Beer and Wine Bottling Processes

Making your own beer and wine at home is a rewarding hobby, and one which can yield delicious results for your investment of time and energy. It can also be a fairly complex process, especially for beginners with minimal experience. One of the most commonly-questioned steps of making either beer or wine is related to bottling processes, which aren’t always clearly understood by the uninitiated. To further complicate matters, even a perfectly executed batch of libations can be rendered unpalatable by mistakes made during bottling processes. Home brewers and wine makers who would rather avoid spoiling an entire batch of their latest product are advised to take the time to carefully research bottling and racking, in order to avoid disappointment when the first bottle is opened and served. Wine Bottling Processes Before bottling, wine makers are encouraged to gather all the necessary supplies to minimize the risk of mistakes which result from using improper equipment or attempting to improvise at an essential step in the process. There are a few tools and supplies which are imperative during bottling processes:
  • Bottles – The number of bottles a wine maker will need is dependent upon a variety of factors, including the size of the original batch and the finesse with which they accomplish the racking process. The average six-gallon batch of wine will require thirty 750ml bottles if racking isn’t efficient, thirty-one when sediment at the bottom of a carboy is minimal.
  • Corks – Air is the enemy when it comes to keeping wine fresh. Some wine makers may choose to protect their wine with screw-on caps, but the most popular choice is the traditional cork. This will also require a corking tool to create an airtight seal.
  • Sanitizer – Bottles must be not only carefully cleaned both inside and out, but also sterilized before actual bottling processes begin. Sterilizing solution, also known as sanitizer, is an essential tool for wine makers who are preparing to bottle their products.
When preparing to fill sanitized bottles, wine makers can choose between two popular options: an auto siphon or a bottling bucket. Auto siphons can be quicker and more efficient, but will often require a second pair of hands and a bit of wine-making expertise, as they’re only effective when the wine has been well racked and there are no fines present at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. The second option, a bottling bucket, is fitted with a spigot close to the bottom which can be attached to a length of tubing to a bottle filler. Using a bottling bucket may be ideal for one-person operations, and provide wine makers with the opportunity to rack finished wine a final time to remove fines. The technique upon which a wine maker will eventually settle will depend upon personal preference and convenience, but the key to all bottling processes is minimal aeration paired with even filling. After bottling and corking or capping, filled bottles should be left standing upright for three to five days in order to allow equalization of pressure. After this point, they’re ready to be stored on their sides until they’re opened. They should be left undisturbed for a minimum of thirty days, but the vast majority of wines will significantly benefit from at least three to six months of aging time before being enjoyed. Beer Bottling Processes Home brewers do have the option of kegging their beer in order to serve it on tap, but this requires a substantial investment in equipment and is more complex than bottling processes. The equipment for bottling beer is similar to that required for wine bottling, though smaller bottles are typically used and caps will take the place of corks. Just like wine, the bottles will need to be carefully cleaned and sanitized before bottling to avoid contamination. Instead of adding priming sugar and bottling directly from the fermentation vessel, it’s wise for home brewers to add priming sugar to their beer in a separate carboy or priming bucket to reduce sediment in the finished product. It’s important to keep splashing to an absolute minimum when transferring beer to the priming bucket to prevent oxidation. By transferring the beer to a new vessel for priming and bottling, home brewers can also remove fines which would otherwise be an impediment when using an auto siphon. Home brewed beer should be bottled with about one inch of head space during the bottling process to ensure even pressure and appropriate carbonation. After capping, bottles of home brewed beer should be stored for at least two weeks at fermentation temperature before moving them to storage away from sources of light to extend the self life of the contents. Sources: