Two weeks had passed since brewing day and the airlock had stopped bubbling. I peeked inside the fermenting bucket and saw a ring of sediment and a thin coat of bubbles across the top of the wort. Most importantly, it smelled like beer in there — which to me was the main indicator of success.
I put the bottles through the dishwasher and then soaked them in sanitizer in preparation. Each bottle got a complete exam and seven or so had to be thrown away due to mysterious black smudges that wouldn’t be mastered. I’d been too gung-ho about label removal and had left the bottles I’d been saving for months soaking in water for about two weeks until they started to mold.
To be fair, I didn’t make the conscious decision to soak my bottles for as long as I did. You figure your bottles will be fine in a sealed container because you really don’t want to dump the whole thing and scrape labels off the night before going on vacation. You’d much rather play with your dog and sleep. Then you get home and discover that the sealed container wasn’t actually as airtight as you thought.
Luckily only the top layer of bottles had to be thrown out, and using brushes, chopsticks and another packet of chlorine, I managed to rehabilitate the majority of the others. My father-in-law had been saving his bottles too, and I supplemented my dwindling supply with his clean Pacifico bottles.
I employed another bucket in which to sanitize the tubes, capper, caps, and scissors. Because I didn’t move the beer into the glass carboy for secondary fermentation, called “racking,” I only needed one siphoning tube out of three similar tools. Bottling straight out of the primary fermenter felt wrong, however, and probably with my next batch I’ll rack into the carboy right after brewing even if I don’t really “have to.”
To bottle properly, one has to create a mixture using priming sugar. I used 2/3 cup of dextrose to 16 ounces of water. If there is too much priming sugar, the bottles can explode. If there is not enough, you get flat beer. The water-primer mix is boiled, cooled to a temperature that won’t kill the yeast that is still living in the wort, and then mixed into the wort before it’s siphoned into clean bottles. The priming sugar feeds the yeast for another round of fermentation inside of the bottles.
This process should not take as long next time, as I will be much more careful with my bottle supply. Also I will have finally mastered a technique to not overfill, spilling precious beer all over my kitchen. Turns out it wasn’t too big of a problem that I had to throw out several contaminated bottles, because about the same amount of wort was a casualty of my inexperience.
At least my kitchen floor is VERY clean now.
With a preliminary taste test, there were no glaring problems, but it’s too early to tell whether the brew will be truly delicious. The bottles are hiding in my closet now, and I’m left to wait another two weeks before I finally get to enjoy a bottle. Hopefully nothing explodes.