After your beer is done fermenting the final step is to store it. There are two ways you can go about doing this. You can either keg the beer or bottle it. Both of these methods have their own benefits and drawbacks, so it is up to you, which technique you choose. Typically, beginners go the bottling route due to it being a little easier and more convenient. Most beer starter kits come with the equipment needed for bottling your beer while kegging requires some additional equipment. If you decide to bottle your beer a crucial step is to sanitize your beer bottles. Similar to sanitizing your brew equipment, you are going to have to clean all the beer bottles before you pour the beer into them. This may seem like a daunting task, but there are several simple techniques you can use to sanitize the beer bottles.
The two most common techniques to sanitize beer bottles are using sanitizers or using heat. Both of these methods are very simple and require only a few pieces of equipment. Even the newest homebrewer should have no problem sanitizing the bottles.
Why Do You Need to Sanitize the Beer Bottles?
Just like when you are brewing your beer you don’t want any unknown bacteria or anything else to come into contact with the beer. This unwelcome addition to the beer leads to problems like contamination and other undesirable outcomes. Once contaminated you could end up with an infection or unpleasant tastes and odors. Sanitizing your bottles is way to ensure your beer will remain the way you intended it to be.
Cleaning the Beer Bottles
Before you can sanitize the beer bottles they first need to be cleaned. Fill a bucket up with water and a cleaner like Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW). PBW is a powder cleaner that gets rid of all of the hard to remove debris, yet is still safe on skin. It works for all types of homebrewing equipment including metal, gaskets, rubber, tubing, and plastic. All cleaners are different so follow the given instructions while making your cleaning solution. Once the bucket is full with the cleaning solution, add your bottles to it and let them soak. After soaking them, you want to scrub them out with a bottle brush. You can do this by hand, or there are brushes out there that can be attached to drills. The drill brushes make this process much easier, and a lot more fun too! Once they are scrubbed. The next step is to rinse them out with hot water, this removes and excess cleaner from the bottles. Once rinsed, set them aside for the next step of the sanitizing process.
Sanitizing the Bottles with a Sanitizer
Sanitizers are one of the easiest ways to clean your beer bottles. After the beer bottles have been cleaned out, the next step is to use a one-step beer bottle sanitizer. One of the most popular choices for a beer bottle sanitizer is StarSan. Once you have your sanitizer you are going to squirt some of it into the bottles. For this part I would recommend using the Vinator Bottle Rinser from NorthernBrewer. This tool comes with a pump that shoots up sanitizer into the bottles and a bowl below it to catch the excess sanitizer. You can see a video of the bottle rinser in action below. Once you clean the bottles with the sanitizer you place them on a bottle tree and let them dry. After the bottles have been sanitized do no rinse again with water. Tap water is treated with many different chemicals and by rinsing your bottles again you would undo all the work you just did. Another thing to remember is to make sure your bottle tree is sanitized as well. This can be done by filling a spray bottle with some of the sanitizer solution and spraying it down.
Sanitizing the Bottles with Heat
Another way to sanitize beer bottles is through the use of heat. By heating up the bottles, it kills all the bacteria and microorganisms. The bottles can be heated in two different ways, a dry heat or a wet heat. Both methods will get the job done, you should go with the technique that is more convenient for your setup. For the dry heat method, you are going to heat the bottles in an oven. The first step is to wrap the bottles in aluminum foil and place them in the over. Then, you turn the over on and set to around 350 F. It is very important to set the temperature after the bottles are already in the oven. If you add the bottles to an already pre-heated oven the bottles may experience thermal shock and break. They need to slowly adjust to the high temperatures. Let them heat for around an hour and a half, then turn off the oven. Leave them in the oven and allow them to cool. Once they are cooled, they are safe to use and you can bottle your beer. The other technique of sanitizing is by using a “wet” heat. A “wet” heat is simply very hot water or steam. This can be achieved by running the beer bottles through a dishwasher. However, when you run the wash cycle, do not add any dish detergent. This can result in left behind soap residue and your bottles will not be truly disinfected. Also, many modern dish washers come with a disinfect cycle nowadays. If your dishwasher does, you can simply run that cycle to guarantee the bottles have been sanitized.
Note: Even though the method of heat may be successful most of the time, it is still highly suggested to use the sanitizer approach mentioned above. Heat may cause the bottles to break even if you take all the proper precautions, and it is not guaranteed to remove all possible contaminants.
Sanitizing Bottle Caps
One part of the sanitizing process that many homebrewers forget about is the bottle caps. The caps come in contact with the beer, therefore they also need to be sanitized. Sanitizing the caps is much easier compared to the bottles. All you need to do is fill a container with some sanitizer solution and let the caps soak. As you are bottling your beer, just pull the caps out as you need them.
Tips for Future Cleaning and Sanitizing
A trick all homebrewers should use is to clean the bottles right after you finish drinking the beer. I don’t mean the whole soaking process, but just give it a good rinse. This will make your next bottling day go a little smoother. Rinsing your bottles out right away will remove any leftover yeast or particles from the beer. The cleaner the bottles are at the start, the easier it will be to properly clean them. If you put the bottles away with beer residue left in them, you are going to have to pay for it later. The bottles will be sticky, they will attract bugs, and even mold can form. Rinsing your bottles after you finish your drink only takes a couple seconds and will bypass having to deal with all of those potential problems.
For those who haven’t upgraded to kegging yet, sanitizing your beer bottles is crucial to having a good tasting final product. The process is fairly straightforward, yet some may consider it time consuming. No matter what equipment you have access to in your home brewery, everyone has the means to sanitize their beer bottles. There are tons of tools and accessories out there that can make the sanitizing process more streamline. But for those who are just starting out, all you need to do is follow the guide above you will have completely sanitized beer bottles and caps for your homebrewed beer.