Bottle Sanitation

Bottle Sanitation

Scott Burns

Bottle conditioned beers are either unfiltered or havebeen filtered and then reseeded with yeast. A variety of sugars can be added to the beer and then placed in a sealed bottle to “re-ferment”.

Scott Burns indicates he and his wife, Hope O’Keefe, have been homebrewing for a little over two years. He provided the following description of his bottling procedures: We brew roughly once a month, more often during the spring and fall, less so during summer and winter. We started with extract kits on the kitchen stove and moved outside to all-grain batches on our ninth batch. Our beer, technique and, of course, equipment have grown or improved over time, but one thing we haven’t done is made the jump from bottling our beer to kegging it. Bottling fits better with how we drink, share, and store our homebrew. Yes, maintaining and filling bottles can be tedious, but less so than maintaining kegs, draft lines, faucets, gas lines, and CO2 tanks. We’ve evolved a process for maintaining our bottles with as little work as possible so we always have a supply of clean ones ready to go when it’s time to bottle a batch. Since this is home brewing there MUST be equipment! We use the following things: 1) one or two HDPE buckets, with lids; 2) a brass jet bottle washer; 3) a pair of Blichmann brewing gloves; 4) a plastic bottle tree; 5) a Vinator bottle rinser; and 6) a bunch of corrugated plastic beer cases from C&W Crate Co. Buckets are available at Home Depot. Everything else can be had at the local homebrew store or cwcrate.com. We use OxyClean Free (free of perfume and dyes) for cleaning bottles and Starsan
for sanitizing. PBW would also work for cleaning but we save that for dirty fermenters and racking equipment due to cost.

Our next task is acquiring clean bottles. New clean bottles can be purchased from local or mail-order supply stores. We still buy beer (horrors!), so our collection of about ten cases came from our recycling bin. We pull the bottles with paper labels and leave the ones with foil or plastic labels. After spending lots of time in the early days boiling, soaking, and scrubbing bottles we now let chemicals and time do the hard work. I mix one scoop of OxyClean with 5 gallons of water in a bucket, sink the bottles into the mix, making sure they are filled and fully submerged, then put the bucket lid on and set it aside for a week. At the end of a week, the OxyClean has dissolved the glue holding labels on the bottles and loosened up any old yeast, mold or other gunk hanging out inside them. A quick scrub of the exterior with a scrubby pad will remove any remaining glue on the outside. For the insides we flush the bottles thoroughly with hot water using the brass jet bottle washer that attaches to the sink’s faucet. Three blasts of hot water are usually sufficient to remove any remaining cleanser and gunk. I’ll then give the bottle the spyglass test (watch for water coming out!) and, if clean, pop it on the bottle tree for drying. Once dry, the bottles are packed into the plastic beer cases and stacked away in the basement to wait bottling day.

We’ve found that the week-long soak and rinse gets most of the bottles sparkling clean the first time
through. There are always a few outliers and they go into a new batch of cleaner for another week. It’s extremely rare that any gunk survives the second week of soaking. I no longer try to clean stubborn bottles with a bottle brush as I often ended up scratching the bottom of the bottles when doing so. We now spend about 45 minutes every week or so rinsing bottles that have been soaked and setting recently consumed and returned bottles to soak for the coming week.

When a batch of beer is ready to bottle, the first thing we do is sanitize the bottles. We brew five gallon batches so will usually pull two cases of 12oz bottles and four or five 22oz bottles out for sanitizing. For sanitizing, we use Star-san, the Vinator Bottle Rinser and the bottle tree. The Vinator Rinser is a nice gadget; it is basically bowl with a built-in water jet activated by a pump that’s triggered when you place an inverted bottle over it and push down. The pump pulls sanitizer from the reservoir and sprays it into the bottle, which then drains back into the reservoir. I dilute the Star-san per the manufacturer’s instructions with distilled water; put a quart of sanitizer in the Rinser and grab the first bottle. I dip the top of the bottle in the reservoir to sanitize the outside and when give it three or four squirts to coat the inside. I
leave the bottle on the pump to drain while reaching for the next bottle, later moving it to the bottle tree and repeat. Using this method we can sanitize all the bottles in about 15 minutes. Once all the bottles are on the tree the remaining sanitizer is returned to the bucket to be used for soaking and sanitizing our siphon, tubing, bottling wand, and finally bottling bucket and spigot.

While the bottles finish draining, we prepare our priming sugar and rack the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. By the time that’s done and the beer is primed, the bottles are mostly dry. We fill, cap and rinse them in the sink to cut down on clean up time, then wipe them dry and pack them in plastic beer cases, where they stay until carbonated and, eventually, imbibed. The empty bottle is then returned to the soaking queue and the cycle starts again.

Thanks, Scott for the description of your bottle procedures. There are also a number of web sites that provide detailed steps for naturally carbonating beer. Several of these web sites are:

http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/02/homebrewinghow-to-carbonate-and-bottle-your-beer.htmlhttp://www.howtobrew.com/section1/chapter11.html andhttp://www.northernbrewer.com/learn/homebrewing-101/step-4/