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Bottling and Kegging 101

After you've fermented your brew you need some way to carbonate, condition and store it. That leaves you with two main options; bottling and kegging. Both have their disadvantages and advantages with each method lending itself more appropriately to different people. Some general guidelines as well as advantages and disadvantages can be found below.

BOTTLING

Advantages:

  • Portable
  • Great for storage
  • Set and forget
  • Easy to learn and master

Disadvantages:

  • Cleaning and sterilising bottles
  • Laborious 
  • Can under or overcarbonate based on yeast selection
  • May Leak CO2 over time
  • Secondary fermentation creates sediment and potentially; haze and esters

How to bottle your first batch:

1. Clean and sterilise.

This can be done by soaking bottles and lids in your favourite sanitising solution or by pasteurisation. When soaking in a sanitising solution make sure to follow your sanitisers dosage rates and also give the bottles a gentle scrub to remove scum and matter that could potentially cover and protect bacteria and other micro-organisms.

If you are sanitising by pasteurisation make sure only glass and metals are used as to not leach BPA's or other harmful chemicals. 75 Degrees Celsius for 30 seconds is enough time and heat to kill over 99.9% of bacteria and a generally safe practice to follow when heat treating bottles.

2. Fill bottles.

Fill bottles to about halfway up the neck and keep the splashing of beer to a minimum; oxygen is your enemy at this point.

3. Add sugar.

Add carbonation drops to your brew. Add 1 drop per 330ml - 375ml bottle or two per 640ml - 750ml bottle. If you are using sugar to prime here are some dosage rates for different types of sugar:

Cane sugar (table sugar): 6.7g/L

Dextrose (brewing sugar): 7.3g/L

Dry Malt Extract: 9.5g/L

Honey: 8.9g/L

Sorghum Syrup: 9.5g/L

4. Seal bottles.

Add your crown seals and crimp the edges with your chosen sealer; a bench capper makes the easiest work (in our opinion) but everyones personal preference is different so try different options. 

In the case that you have plastic bottles screw them on until tight.

5. Carbonate.

When you bottle beer and add sugars you allow the process of fermentation to start again. Since you have already undergone fermentation (primary fermentation) we refer to this as secondary or secondary fermentation. Generally 2 weeks is enough time for your yeast in solution to carbonate your brew however in some cases where yeast is in a suboptimal or stressful environment carbonation may take longer. Some examples of this include: hard seltzer with inadequate nutrients, high ABV beverages due to alcohol inhibiting yeast and sour beers where pH negatively impacts yeast health. In these cases we recommend 4 weeks to carbonate or just testing them as you wait, starting after 2 weeks.

Since yeast is fermenting sugars again the same principles apply - albeit to a lesser extent than primary fermentation. Try and keep temperature stable, light at a minimum and the temperature within the optimum range of your specific yeast (generally 12 - 15 Celsius for lagers and 18 - 20 for ales).

6. Condition.

After your mandatory 2-4 week carbonating period you can get drinking! However, keep in mind depending on the style of beverage you're fermenting extra time in the bottle can greatly effect its quality. Here are some general style guidelines, however there are always exceptions to the rule:

New World beer styles (IPA, XPA, NEIPA, ect): Drink within 3 months.

English style beers: Drink between 3 and 6 months.

Porters, Stouts and Dark ales: 6 months +.

High ABV% drinks: 6 + months or anytime for strong New World beer styles.

Lagers: 3 + months.

Hard Seltzer: 1 + months.

Hard Ginger beer, Lemonade ect: 2 weeks +.

Ciders: 2 weeks +.

Alcoholic Kombucha: 2 weeks +. 

KEGGING

Advantages:

  • Quick carbonation
  • Adjustable levels of carbonation
  • No sediment
  • Great for conditioning
  • Can always guarantee carbonation
  • Easy cleaning

Disadvantages:

  • Generally not as portable
  • Requires more equipment
  • Potential to leak

How to keg:

1. Sanitise.

Give the interior of your keg a gentle scrub with a soft cloth and steriliser, making sure to rinse if neccessary.

2. Purge.

Fill your keg with water or sanitiser and connect your CO2 bottle to your gas inlet. Keep a constant pressure and add a liquid disconnect to your liquid post, water will leave your liquid disconnect until your keg is empty. Once empty your keg will be full of CO2 instead of oxygen nitrogen and other gasses present in the air. 

Alternatively for beers that are less prone to oxidation you can simply add your CO2 into your keg while periodically pulling your pressure relief valve. This method won't necessarily remove as much oxygen as the first method but can be quicker and easier at times. We don't recommend using this technique to beers where oxidation is particularly obvious such as NEIPA or largely dry hopped beers.

3. Fill.

Fill your keg from your fermenter; ideally have hose going from your tap to the bottom of your keg or in a best case use a tube from your fermenter tap to a liquid disconnect and pull your pressure release valve as you fill; this ensures you fill from the bottom.

4. Carbonate.

Using CO2 to force carbonate kegs can be a quick or a long process depending on how long your happy to wait. Carbonation can take as little as a few minutes to a few weeks. To make force carbonation easier we recommend always adding gas after your beer has been chilled to a few degrees Celsius. This makes CO2 much more soluble (think a cold can of coke seeming more fizzy than a warm one). Here are a few carbonation schedules - the pressure and time to get a good level of carbonation.

Very quick - 40 psi for one minute with vigorous shaking of chilled beer (as cold as possible).

Quick - 30 psi for 2 days while being kept cold.

Medium - 20 psi for 1 week.

Slow - 14 psi for 2 weeks.

5. Condition.

Since kegs are such good anaerobic environments conditioning in kegs is super easy. Simply put your kegs under a few psi of pressure and leave in a cool environment (ie; fridge or cool-room) while you allow your brew to mature. For recommendations in maturation times please refer to bottling conditioning recommendations.

Since home brewing is such a subjective hobby we recommend experimenting with everything to see what suits your personal tastes best!

Happy Brewing!