Bottling vs. Kegging: A Carbonation Conundrum

You had a successful brew day. Fermentation went off without any hiccups. And now you’re ready to imbibe in your delicious brew, but will you bottle it up or toss it in a keg?

There are pros and cons for both. And today I’ll give you the scoop on how each method works and why you might want to choose one or the other. I’m Trent Musho. And this is the Bru Sho. Let’s get bubbly.

The two main methods for home brewers to package their beverages it’s either bottle or keg. And when we talk about these two methods, we often distinguish them, by the way, we infuse carbon dioxide or CO2 into the drink to create the fizz we crave.

With bottling we use a technique called bottle conditioning, which is where we use additional sugars to feed the remaining yeast and in return create more CO2. And when the bottle of sealed that will build pressure, creating bubbles.

And for kegging, we use force carbonation, which is where we use a tank of CO2 to force inject gas into the beverage to make it fizzy. For most beginner brewers, the cheapest option is to start with bottling. So let’s start there, before we jump in, please take a second to subscribe for more brewing basics like this. Also all the things discussed this video will be linked in the description for you.

Now let’s get into it. The biggest pro to bottling is that it’s cheap. By saving old beer bottles or collecting some for your friends, you can package your beer for cents. You just need to make sure you clean those bottles thoroughly. I went over that in my cleaning and sanitizing video. So check that out if you haven’t.

If you have a really stuck mess inside the bottle, you can use these bottle brushes that you put into a screwdriver to get in there and really get it sparkling. You can use other types of bottles, but by using beer bottles, you can ensure their fermentation grade. Flipped top bottles also work great, but again, just make sure they hold pressure, so they don’t explode.

There are a few great tools to make your bottling life easier. The first is a bottle calculator to know how many bottles you’ll need to fill. All you need to do is add the total amount of beer and then start adding in numbers of bottles until you hit the target amount needed. Always add a few more just in case.

The other tool that is helpful is a priming calculator tool. Timing is the process of adding sugar to the fermented beer. This is a crucial step because if you miss calculate, how much sugar you add, you can either have an under carbonated beer or worse and over carbonated beer, that can be a potential risk for an exploding bottle.

The way you use this calculator is to input your total volume, desired pressure rate, or volumes of CO2 from the chart, and the highest temperature your beer hit during fermentation. That temperature is an important factor for getting the right pressure. So try to be accurate on how high your temp got. Then you get the amount of sugar to use.

There are a bunch of types of sugar that can be used. Really anything that has real sugar in it will work. No artificial sweeteners. The best to use in my opinion is dextrose or corn sugar as it easily dissolves. Unlike table sugar, that can take a while to fully dissolve. They’re also pre-made sugar tablets that you can just drop into bottles. And while they work, it’s hard to fine tune the amount of sugar for different sized bottles.

Now you can either divide the sugar by the amount of bottles you have and put that amount into each one, or you can use a bottling bucket to make your life easier. All you need to do is put the full amount of sugar in a separate bucket and carefully transfer your beer on top. Making sure not to oxidize your beer as much as you can. Gently stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar evenly.

And then you can just rack into the bottles. This is usually done with an auto siphon and tubing. The way it works is you submerge the siphon into the beer and then lift up the inner part and swiftly pushed down into the liquid begins, moving through. It might take a few pumps to get going.

A bottling wand helps you move from bottle to bottle with minimal mess. Otherwise the liquid will keep coming out until it’s all gone. The bottling wand has a spring and valve that when pressed down and less severe flow and when released it stops, but you can also just pinch the line.

Then you just need to seal the bottle with a cap. Caps are very cheap and you can buy them in bulk. A hand capper is a cheap option and a one-time purchase that should last you forever. They’re also fancy floor cappers that are even easier to use, but cost a little bit more.

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Lastly, just set those bottles somewhere dark and cool for two weeks. I know two weeks can see my forever, but that’s how long it’s going to take to get the right amount of pressure. But if you’re impatient, then you can steal a taster to see how they’re coming along after one week.

Bottle conditioned beers are desired by some beer lovers, especially in certain styles like Belgian Ales and other strong beers. They’re said to have a cleaner and more complex flavor, more defined carbonation and longer shelf life.

But just know that at the bottom of your bottle will be remnants of dead yeast, much like at the bottom of your fermentor. So unless you like the flavor of yeast, it might be best to dump out the last sip or two. So while bottling might be a cheap option, there’s a lot of care that needs to be taken to get it right. And it takes longer to get to that first sip.

Kegging on the other hand can be simpler and faster. Kegs come in all shapes and sizes, but for the most part, they don’t come cheap. If you’re lucky or you do some digging, you can find some on Craigslist or offer up for a good price. $50 for a used keg as an average price. And you can expect to pay a lot more for new or refurbished kegs.

The typical home brewing keg is known as a Cornelius keg or “corny keg” and they can hold five gallons of liquid. That’s why most beer recipes you see are for five gallons. There are two main types of Cornys; pin lock and ball lock. This just refers to the type of connection need for the keg.

Both have their pros and cons, but they are basically the same. I always suggest you pick one type and you stick to it. So you don’t need a lot of different parts. I personally use ball lock kegs.

On top of the keg, there is a main opening for putting beer in and to easily clean. There are also two posts on top one for the gas to go in and another for the beverage to come out.

On ball lock kegs, the post with the notch is for gas and on the inside, the gas side has a shorter tube. The liquid side has a dip tube that pulls the beer from the bottom of the keg.

Each of these posts has their respective connectors. Gray is for gas and black is for beverage. If you mix these up, it can be a near impossible task to get them off.

So I marked the side of my keg to make sure I don’t mix it up, but you can also look for that notch on the gas. And remember gray is for gas.

Also on some kegs, you’ll have a PRV or pressure relief valve that will release pressure when it gets too high, or if you want, you can bleed the pressure manually by pulling the ring. This makes purging the keg with CO2 super easy to minimize oxidation when transferring beer in.

If you don’t have a PRV like on most pin lock kegs, you can just press the, pop it on the gas side. As mentioned before you also need a CO2 tank, they also come in a bunch of sizes, but five pounds is a common size for the average home brewer.

You can find these tanks on Craigslist or offer up for cheaper prices, but you also need a regulator to set the desired pressure. Try to find a CO2 tank with one already. But if not, you can buy one of these from your home brew store.

To fill them up, head over to your closest welding supply store. Call ahead if you’re unsure, but most of these places will fill up a tank for decent price. The bigger the tank, the better value you’ll get. And the more beers you can carbonate, but a five gallon tank should last you about six to eight kegs of beer. Some Homebrew stores also fill up CO2 tanks. So check them out as well.

Some other things you’ll need are gas tubing, liquid tubing, and hose clamps get at least 10 feet of liquid tubing to minimize foaming in beer. So it’s a little more upfront cost you can now keg. Transfer your beer into a clean sanitized and purged keg, close it up and add pressure from your CO2 tank via a regulator, some gas tubing, and the gas connect.

You can refer to charts to determine the right pressure for your style of beer. But I typically set my regulator to about 10 PSI and then I just let it sit for about a week.

While it’s faster than bottling, if that’s not fast enough, you can do some other tricks to make it faster by raising the pressure to higher amounts for shorter amounts of time. I’ll link to an article about burst carbonating if you’re interested.

To serve in the keg, you need to attach your liquid tubing to a liquid connect and then have some sort of tap. Cobra taps or picnic taps at the cheapest option. But kegerators or Keezers with dedicated taps, make pouring much more enjoyable. Plus force carbonating beer cold works much better than warm as CO2 dissolves into liquid better at cold temperatures, but that comes with another big added cost for kegging. Craigslist and offer up or your friend here.

But you can also DIY one, there are a ton of videos and tutorials on how to convert fridges or freezers.

Which do you prefer a fresh pint off the tap or a perfectly bottle condition ale?

So while kegging in general, it’s a simpler and quicker method of packaging. It has a much more expensive price tag to start, but after you’ve bought a few hundred bottles, you’ll begin to learn how much convenience and time can cost you.

If you find home brewing to be a hobby for you, I can’t recommend enough getting into kegging, but that doesn’t mean I don’t bottle anymore. I still will do it on smaller batches or if my kegs are filled up.

So for me, it’s a team effort and depends on each brew.

Let me know if there’s anything else related to packaging that you’d like me to discuss. Thanks for watching. Be sure to hit like on your way out and while you’re here, why not check out one of my other videos?

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