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We’re almost at the finish line! All that’s left to do is bottle and carbonate your beer. The end is so close — we can almost taste it!

If you brewed on May 30, your beer should be ready to bottle as early as this weekend. There’s no rush to bottle — letting your beer sit a little longer won’t ruin it — but if you want to taste your beer on July 4, you should plan on bottling by June 27.

How can you tell when your beer is ready to bottle? You can see if your beer is done fermenting by either checking the activity in the airlock or by measuring its “final gravity” with a hydrometer.

A hydrometer reading showing a final gravity of 1.010, indicating that the beer is done fermenting. (Corinne Chin / The Seattle Times)
A hydrometer reading showing a final gravity of 1.010, indicating that the beer is done fermenting. (Corinne Chin / The Seattle Times)

Airlock check: The airlock on your secondary fermenter should be bubbling in 60-second intervals or slower. It might not be bubbling at all; this indicates that the yeast have consumed the fermentable sugars and are going dormant — that’s perfectly fine.

Brewing timeline

What we’ll accomplish in the weeks ahead Share your beer: Let us know how your brewing project goes and share photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #brewwithus. We'll feature your stories and photos.

Hydrometer check: To check the final gravity, you’ll need to remove a portion of the fermented beer to fill the hydrometer container. (A disinfected turkey baster is a good tool to draw out a sampling of beer. Just remember that anything that comes into contact with the beer needs to be sanitized. Also, don’t tip or slosh the fermenting bucket around to pour a portion out — you don’t want to introduce oxygen into the beer.) For this beer, the final gravity should be near 1.010 if your original gravity reading was close to 1.047 (see how to take a hydrometer reading).  If it’s not, wait several days and take another reading.

If you’re unsure whether your beer is ready to bottle, it doesn’t hurt to give it a little bit longer to “condition.” This can be beneficial for the beer because the remaining yeast consume some byproducts from fermentation that can contribute off-flavors. Also, if the beer isn’t done fermenting and continues to do so once it’s bottled, the extra CO2 produced could cause bottles to explode.

Equipment needed to bottle homebrew includes: bottles, bottle caps, priming sugar and a bottle capper. (Corrine Chin / The Seattle Times).
Equipment needed to bottle homebrew includes: bottles, bottle caps, priming sugar and a bottle capper. (Corrine Chin / The Seattle Times).

Hopefully you’ve saved up some bottles to reuse — if not, you can buy new bottles from homebrewing stores for about $15 for two dozen 12-ounce bottles. If you are planning to reuse bottles, soak the bottles in hot, soapy water to remove labels and scrub off any gunk. You’ll need about 50 12-ounce bottles or 28 22-ounce bottles for 4 to 5 gallons of beer. (Note: Twist-top bottles will not work.)

Bottling your beer will take about an hour, but bottling with a friend can significantly speed up the process — one person can fill bottles while the other caps them.

How is beer made?

Water + malt + hops + yeast. Learn what goes into beer and the processes in brewing.

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Sanitize equipment and prepare “priming sugar”:

  1. Fill the 6-gallon bucket used during primary fermentation (it should have a spigot) with a new mixture of sanitizing solution. Don’t use the same the same solution from Brew Day. Add your bottle filler (optional), racking cane, plastic hose, bottle caps and bottles (again, twist-off bottles will not work) to the filled bucket. Soak for at least 10 minutes. The bucket is large enough to sanitize about half of the bottles at a time. You can remove the bottles that have already been sanitized in the bucket and cover their openings with plastic wrap to ensure microorganisms don’t enter the bottles.
  2. While equipment is being sanitized, bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan over the stove. Turn off heat, then stir in ⅔ cup of corn sugar (4 ounces by weight) until dissolved.
    • Note: Different sugars add different amounts of carbonation. Refer to this chart for varying levels of CO2 created by different sugars, such as cane sugar.
  3. After letting the sugar water cool for 10 minutes, pour it into the sanitized 6-gallon bucket.

Why: Boiling will dissolve the sugar and disinfect the mixture before it’s added to the beer.

Siphon beer from secondary fermenter to bucket:

  1. Using the sanitized racking cane and hose, siphon the beer from the 5-gallon glass carboy or plastic bucket back into the 6-gallon bucket (instructions on how to siphon).
  2. Siphon until only sediment is left behind in the secondary fermenter.

Why: The remaining yeast in your beer converts the sugar to CO2. When this process happens in airtight bottles, carbonation occurs. It’s important not to add too much sugar or you’ll risk over-carbonation. Some homebrewers add sugar drops directly to the bottles, but adding sugar to the priming bucket allows it to distribute more evenly.

Fill and cap bottles

  1. If you have a bottle filler (also called a “bottling wand”), attach it to the spigot of the priming bucket and open the spigot. While not necessary, a bottle filler is useful because it fills from the bottom of the bottle and won’t introduce extra oxygen.
  2. If you don’t have a bottle filler, use the spigot to fill bottles, opening and closing the spigot for each bottle. To avoid oxidation, hold the bottle at an angle so the spigot pours beer down the inside of the bottle at a slow pace.
  3. Fill all bottles to about 1 inch from the top.
  4. Use bottle capper to cap each bottle immediately after filling (see video at top of this post for details).

Allow beer to condition

  1. Store bottles of beer upright in a cool area without direct sunlight, such as in a garage or basement.

Your beer will be ready to taste about 10 days after bottling. We’ll be back to check in then and share the fruits of our labors during this project! If you have any questions about the bottling process, leave a comment on this post or email homebrew@seattletimes.com.