CLEANING & SANITISING
There is no more important facet of homebrewing than cleanliness, sanitariness and, as a result, perfect beeriness. Bottles need to be cleaned first and this is best done as you finish pouring the beer out of them and into your glass. Rinsing them now means that washing them after is an easier job and the cleaning is more thorough. I give all mine a quick swish with cold water – saving the water for the vegies – and then wash them in the sink before doing the dishes. If you inherit bottles from a friend or Uncle, give them a really good scrub inside and out with a bottle brush for the first go and from then on you should be able to rinse wash and sanitise them quickly.
When we began brewing, we bought a 60 ltr rubbish bin and filled it with powdered sanitising solution then stacked as many stubbies and long necks into it as would fit, adding more water as the level rose. We then had to empty and rinse each bottle, resting them on the washing machine and tipping into the laundry trough, until we had 60 375ml bottles ready to fill. This was hugely labour intensive and time consuming, not to mention as boring as mud. If you use a sodium metabisulphite sanitiser, the stink is off putting to say the least and this stuff is not good for asthmatics and kids. It can also take a couple of rinses before you can bottle. Cooper’s make a ‘softer’ style sanitiser of sodium percarbonate but it needs to be left overnight and also needs rinsing in hot water. I find that these products also require the ‘sniffing’ of each stubby to make sure they are ‘clear’.
All these processes work and, at the end of the day, that’s what you want but there are easier ways that still ensure that your bottles are sanitised. I had heard about a rinse free sanitiser and eventually found it. Morgan’s Sanitize contains Hydrogen Peroxide and silver ions and is pretty inexpensive at about $4 for 250ml. Diluted at a rate of 30ml to a litre it is more than enough to do a whole batch worth of stubbies. We bought ourselves an atomiser, and here’s a picture;
... which makes it even easier to sanitise the bottles. We just pop a litre of diluted sanitiser into the bowl part and then plunge each stubby onto the sticking-up bit which sprays a covering of liquid onto the inside surface of the glass. We can then stack up to 80 bottles onto the drying tree and we are away! The sanitiser dries off without the need for rinsing which means we can move swiftly into the next phase of the process. Priming.
PRIMING & FILLING
The next ‘finicky’ step required to get your beer from the fermenter to the fridge is the priming, or secondary fermentation. Homebrew requires a second jolt of yeast activity to bring the alcohol content up to par and to carbonate the beer properly by the creation of CO2 in the stubby. This can be achieved in many ways – see ‘Crazy American Techniques’ – but the simplest is plain, ordinary, common, garden variety white sugar at a rate of half a teaspoon to 375ml or one teaspoon to 700/750/800ml bottle. An even easier way is to use carbonation drops which are solid pre-measured lollies of sugar, some of which are made by Cooper’s.
If you use granulated sugar you must clean, sanitise and thoroughly dry a small funnel and teaspoon measure, then set up as many bottles as will fit your work area, load them all with a measure of clean sugar, moving the funnel with a shake to dislodge any grains until all are primed, then continue on to the filling and capping. With the drops, you can bypass the cleaning, drying and funnelling stages, simply dropping one drop into each bottle. Nice. And quick.
Filling your bottles is a straightforward process with the right equipment and care taken to sanitise it. A filler tube (some are labelled ‘Little Bottler’) attaches to the spout of the fermenter and allows the beer to be transferred smoothly and quietly into bottles. It is important that the beer not create too much ‘bubble’ when filling as this can lead to oxygenation of the beer. Not good. I’ll explain further soon.
There are those who use syphons to fill the bottles but this is just such a palava that I won’t even go into it here. Once the bottles are all filled – either all at once or in manageable batches – just pop a sanitised crown seal on top and proceed directly to capping.