of 5 star cleaner. Spray down the bottling bucket as well as the bottling wand. If using bottle caps get them soaking in a bit of 5 star cleaner. If you are using 12 0z. bottles having them in a 6 packs or a case box makes this a lot easier than if they are loose bottles in a box.
- Prepare your bottling bucket make sure the spigot is off and add your sugar for carbonating. Then using your “Raking cane” and tube siphon the beer from the fermenting bucket to the bottling bucket. Trust me even using LME your yeast beasties and leftover grain will form a sludge in the bottom of the fermenting bucket and you don’t need that in your bottles.
- You don’t want to add air to your bottles and this is where the bottle wand really shines as well as creating the head space for the carbonation to take place. Because of displacement your bottle wand will create the correct head space in bottles from 12 oz. to 32 oz. that I have used. I’m not sure if it will create the correct head space on bigger bottles or liter+ size growlers. But I think you should be fairly safe from any and all CO2 explosions. At least I’ve never had a bottle explode of any size or type.
- I still use my Mr. Beer plastic bottles for checking carbonation. If you can squeeze the bottle, carbonation is not done. So having a few resealable plastic liter/quart bottles will give you a way to check your carbonation level without actually opening your glass beer bottles. Wait at least 5 days after bottling before checking and 7 days or more you too will have good carbonation. I think when you are new to brewing you tend to get impatient to try your beer or at least I was!
- Using the bottle capper, I found having a surface about hip high worked better for bottle capping rather than kitchen counter height. Now I’m about 5’5″ and average kitchen counter was about 3- 4 inches to tall for me to make capping easy and quick. My preference but I’ve seen the same height work for folks that are taller than I am though they can use an average counter as they have those 4 inches. If you are a bit shorter a kitchen table may make capping go quicker and more easily than using the kithen counter.
- Now you have bottled your brew and it needs to carbonate. I take my bottles to the basement and place it in a Rubbermaid Tuffbox which holds exactly 2 cases of bottles and I have 2-3 of the Mr. Beer plastic bottles outside to check the squeeze factor of those bottles. While I never have had a blown or exploded bottle I don’t trust them. It’s a lot easier to clean a Rubbermaid tote and dump broken glass in the trash, than cleaning shelves or floors, walls from exploding beer bottles. Check the plastic bottles every few days but give your ales at least 5-7 days to carbonate and lagers 10 or more.
- Now your beer is carbonated but now comes the conditioning. It’s not really like aging a wine or hard alcohol. It’s a bit like giving your beer time to let all the flavors start to slowly meld. If you made a stew or soup the taste is actually richer/better after it has sat over night in the fridge. Now it takes a bit of time especially for the lagers as they start out at a lower temp to condition and really develop all the flavors. So a month or more is not unusual. Most recipes will give you a basic guideline of how long to condition. But it’s your beer and you will have 48-52 bottles to see what you like and how long you want to condition your beer. You can have an ale ready in less than 2 weeks or you can work on a beer that takes 6 months or more to be ready to drink. It is up to you and what you like.
If you follow the instructions/recipes I can almost guarantee your worst beer made at home will be better than probably 80% of most beers you can get in a grocery store. You will get the full benefit of all that grain and yeasty goodness almost like liquid bread as you are not pasteurizing and killing off the good bugs of beer. Brewer’s yeast is considered a great supplement and chock full of vitamins and you will be creating your own as well as a yeast that maybe used for bread making a great use of extra grain and a barter item that you can use today and will become more valuable I think in the future if the SHTF.