After filling my keg for the first time last year, I swore I’d never bottle beer again. Filling the keg is as simple as siphoning from the fermentation vessel into the sanitized keg. It’s one easy process. Carbonating the keg is as simple as connecting the CO2 tank and opening the valve to the desired pressure, then waiting a day or two.
Contrast that with filling bottles. You need to clean and sanitize dozens of bottles. Boil two cups of water and add an amount of sugar to that, then cool it and dump it into the bottling bucket. Siphon the beer into the bottling bucket, then attach the bottling wand onto the bucket’s spout. Fill each of the dozens of bottles, and then cap them. Then wait a week or more before natural carbonation completes.
Bottling is a laborious, time intensive process. It’s also been a pretty messy one for me, with no small quantity of beer spilled over the sides of the bottles and onto the floor. Cleaning up after bottling takes almost as long as the actual process of bottling itself.
Unfortunately, sharing kegged beer with coworkers and friends can be a little tricky. My friend Adam purchased for me the Blichmann Beer Gun, which allows me to fill bottles from my keg. This is a great option for sharing small quantities of kegged beer; but there are still times when kegging beer is not the best option. For example, I recently brewed a barley wine which is supposed to bottle condition for several months. I don’t want to dedicate one of my kegs to this purpose for several months, and I’m not sure I’ll want to drink the 5 gallons of barley wine with any regularity, so bottling it makes more sense.
Since I got my first keg, I’ve bottled just a couple of batches. I’ve taken steps to make it an easier process, like investing in liter bottles with flip-top (Grolsch-style) caps. I’ve also acquired a couple of half-gallon growlers. These mean less bottles to sanitize and fill. The avoidance of capping is also a tremendous time saver. But it’s still a pain to bottle.
I recently moved into a new house. One of the amenities of this new house is a dishwasher. I’ve only ever lived in one residence with a dish washer before. That was the first house I bought, in which I lived for only three or four years. I’d read on various “how to brew” discussions that one can use a dishwasher to clean and sanitize bottles prior to filling them. I decided to try this technique with my barley wine, in order to save time.
While researching the process, to ensure I did it right, I found another little time-saving tidbit: fill the bottles over the open door of the dishwasher. Brilliant! Any spillage that occurs would simply land on the dishwasher door, which is supremely easy to clean. Armed with this new knowledge, I approached my bottling task with renewed enthusiasm.
For various reasons, I was unable to actually start the dishwasher to clean and sanitize the bottles until close to midnight. The cycle ran, and finished up much later than I expected. I prepared the priming sugar, and sanitized the bottling bucket, auto-siphon, and bottling wand. I racked the beer from my Better Bottle carboy into the bottling bucket, and placed this above the open dishwasher door. I simply removed one bottle at a time from the dishwasher rack, filled it, placed a cap on top of the bottle (I used regular 12 ounce bottles, not my flip-top liter bottles) and then placed it on the kitchen counter, next to the bottling bucket. I filled and prepared six bottles at a time, then affixed the caps to these bottles with the capper, and placed the bottles in six pack carriers.
The entire process was smooth, save for one brief moment when the bottling wand came off of the bucket’s spout. With the spout in the fully open position, beer began to pour out onto the dishwasher door. I closed the spout, firmly reattached the bottling wand, and resumed work. The total amount of beer spilled – from the opened spout as well as over-filled bottles and drippings – ended up being negligible. Cleanup was quick, thanks to the dishwasher! I completed the whole process just shy of 3 AM, which was much later than I would have liked, but I really can’t complain about the process.
Given the time-saving power of modern technology, I expect I’ll bottle more beers in the future.