You’ve done all the steps and finally finished fermenting your homebrew beer, now you want to enjoy it! Unfortunately, knowing when to bottle your homebrew is not as simple as you might think.
You can bottle your homebrew as soon as fermentation is complete and hydrometer readings have been the same for three days in a row, indicating final gravity has been reached. In most cases, homebrew beer will need at least two weeks of fermentation time before finishing although more complex beers can take between 2-6 weeks.
If you would like to know about the potential risks and the signs to look for to indicate when your beer is ready to be bottled, keep reading!
When should you bottle your homebrew after fermentation?
Sadly, bottling your homebrew isn’t as simple as whenever you feel thirsty. Depending on the type of beer you are brewing and the method, you may have to wait several weeks before you can bottle your beer.
Here is the standard amount of weeks it will typically take after brew day before you should bottle your beer:
- Ales will need at least 3 weeks
- Lagers will need between 6 to 8 weeks
- Wheat beers can be bottled in under a week
There are also visible signs to check to ensure your homebrew is ready to be bottled. Such as looking at where your yeast is. If the yeast in your homebrew is floating around still, unless you are brewing a wheat beer, suspended yeast means it is not ready yet.
Making sure that your beer is completely fermented is key when it comes to determining when to bottle.
What happens if you bottle beer too early?
Experienced home brewers know that the timing of bottling your beer is important not just for the flavor, but for safety as well.
Bottling homebrew beer too early may lead to a build-up of carbon dioxide (carbonation), which in turn can lead to your bottle exploding. This poses not only a safety hazard but destroys the homebrew you just spent weeks creating. Ensuring you bottle your beer at the proper time is a method to reducing this risk.
The exploding beer is typically caused when fermentation is not yet complete. If you bottle your beer too early the yeast inside will have not had time to settle. Then gases inside the bottle will cause enormous pressure which leads to BOOM!
Timing is only one aspect of your bottles exploding, if you’d like to know more about what can cause this event check out my other article here.
What happens if you ferment beer too long?
While not as risky as bottling your beer before fermentation is done, leaving your homebrew to ferment for too long also poses complications.
If you ferment your beer for too long you risk yeast autolysis, which is the breakdown of yeast cells. When your yeast cells break down and die after they finish fermenting in your beer the dead cells will produce an off-flavor.
While yeast autolysis may not destroy your homebrew immediately, you’ll want to ensure you are timing the fermentation correctly to avoid unwanted flavor.
How to make sure fermentation is complete
Now that you know the biggest factor determining when you can bottle your beer is when fermentation is done, you might be asking yourself how can you make sure fermentation is complete.
There are several indicators to determining when fermentation is complete. The easiest method, as I mentioned briefly earlier, is using a hydrometer. This device is the simplest and most surefire way to make sure fermentation is complete before bottling. There are also additional visual and flavor cues you can use to identify fermentation is over.
It is important to note there are two stages of fermentation, primary and secondary. It is necessary for both to be complete before you can bottle. The only exception is when you are brewing a beer that doesn’t require secondary fermentation such as wheat beer.
How to tell when fermentation is complete with a hydrometer
Hydrometers measure the density of liquid. Sugar increased the density of your homebrew, as it ferments the sugar is ‘eaten’ by the yeast. Do you see where I’m going with this?
If hydrometers can measure density, and sugar affects that density, that means the hydrometer can tell us when the sugar is completely gone and your fermentation is complete!
- Here is a cheap option for a hydrometer on Amazon.
Typically, you’ll want to see a consistent reading of your brew’s density or gravity for 2 days to ensure fermentation is complete. A consistent reading means your hydrometer is no longer showing a change in the density over the 2 days. No change means all the sugar has been processed and fermentation is complete. If your hydrometer keeps fluctuating that means fermentation is still occurring.
If you are looking for the exact process to take a hydrometer reading, this video demonstrates how exactly to do so.
If you don’t have a hydrometer or just want additional methods to tell when fermentation is complete, look no further than below!
How do you know when secondary fermentation is complete
If you’re unfamiliar with primary and secondary fermentation you might be wondering if there are different signs to show when secondary fermentation ends in comparison to primary. The short answer is no, not really.
Secondary fermentation is fermentation in a secondary vessel. This process is a continuation of the conditioning of a beer and allows for a clearer more mellow brew. As I mentioned previously, some beers are meant to be cloudier and thus don’t require secondary fermentation.
Now let’s cover the two big signs that fermentation is complete besides the hydrometer.
What should beer taste like before bottling?
Tasting your homebrew before bottling is a good indicator if fermentation is complete. Don’t worry it can’t hurt you in moderation!
If your homebrew tastes sweet fermentation is likely not done and sugar is still present. Your beer should taste like flat warm beer when it is done fermenting. Since the only thing left is adding carbonation. If it tastes or smells rotten it’s likely bacteria got into your batch.
Should beer be clear before bottling?
I covered this sign earlier in the article, but to refresh – it depends on the type of beer you are brewing.
Lagers, for example, should be clearer with the yeast fully settled before bottling. On the other hand, New England IPAs are made to be cloudy with a layer of sediment on the bottom of the bottle.
Do some research as to what your beer should look like and follow accordingly. If your ale is completely opaque it’s probably not ready!