December 27, 2009
In my last post, I said that when the must clears, there is another layer of lees, and the airlock stops bubbling, that it is time to bottle. However, before bottling a batch, test it first with the hydrometer to make sure all the sugar is gone. If there is some present and the yeast continue to work on it in a bottle, the pressure from the released CO2 could cause the bottle to explode. I also rack one more time minutes before bottling so that I don’t have to worry about sucking up lees when bottling. Using a hydrometer, a batch is ready to be bottled if it is 1.005 or less. If it is ready, it needs to be chemically treated to ensure it stops fermenting so that it does not release any more CO2 and create a “bottle bomb.”
Bottling works just the same as racking, only instead of having a second jug, there are bottles to fill up. When I bottle, I put the sterilized bottles on a chair with a large towel that I don’t care if it gets stained or not. The sterilized bottles are lined up to make it easier to process. I rack by either putting a clamp on the siphon tubing so that I can stop the flow and move my tubing to the next bottle, or I use a bottling wand. I got mine from my local supply store, and it is a tube with a ball in the bottom that has a little rod sticking out. Gravity and the force of the flow will push the ball down, blocking the flow, but when it is placed in the bottom of a bottle, the rod pushes the ball up, allowing liquid though.
When bottling, keep the hose or wand at the bottom to prevent splashing and too much contact with air. Fill the bottle as full as possible and then remove the hose or wand. The level will drop since the hose or wand was taking up space. Ideally, the bottle should only have half an inch to one inch of space between the top of the fluid to the cap or cork to minimize the amount of air in the bottle, or headspace.
I find bottling easier to do with two people. One person bottles while the other person takes away the full bottles and replaces them with new bottles. The second person may even have enough time to cork or cap the bottles, depending on the equipment. If there is only one person available for bottling, I highly recommend sterilizing a plate so that the tubing that goes in the bottle can be set down without contamination or the need to sterilize it again.
I should note that this is the method used for making a dry still drink, like wine. I’ll talk about how to make the drink sweet or carbonated in a later blog.