Low Tech Bottle Filler

                                                                                                        by Mike Retzlaff

Let’s suppose you’ve graduated to kegging, like most home-brewers eventually do, and only look back at bottling in amusement (or disdain).  Hold on Bubba, there are lots of reasons to bottle homebrew.  Perhaps a party or barbeque is on your social calendar, you don’t want to show up empty handed, but you don’t want to tote a keg, gas bottle, and a tub full of ice.  Let’s say you want to enter a few bottles in a competition.  Maybe you want to set aside a six-pack for extended aging.  A simple growler fill may be what you need.  Again, there are lots of reasons to bottle homebrew.  These few examples are enough reason to be prepared for this necessary chore.

Now let’s also suppose that you can’t seem to find that stack of $100 bills that everyone else seems to have lying around the house.  You’ve even checked your pockets and can’t scrape together, even with loose change, an extra 100 bucks to spend on a BeerGun or Last Straw bottle filler.  There is an alternate method available which will save you time and money.  This is not a counter-pressure bottle filler but neither are The Last Straw or the Blichman BeerGun.  Both of these commercial products do allow for a toot of CO2 in the bottle before filling but you’ll get that with the little bit of foam generated with this cheaper unit.  Other advantages are that this unit actually takes up less storage space and is far less fragile. 

First of all, keg your batch, chill it, and get the carbonation at the level you desire.

For this method, you’ll need about 7 feet of ¼” beer tubing shoved onto the barb of a plastic picnic tap.  This length of tubing provides adequate flow resistance to prevent foaming.  A bottling wand with the foot valve removed is pushed into the picnic tap nozzle (it fits snugly).  Saw or file a 45o angle on the end of the bottling wand to allow free flow of the beer.  You now have a plastic tube extending from your picnic tap.  All that’s left to do is install a ball or pin lock coupling to the other end of the tubing before sanitizing the filler rig.

Sanitize your bottles, rinse, and drain.  It will help if you chill your bottles before you start, if possible.

The method is simple and easily done:

  1. Shut off the gas to your keg and bleed the pressure from the keg.
  2. Crank the regulator down to about 5 psi and recharge the keg.  You can adjust the top pressure as you go to suit your particular conditions.  Remember, slow and steady wins the race!
  3. Prime and chill the line by opening the tap and running a bit of beer into a glass.
  4. Now place the bottle filler into the first bottle.  Fully depress the picnic tap lever.
  5. The bottle will begin filling.
  6. Continue the fill until beer comes to the top and shut off the tap. (Just like regular bottling, the wand is withdrawn and automatically leaves the proper headspace.)
  7. Quickly move the rig to the next bottle and repeat.
  8. Move the bottles to your capping station and place a cap on each bottle.
  9. Before seating the cap on each bottle, give each a thump.  This will cause the beer to begin to foam.
  10. Place the capper on the cap loosely and as soon as the foam begins to overflow, seat the cap.

This last step is a must as capping on foam means you’ve purged any air from the bottle and it will store much longer without oxidizing.  At this stage of the game, oxygen is not our friend!

You can reduce the mess if you load your bottles into an old 5 gallon bucket cut off to about 3 to 5” tall.  The bucket will usually fit a dozen to 15 bottles.  The cut off bucket will contain any overflow.

 
It’s as easy as the old standard method of bottling with a siphon from a bucket, only this time the beer is already carbonated and will remain sediment free!    



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