Gregg A. Howard Denver, Co.

This is an outline of my method for priming and bottling beer with a minimum of hassle, oxygenation and exposure to the elements. I came up with this in response to the miserable time I had following Papazian's sketchy instructions in TCJOHB for my first bottling session, which was a grotesque comedy of errors that left beer spilled all over and the batch hopelessly infected. This file does not cover bottle preparation, and also assumes that you have bottled before and know the basics.

Briefly, this method allows you to rack green beer out of your fermenter and into a covered bucket to be primed without sucking on the hose to start the syphon, then lets you fill your bottles by gravity feed without sloshing the beer around or exposing it to any more of the cruel world than is absolutely neccessary. Any feedback -- positive, negative, or indifferent -- is appreciated.

To start with, an equipment list:

First you need to drill a 3/8" hole in the side of the bucket, flush with the bottom. This is best done with a new or at least very sharp bit, a hand drill, and a smaller bit for a pilot hole. Drill it so that the hole is on a line perpendicular to the bail (bucket handle). To clarify that, if you are looking down at the bucket and the bail is hooked to the bucket at nine and three o'clock, your hole should be drilled at twelve or six o'clock. Through the side. Flush with the bottom. Take your time and do it perfectly. No second chances. Anything but a cleanly drilled hole might leak.

Ideally your bucket should have a "reusable" lid, that is, one that fits like a Tupperware lid and can be removed without a crowbar. Packaging dealers stock these along with the buckets. Try looking in your local yellow pages under "Drums & Barrels". I paid $6 for a 6 gallon bucket and lid. Any lid that can be removed without too much wrestling will do.

With your bottles and caps ready to go, boil and cool your priming solution. Run hot water on one end of the tubing and force about an inch of it into the hole in the bucket. String the clamp thingamabob on the tubing. Put the racking cane on the other end of the tube. Sanitize and (if neccessary) rinse everything. Hang the racking cane over a cupboard door above the counter and with the bucket tilted toward you on the counter, pour your primer into the bucket with a minimum of splashing. Put the lid tightly on the bucket. Prop up the side of the bucket opposite the hole with the block of wood so that the primer is pooled over the end of the tubing.

Now, slowly and carefully lower the tubing below counter level so that the primer flows into the tubing without bubbles. Hold the cane upside down while you slowly lower it so that the liquid fills it to the tip. Clamp the tubing tightly with the clamp thingamabob. Pop the cane into the fermenter on the counter and open the clamp. When about an inch of beer has syphoned out of the fermenter, set the bucket gently on the floor to continue racking.

When the fermenter has been drained, hold the cane and tubing up so that the tubing empties into the bucket as much as possible. Remove the cane and install your bottle filler in its place. While doing this, allow most of the tubing to fill with beer again. Don't allow air trapped in the tubing to bubble back into the bucket. Carefully lift the bucket onto the counter again. Make *very* sure you are not standing on the hose while you do this. With the filler held upside down and using a sanitized glass to hold the valve tip open, purge the line of air as you did the racking tube before. Tuck the excess tubing into a counter drawer so it's not in your way, squat on the floor and bottle your beer. When you're about 80% done, prop up the side of the bucket opposite the tubing with the block of wood again to get every last drop.

Some observations and opinions:

While this no-stir technique sounds like a perfect recipe for over- and under-primed bottles, I have never in 60+ batches bottled in this fashion been able to detect such an effect. I think that the flow into the bucket is such that any tendency of the (higher gravity) priming solution to collect unmixed at the bottom is counteracted. Actually, I'm not sure why it works so well, but any difference in priming level between bottles is below the the threshold of discernment.

Make sure your priming solution is below 120F when you put it in the bucket. A small amount of boiling water won't hurt the bucket, but it will turn your racking cane into a racking corkscrew. I use a small covered saucepan to boil my solution and then set it in the freezer for 15 minutes to get it down to a reasonable temperature.

Test your system with water beforehand and make sure your bucket lid allows a bit of air seepage like mine does. This is critical. If it doesn't, it won't allow the beer to flow in and out. If the lid fits airtight, drill a small hole in it. You can tape a piece of coffee filter paper over the hole to keep out the larger dust motes as the beer drains.

I use 5/16" ID tubing because it fits the 3/8" cane and wand snugly. Any size that works for you is fine. Just drill the bucket hole 1/16" smaller than the OD.

I specify a new bucket to minimize the chance of beasties lurking in any scratches, but any bucket you trust will do. I take great care in cleaning my bucket and don't use it for anything but bottling. The interior still looks brand new and I expect it to outlast me.

Make a plug for the hole from a 4" piece of tubing thusly: Fold over an inch of the tube and bind it down with a rubber band wrapped around it tightly. Cut the free end diagonally to make it easier to insert. I use this when cleaning the bucket and also keep it close at hand while bottling just in case I should ever trip over the tubing and pull it out of the hole.

I know that this system still allows outside air to contact the beer, but it does minimize such contact and also keeps out insect life, sneezes, wandering pets, and generally allows you to relax and take your time with bottling knowing that nothing is going to leap into your beer if you get up to stretch your legs, answer the phone, pour yourself another, etc. It also really limits aeration, but the main thing is that, for me at least, it's easier than anything else I've tried.