We've brewed the beer, let it ferment, and now we're finally ready to get it into bottles. We're so close to having homebrew we can almost taste it! And in fact, we did sneak a little taste - for purely scientific reasons, of course. Take a look!
1. Fermented Homebrew - This beer has now been fermenting for three weeks - one week in the primary fermenter and two weeks in the secondary. In the last week, we've seen no activity at all (as evidenced by bubbles of CO2 in the airlock), so we can be pretty certain the yeast has finished consuming all the sugars in the beer. It's ready to bottle!
2. Sterilized Bottles - We begged empties off our friends and saved our own so we'd have enough to bottle. Five gallons of beer is more or less equal to two cases of beer. That's a lot of bottles to collect!
3. Sterilized Bottle Caps - Once again, everything needs to be completely sterile so no unwanted bacterias or wild yeasts get into the beer and cause off-flavors.
4. Priming the Beer - Before we can bottle it, we need to give the beer one last dose of sugar, called "priming sugar." This is the yeasts' last supper, and the carbon dioxide the yeast produces will carbonate the beer while it's in the bottle. You can use corn sugar, cane sugar, or dry malt extract for this step. (We went with cane sugar.)
5. Mixing the Beer and the Priming Sugar - You put the simple sugar syrup into a clean (and sanitized!) bucket and then siphon the beer into it. The beer will mix with the syrup as it fills the bucket. We had a surprising amount of bubbles in our beer, almost like it was already carbonated. This worried us a bit, but in the end we just crossed our fingers and moved on!
6. Filling the Bottles - We had a special attachment for the siphon hose with a one-way valve at the opening. We inserted the attachment into the bottle until the valve pressed against the bottom, then the beer would flow out and fill the bottle. We filled the bottles all the way to the top before pulling the attachment out. The displacement from the attachment leaves just enough head room in the bottle.
7. Putting on the Caps - It took a few tries before we were sure the caps were actually secure, but it went pretty fast once we got the hang of it. You put the cap on, position the capper, and then press down on the "wings" until you feel the sides of the cap give way under the pressure.
8. Counting the Bottles - It was extremely satisfying to see the table filled with bottled beer. Our bottled beer!
9. A Preliminary Taste - We kept a little fermented beer out for a taste test. The flavor was fairly sweet with not a lot of hops or depth, but it definitely taste like beer. Flat, room-temperature beer, but beer all the same!
Now we need to let the bottles sit for another two weeks (agony!) while the yeast carbonates the beer. If you've been following along, and if we haven't gotten our dates off by too much, this whole process from brewing to ready-to-drink beer takes 5 weeks. If we needed to, we could have let the fermented beer sit in the carboy for another few weeks before bottling without too much affect on the flavor.
(Images: Emma Christensen)