Bottling your home brew is one of those processes that most brewers dread because of the cleaning, sanitization, and boring repetition involved with it. I personally try to avoid it and instead keg my beer when ever possible or practical, but it is not always an option. When bottling beer, I do my best to make it as easy as possible.
I used to recycle old beer bottles, which involved several rounds of soaking and scrubbing to get the labels off. Since then, I have opted for large format 1 liter, ez cap/latch top bottles. What I like best about these bottles is that they hold approximately 32 oz of beer, so that means fewer bottles to clean, sanitize, and fill. Since they are latch top, it also means that I do not need to deal with the process of capping my bottles. If I give a bottle to a friend, I just make them promise to return the bottle clean to make my life a little easier when it comes to refilling.
As far as carbonating bottled beer goes, you have a couple of different options. I typically first carbonate my beer in the keg, and allow it to clear before bottling. This process allows for a cleaner tasting and clearer beer since the yeast has already dropped out and fermentation is not active in the bottle. Your other option is to create the CO2 for the carbonation process by allowing the beer to continue or complete the fermentation process while capped in the bottle.
The safest and most dependable method is to allow your beer to complete the fermentation process in the fermenter and then adding a calculated amount of sugar to the beer just prior to bottling so that the proper amount of carbonation can be achieved. It is critical that you do not add too much sugar, as it will produce excessive CO2 and that can cause the bottles to shatter.
I add the sugar directly to the bottle, but many people prefer premixing the sugar into the beer and then bottling. If you are going to premix the sugar with the beer, just be careful to mix the sugar in thoroughly without oxidizing your beer so that each bottle receives the same quantity of sugar. To make things easier, you can also purchase Fizz Drops, or pre-measured quantities of priming sugar to add directly to the bottle. Northern Brewer has them available here:
Northern Brewer Fizz Drops – Click the image for a link
Here are some general priming sugar amounts to use when bottling a typical American ale. Keep in mind that different styles of beer can call for different carbonation levels. Always make sure that your fermentation process has completed before adding additional sugar for carbonation or else you may risk over pressurizing the bottles:
5 gallons of beer = 4 oz of sugar
3 gallons of beer = 2.4 oz of sugar
1 gallon of beer = .8 oz of sugar
22 oz bottle = 1.5 tsp of sugar
12 oz bottle = 3/4 tsp of sugar
One last note: For great tasting beer, it is critical to clean the bottles and then sanitize them first. If any bacteria or residue remains in the bottle prior to filling them, you can ruin your beer with other flavors and funk! Happy brewing.
Home Made Beer Bottling: