Noob Brewer: Bottling is for the Birds!

Eeny meenie miney moe, one of us is gonna explode...

So I got my first taste of bottling my own beer this weekend, and I have to say, it’s equal parts tedium and anxiety.  First there’s all the work it takes to get the bottles ready – taking off the labels (nightmare!), cleaning the bottles, sanitizing the bottles, arranging the bottles, etc.  The only fun part of messing with the bottles was drinking their contents in the first place.

But the thing that really takes over the process is fear, specifically, fear of contamination.  When you’re brewing and fermenting, this is a concern as well, but you’re only worried about a few items (a clean kettle, a sanitized carboy and lock, maybe a bucket, some tools, etc.). It’s all very manageable.  But when you’re bottling, you have dozens of opportunities to screw up and contaminate your beer, either a bottle at a time or the whole batch at once. 

Then there’s the fact that I was damp for hours.  Between scrubbing and sanitizing and spraying beer all over my kitchen, this was a soggy process.  The only time I remember being wet in my house for so long was when the basement flooded years ago.  I’m sure this gets better with experience, but it was a wet mess on Saturday. By the time I was done, the kitchen smelled like the floor of a frat house basement, my back was heading into spasms, and I had about two cases of bottled Wheat beer to show for my trouble.  As long as it doesn’t explode in the garage, I think it’ll all be worth it, especially when I taste my own (extract) brew.

But still, I need to explore the costs and complexities of kegging.  I have an extra fridge, and it seems like siphoning 5 gallons of beer into a single aluminum cylinder is a far superior way to prepare a beer for consumption.  I love brewing and delight in the fermentation process, but bottling is for the birds!

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Categories: Beer, Home Brewing


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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17 Comments on “Noob Brewer: Bottling is for the Birds!”

  1. April 5, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    Take a big sigh of relief Jim the hard work is over! And congrats! I laughed when you talked about being soaked the whole time as I remember my roommates coming home to piles of wet towels in my kitchen. The good news is it does get easier. You fine tune your process and get more efficient at it. Funny you posted this today as I just posted a video the other day about what a PITA bottling is and the tools I use to make it easier. It may help you.

    Kegging is definitely easier since it’s like filling up one big bottle. Plus it’s pretty badass to have homebrew on tap. Drawbacks are the expense, room required, and you can’t bring your beer with you for sharing like you can in bottle. But then of course clever people figured out ways to bottle from your keg so that solves that problem.

    Can’t wait for the 1st tasting post.

    • April 5, 2010 at 11:57 am #

      I’ll take all the tips I can get, Billy, so I’ll definitely check out your post. This is actually my second brew (the first is still fermenting) and it tasted pretty good before carbonation, so I think it’ll be a solid wheat. Can’t wait to taste it.

      Now here’s hoping that I don’t come home to “beer art” dripping from the garage walls some night this week…

  2. Bill Bennett
    April 5, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Being wet and having your skin peel off the bone due to the copious amounts of cleansing and sanitizing agents required is part of the beauty of homebrewing. Cleaning 5 gallon cornies is not to fun either, they cant be run through the sanitize cycle in the dishwasher. That being said, a beer-gun and a keg does make bottling less of a chore. I find that paranoia is a good thing with beer, it more than likely will lead to success, especially when your paranoid about contamination. If you had called, I could have set you up with a growler to sip from as you bottled.

    • April 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

      Now you tell me!! A growler would have been great (I’m still interested to see how Elena’s Nut Trail Ale has aged).

      I agree that paranoia is important, but I couldn’t stay out ahead of it when I was bottling compared to when I brewed and checked in on the fermentation. I was a a little over matched and felt like I was introducing bacteria into everything. Then I got to the point where I gave up, relaxed and just tried to have fun splashing around in the kitchen. I’m sure everything will turn out fine.

      But for the record – I’d rather clean our a corney with a toothbrush then to fool with all those damn bottles again!

      • Elena
        April 5, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

        get a growler and give a call, we’ll hook you up.

      • April 5, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

        Thanks, Elena!

        I just so happen to have an empty growler at home. Go figure, huh? I’ll reach out some time this week, probably closer to the weekend so it’s fresh when I actually have time to enjoy your handy work.

  3. April 5, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    Oh man I know exactly how you feel. The bottling was the least fun part of the process and the part where I was most concerned about infection. I’m seriously thinking about going to kegging sooner rather than later to avoid having to worry about so many bottles and caps having to be cleaned and sanitized. Also it will free up all the empty bomber bottles piling up in my bedroom.

    • April 5, 2010 at 12:10 pm #

      Amen, Mike!! I loved everything about brewing right up until this point. I’m sure I’ll love everything that comes next (you know, the drinking beer part), but I’m with you on the kegging. Can’t happen soon enough! I’ll just get some growlers for my friends.

  4. April 5, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    Jim, you reached the top of the mountain, just an easy cruise down hill now. You’ll soon realize that it is nothing and the handling of equipment regarding sanitation and pasteurization will become second nature. For me I barely think about it because it is part of the process, the flow, the harmony of brewing. I now consider myself one of the lucky ones because I have figured out how to both keg and bottle from the same batch. (and I do it with only 75 cents of hose) but that is another lesson. 🙂

    The next batch will be easier, the third one easier, and so forth. Soon your friends will be asking for growlers!

    Keep truckin’

    • April 5, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

      It’s the only time so far where I’ve felt a little in over my head, but I still managed fine. Next time I’ll know what to expect. I think I’m gonna hang out at the nuclear power plant in hopes of growing a third arm between now and then. Wish me luck.

  5. April 5, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    Bottles get easier, especially if you do what I do and ignore the fact that other labels are on there. Luckily, you’ve got a beer that has alcohol in it and is very unfriendly to those other bacteria. Sanitizing well is important but I’ve always used my bottling bucket, filled the bottle about 1/4 full, shaken around, poured out, rinsed, filled, capped and called it a day. Bottling is certainly the most tedious part but it really does get a lot easier. I just bottled some brew yesterday. Here’s the thing, though, once you crack those puppies open and love the taste, you’ll forget about the trouble of bottling…trust me on this one.

  6. April 6, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    I think I’m the only homebrewer who doesn’t mind bottling. In fact, I kind of like it. I’m being serious here too. My kids love it…they all help out. My oldest, Malachi (7) is capable of filling the bottles while I cap.

    • April 6, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

      Actually, my kids love to help out with stuff like this,too. But I had that crazy look in my eye and my wife shooed them out of the way. Maybe now that I have a handle on it, they’ll help out next time.

      Also, I wish you guys lived in NJ. I’d invite you over for bottling day II in two weeks!

      • Don
        April 6, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

        The really cool thing about Bottling day II will be that you will be able to enjoy your own home brew as you bottle your Porter! How cool is that!, and who knows, maybe I’ll be there to help… 😉

        • April 6, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

          I was thinking the same thing, bro. It’ll be cool to crack open a wheat beer (not my favorite style, but beers are like kids – when you make them, they can do no wrong) and start bottling the porter. Unfortunately, it’ll have to sit in the bottles for four weeks before it’s really ready. I hope it’s worth the wait!

          And if you’re around, I’ll assume we’ll have better things to do than bottle beer. 😉

      • April 7, 2010 at 8:33 am #

        I’d be up for that too…perhaps we could do a collaborative brew one of these days?

      • April 7, 2010 at 10:33 am #

        Yeah, Nate. We could do a half extract (my contribution) and half all-grain brew (your part). Maybe we could call it “One Training Wheel Wheat” or “Baby Steps Stout.”

        Actually, it’d be terrific to get together and brew. It’s really fun to do and leaves lots of time to chat. It’s sorta like camping, but without the tents and with better beer.

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