You basically have two options when it comes to packaging and carbonating your beer; those being bottle conditioning and kegging. As convenient as kegging is, many people prefer the taste of a bottled beer but have questions on how to do it properly with one of the biggest being how long to bottle condition beer.
Bottle conditioning can take as little time as 1 week or many months. You can have a carbonated beer that is drinkable within a week; however the average time it takes to become fully carbonated is 2 weeks and in most cases the longer you leave your beer in the bottle to condition the better it is going to taste.
For most beers 4 weeks is the point where the beer will have achieved maxim carbonation and taste. However with hoppy beers like IPA’s 2 weeks ideal as hops can lose their characteristics over time, so a shorter bottle condition period is recommended for them.
What is Bottle Conditioned Beer?
So what exactly does it mean when we say a beer has been bottle conditioned? When you are done fermenting your beer you need to have a way to carbonate it because unless you ferment under pressure, beer is flat after fermentation is done.
Carbonating in bottles is one of your options. It is accomplished by adding sugar to the now fermented beer. This reactivates or awakens any of the remaining yeast cells in the beer and they immediately go back to work eating the new sugars with the by-product of them doing so is carbonation which the beer absorbs.
Some people refer to this process as a secondary fermentation due to the fact that when the yeast comes back alive they not only convert the sugars to CO2 but also additional alcohol is created however the amount is minimal and not noticeable.
Bottle conditioning or aging the beer also removes the green taste that younger beers can have. It allows the flavors to mellow and mature and makes for a better tasting beer.
Factors That Can Influence Bottle Conditioning
The following are a list of factors that you need to consider when bottle conditioning as they can influence the final characteristics of your beer such as taste, flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel to include carbonation levels.
The Style of Beer – For most styles of beers 2 – 4 weeks is ideal to get a perfectly carbonated and matured beer. As indicated previously, with hoppier beers 2 weeks would be the maximum recommended time to allow them to condition in order to preserve their hop flavors and aromas.
This would include all IPA’s and alot of Pale Ale’s especially the more hop forward APA styles. Beers such as Stouts and Porters especially the imperial version of these styles as well as some Belgian beers should be allowed to condition for a longer period of time. In most cases with these types of beers the recipe will give you a recommended conditioning timeline.
The Yeast Used – Yeast is the most important factor in regards to carbonation occurring in the bottles. Without a healthy yeast no conditioning will occur as there will be nothing to convert the sugars into CO2.
You typically will not have to be concerned with this; as long as you use a good healthy yeast strain and your beer undergoes a normal fermentation and no issues arise, when you bottle your beer you will have enough healthy yeast left over to carbonate and condition your beer perfectly.
Problems can happen if you leave your beer to ferment in a primary or secondary over longer periods of time then normal. This could cause the yeast to become dormant. You can also lose some yeast using some of the common filtering practices. If you have concerns that either of these things happened simply pitch some more yeast into the bottling bucket when you are adding the sugar.
The Type of Sugar – Almost as crucial to the conditioning process is sugar. I say almost as crucial as yeast because some brewers successfully carbonate in the bottles with the leftover sugars in the beer after fermentation. I do not recommend doing this as it is an advanced tactic that takes a serious understanding of the process and your recipe; but it is possible to do.
Instead of taking the chance that there are no left over residual sugars simply add some to the bottling bucket. You have many options available to you when it comes to choosing what priming sugar to use. Most people will use corn sugar which is also called dextrose, as it converts in the shortest period of time. However honey and malt extract are also used by many home brewers. My favorite method is to use carbonation drops which are corn sugar made into what look like little sugar cubes. I prefer them as they are the simplest method and create a perfect carbonation every time.
For corn sugar most people use ¾ a cup for a 5 gallon batch. For honey 1 cup is required and for malt extract add 1 ¼ cups.
Conditioning Temperature – Very much like during primary fermentation the yeast requires a certain temperature to properly do its job of converting the sugar into alcohol and CO2. Strive to keep the bottles at around the same temperature you fermented at. This is typically between 65 – 78 degrees fahrenheit.
If you don’t notice the plastic bottles getting harder or sediment forming at the bottom of the bottle and have concerns nothing is occurring, try raising the temperature a few degrees.
How Long You Condition – When it comes to time the basic rule of thumb is bottle conditioning takes 2 – 4 weeks for perfect carbonation levels to be reached. Corn sugar should be finished at 2 weeks, however Honey which takes longer might require the full 4 weeks.
There are a couple of methods you can use to determine if your beer has become carbonated:
1) The first is to use at least one plastic bottle. With a plastic bottle you will notice that the bottle becomes more firm to the touch as it carbonates. Give it a squeeze every couple of days. When it becomes hard you know it is ready to be consumed.
2) The second method is the good ol’ taste test. You can start this at week 1 if you like. Simply open a bottle and see if it is carbonated to your liking. You should hear a hissing sound when you open the cap and of course there should be carbonation bubbles in the beer with a nice head present. Take notes so you will remember when ideal conditioning levels were reached so next time you brew that beer you will know.
Which Bottles You Use – Deciding on which style of bottle to use when conditioning is also an important factor. As we already discussed, plastic bottles are helpful in being able to determine the level of carbonation easily.
Another factor to consider is the color of the bottle you are using. If you use a clear or green colored bottle be sure to condition in a dark area out of the sunlight in order to ensure the beer does not turn skunky on you.
In regards to the size of the bottle, if you are making a beer that you are going to carbonate at a higher level then you should use a larger bottle in order to allow more head space for the gas to expand, this way you reduce the risk of the dreaded exploding bottles. Outside of those styles of beer any size bottle is fine. Just leave a little space between the liquid level and the top of the bottle, ½ an inch to 1 inch is fine.
The Steps Involved in Bottle Conditioning
Final Gravity is Reached – Letting your beer ferment for at least two weeks before transferring to bottles allows the yeast to mellow out and clean themselves up which improves the taste of the beer. It also will ensure that fermentation has finished. Of course you can always use your hydrometer or refractor to confirm the beer has reached its final gravity. If the beer’s gravity has not moved for 2-3 days fermentation is completed and you can move to the bottle conditioning stage.
Clean/Sanitize Bottles & Equipment – Beer is highly susceptible to bacteria at this point in the brewing process. It is crucial that you not only clean and sanitize all of the bottles but also all of the bottling equipment that will be in contact with the beer such as the bottling wand, siphon, mixing spoon and bottling bucket itself.
Add the Priming Sugar – Depending on what type of sugar you are using will determine the amount you will use. Regardless of the type you will want to boil it with water. When it has cooled down add it to the bottling bucket that you have filled with your wort. Carbonation drops do not require that you boil them, simply add one to each individual bottle.
Transferring to Bottles – Using your siphon and bottling wand you will add the beer to each bottle individually, do so without splashing. Fill the bottle all the way to the top and when you remove the wand the beer will drop to the correct level.
Frequently Asked Questions
1) How long does bottled beer last?
Some of the best tasting beer will be ones that you let condition in the bottle for months. As long as you have a good seal on your beer bottles beer can last up to 6 to 9 months. If it is refrigerated it can last anywhere from 1.5 – 2 years. In most cases unless it gets an infection all that happens to beer that has expired is it becomes a little skunky tasting.
2) Can you bottle condition in a week?
In as little as 7 days you will have enough carbonation to be able to drink the beer. However in order to achieve full carbonation a minimum of 2 weeks of bottle conditioning is recommended.
3) How do you know when bottle conditioning is done?
There really is no such thing as conditioning being done. The beer’s characteristics will always be changing as it ages, very much like a fine wine. The best thing to do is to taste it at different times and record how it tasted. By doing so you will discover when the beer has been conditioned best to your likings.
4) What temperature do you bottle condition beer at?
The simple answer is room temperature. But anywhere within the ideal range for the yeast you used to ferment with will work great. You will find the temperature range on the yeast packet itself. Most ranges will be between 65 – 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
5) How long should IPA bottle condition?
IPA’s are beers that are best consumed fresh. 2 weeks is my time frame when it comes to IPA’s or any hoppy beers for that matter.
6) How long should beer ferment before bottling?
You should always ferment until fermentation is completed. You can take gravity readings as we talked about or wait the two weeks until fermentation is finished.
7) Is it OK to drink beer sediment?
Absolutely, there is nothing wrong with sediment in your beer. It will not hurt you and some claim it is actually good for you and many people enjoy the effect it has on making a beer cloudier or hazy looking.
8) Does bottle conditioning increase ABV?
Slightly but not by enough to really notice. Because you are adding sugar back into the beer the yeast does come back to life and consumes the sugars and one of the byproducts of this is alcohol along with the CO2 are created. However it is an insignificant amount.
9) Does bottle conditioning clear beer?
Yes bottle conditioning beer does help clear the beer but not by much especially if you keep it at room temperature. There are other techniques to clear your beer that you should employ before bottling, however if you put your bottles in the fridge for at least 2-3 days before drinking them it will serve as a mini cold crash and help to clear them a bit more.
The longer you can bottle condition most beers the better they are going to taste. 2 weeks is the recommended minimum and for most beers 4 weeks is more than enough time. Having patience is the key which is a difficult thing when you are waiting for that first taste, but if you can manage it you will be rewarded.
For further details on bottling homebrew check this post out: Bottling home brew beer everything you need to know.
Feel free to let me know if you have any questions on any of this?
Now go get your brew awnn…
Cheers Big Robb is Out!