When to Bottle? Make Better Beer By Doing Nothing

There are various schools of thought about the best time to bottle home brew. It may be later than you think.

home brew when to bottle

Generally speaking, one of the best (and easiest) things you can do to improve your home brew is leave it in the fermenter for a couple of weeks before bottling.

Doing this will give you a much tastier beer because of the extra time the yeast has to ferment the beer properly. This applies to all brewing methods, whether kit, extract or all grain.

Primary and Secondary Fermentation

During fermentation yeast convert sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. They also produce a number of other by-products which affect the taste of the beer.

Depending on the beer style these are more or less desirable.

A lot of ales, for instance, derive much of their character from the fruity sub-tastes produced during the beer making process.

Lagers or lighter ales, on the other hand, rely on a purity of finish as a hallmark of their style.

Yeast in Action

If you have an airlock fitted to your fermenter you’ll be able to observe the action of the yeast soon after you seal in your beer.

Bubbles of air will frantically escape through the bubbler, usually within twenty four hours. The activity will gradually die down to one or two blurps a minute, and after three days or so you probably won’t be aware of any yeast action.

Don’t jump to conclusions though – that doesn’t mean that nothing’s going on.

A bubbling airlock is not the only sign of fermentation.

Once the yeast have worked their way through the sugars, processing all of the fermentable ones and leaving behind the non-fermentables which give the sweet malty taste to beer, they move onto their second course.

Slowly they reprocess some of the fermentation by-products, starting the stage of brewing known as secondary fermentation.

Secondary Fermentation

Given enough time, yeast will clean your beer thoroughly and you’ll bottle with the best chance of a decent batch.

As a general rule of thumb around two weeks from brew day should be fine, but bear in mind that heavier, stronger beers usually require longer.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the conditioning process and what the yeast are really up to, a great explanation can be found in How to Brew by John Palmer (book / website).

Dangers of Rapid Bottling

Other than the benefits outlined above, there is another good reason for leaving your brew in the fermenter.

Assuming that they are otherwise healthy, yeast will continue to process fermentable sugars until they are gone, releasing carbon dioxide gas as they go.

Although the airlock may have stopped bubbling, the process could still be happening inside at a much slower rate.

Gas isn’t accumulating in enough quanitities to escape in a noticable way, but it’s still being generated. If you bottle before the yeast can finish, fermentation of the remaining sugars will continue inside the bottle.

If enough sugars are left in the brew the gas given out can be substantial, enough to explode your bottles. So be careful.

Checking if Fermentation is Complete

If you want to bottle as soon as possible and let the secondary fermentation take place in the bottle, there is a way to check that the risks of exploding bottles are low.

Hydrometers measure the density of water, or beer, and can tell you about the fermentation progress.

Because sugar in a liquid increases the density, a reading taken before fermentation should be higher than at the end, when the yeast have converted it into alcohol and gas.

This means that with two hydrometer readings (before and after) you’ll be able to judge whether fermentation has taken place.

Monitor Your Beer

One way to check is to compare your readings with the predicted gravities given by the recipe.

However, as most brewers don’t get exact matches of sugar profile even when following the same recipe, another way to check is to take two hydrometer reading separated by a day or so.

If the density hasn’t changed your beer’s probably done.

So, When to Bottle?

As a minimum wait until primary fermentation has completely finished, usually after four or five days.

Wait another week so the yeast can clean up your beer and your taste buds will thank your patience.

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Comments...

  1. Thank you for this article. I have been bottling after 1 week simply because gravity readings indicated fermentation was done. After reading your article, I will leave my brew in for an extra week to see the difference.

    • John

      Thanks for the comment.

      I hope it turns out well.

  2. Tim

    I too wish to thank you! I was also bottling my beer after a week or so and then drinking it about two weeks later. I noticed that the beer had a green taste (not ready). Would it be wise to move the beer to a secondary fermenter after a week? I’ve been cold crashing and clarifying with gelatin after the first week. I probably should read some more but was hoping you could give me down and dirty answer. :). Thanks

    • John

      Hi Tim,

      I wrote a bit about that here.

      In summary, I personally wouldn’t bother unless you have a good reason for doing so. You could easily leave your beer in the same fermenter another couple of weeks with no problems.

      The same goes once it’s in the bottle. It often takes a while for the flavours to settle down and mellow, unless of course a very fresh taste is what you’re after.

  3. tucker

    I’ve fermented lager for 21 days. How long now to leave cool and dark?

    • John

      I’m afraid I can’t comment as I haven’t brewed a lager myself.

      Good luck.

  4. Thank you! Was going to bottle today but will wait until next weekend. Will let you know how it goes.

    • John

      Hope it works out well.

  5. Chris

    I brewed my first batch and let it ferment for 2 weeks. I’m about to bottle and as I start into the first bottle go large chunks of sediment (1/4 inch). I imagine I don’t want these in my bottles. What should I do?

    • John

      Chris,

      It isn’t necessarily bad if a bit of sediment gets in as it does tend to fall to the bottom of the bottle. If you pour carefully it should stay there.

      However, it’s better to keep as much out of the bottles as you can.

      Are you siphoning from well below the surface of the beer? That usually helps to avoid most sediment.

      The bottling wand should filter a lot of it out as well. Are you using one?

  6. Hi
    I’ve just started home brewing and did my research first. I got a kit, Tom Caxton Lager, and the manual stated 1 week in fermenter. I saw online and you tube 2 weeks are best so was patient and I waited the 2 weeks.

    I used a 23Ltr auto siphon, with sediment catcher, and siphoned into my bottling bucket from around halfway down the brew. Just to stop any further chunks getting in. The result of waiting 2 weeks were seen from the off.

    The lager is VERY clear with no bits & has a nice aroma and tastes like beer (which is always a good sign).

    I bottled up 40 pints the same day and waited 2 weeks to do a bottle test. Tasted great and good bubbles but left another week just to give it more time.

    After 5 weeks the Final product was CRYSTAL clear a great cheap lager for first attempt.

    I’ve just brewed the Coopers Mexican Cerveza kit today so hope this works out just the same. Also added zest from 3 limes. I will keep you posted on this one.

    To the comments above I’d say be patient, give it time and sanitize EVERYTHING. Results are worth the wait.

    • John

      Hi Andy,

      Thanks for commenting. You’re right – patience is key.

      Hope the Mexican beer works out well.

    • Dennis Hart

      I’m looking forward to your comments on the taste as I have been tempted with the Mexican Cerveza kit from Coopers but I don’t know anyone who has tried it.

  7. Wayne

    Just waiting to bottle my cider kit but its 14days tomorrow and still signs of bubbles in airlock about once a min but I am worried I’ve left it to long can anyone please help thanks.

    • John

      Sorry, I’ve never made cider but it sounds like it’s still fermenting.

      • Benjamin Chambers

        I’ve been working on ciders for about six months, and I’ve found that I sometimes have to rack twice (primary, secondary, tertiary) BEFORE bottling because of all the yeast cake on the bottom of the bottle.

        On the one hand, as long as fermentation is still progressing you don’t want to bottle yet. But you also don’t want to leave that sediment in there, as it gives an off flavor. Hence my additional racking.

        • John

          Thanks for the advice.

  8. Tom

    Was good to read as I am making my first batch of lager.

    I was just worried that it might be in too cool of a place as it’s around 18 deg Celsius at night. Anyways I am worried as there aren’t many bubbles on the top of the carboy.

    Just don’t want to bottle too early and have bombs or wait too long but it hasn’t been as long as the kits says but I also don’t want flat beer.

    How long would be too long to wait to bottle?

    • John

      Hi Tom,

      I’ve occasionally waited up to a month without any noticeable problems. It’s usually a good idea to leave it longer than a beer kit recommends, so it sounds like you are not ready to bottle just yet.

      When you bottle you should add priming sugar, so you won’t have have flat beer even if you do wait a while before bottling.

      Good luck.

      • Tom

        Ok thanks. I was and am just worried that it got too cold and began to kill or make the yeast dormant.

        Is that possible or I should have no problems?

        • John

          Tom,

          You should be fine. 18 degrees isn’t especially cold.

  9. Chris04

    Hi,
    I’ve just done my first Coopers Pale Ale brew and thought the fermentation was complete after 3.5 days so added bulk priming sugar in preparation for bottling.
    But on consideration due to noticing more bubbles (fermentation) have decided to wait a few more days.
    After reading all the above advice and comments, I don’t know what to do.
    Do I wait 2-3 days before attempting bottling, do I add additional priming sugar, do I not put any more primer into the batch?
    Aaaahhh! Help.

    • John

      Hi Chris,

      It sounds like it’s still only been a week since brewing, so your best bet would be to leave it for at least another week to make sure fermentation has completely stopped. You could leave it longer.

      Then prime again and bottle immediately.

      By letting the priming sugar you have already added ferment out, you are reducing the risk of over carbonating, which could cause bottles to explode.

      Hope that helps.

  10. Jacques

    Hi there , I just started my first pale ale and after 3 days I saw no more bubbling in the airlock, worried that nothing is happening I opened the lid gave it a stir, now after reading your bit about 1st and secondary fermentation I am worried that I harmed the beer by opening the lid and giving it a stir. Any help?

    • John

      Hi Jacques,

      It would have been better if you didn’t open and stir it, but the beer may still be OK, especially if you were careful to use clean equipment.

      Carry on with the brew as planned, being patient at every stage. When it comes to bottling have a taste, and you should notice straight away whether the beer has survived.

      Although it’s tempting, try not to fiddle too much and trust in the process.

      Good luck.

  11. Ted W

    the airlock bubbles every 4 minutes or so after 2 weeks in the secondary fermenter. how long until I can bottle? I thought it would have slowed or even stopped by now…
    thanks

    • John

      Ted,

      It would normally have stopped fermenting by now, but it may be that the bubbling is caused by something else.

      Have you taken a gravity reading to check whether fermentation has taken place, and whether it has stopped?

      Once you have a stable reading for a few days, you will be able to bottle.

  12. Hazel

    Fascinating reading all the comments. I’m brewing for the 1st time, a St. Peter’s ale kit.

    Probably will bottle in the next couple of days, and now I know I can leave it a bit longer than the instructions say.

  13. Mark Smith

    Hi,
    My shop bought fermenter has a tap 2 inches off the bottom.
    Can I bottle straight from the tap?
    and how can i avoid sediment in the bottles?
    thanks

    • John

      Hi Mark,

      Yes, you can bottle straight from the tap.

      There will always be a little sediment in the bottle, unless you filter it, but usually it will compact onto the bottom.

      If you’re careful when pouring, the beer will come out cleanly and leave the sediment behind.

  14. Casey curiel

    About to begin my 2nd batch of Cooper s Mexican cervesa. After doing some research I found that adding some hops would enhance the final product. I purchase 1 ounce of Cascade pellets and the cloth required to do so.

    I know there’s two ways of adding it. One directly to the brew and one by boiling and adding the water in which it was boiled. What do you prefer and how much would I need to make the six gallon batch.

    Also what are the benefits of batch priming instead of priming individual bottles besides for the labor?

    What is the best way of going about doing this?

    • John

      Casey,

      To answer the hop question I would probably boil them with the brew for about five minutes as that is similar to how you would make beer from scratch.

      As for how much to add that depends on what sort of effect you are looking for. 1 oz (c.28g) is not that much so, assuming you are doing the extra work because you want a pronouced hop taste or smell, I would use all of them.

      You could always split the batch in two and try different amounts in each to experiment.

      In my opinion the main benefit of batch priming is that you get an even distribution of priming sugar throughout the beer, and all your bottles have about the same level of gas.

      Adding to each bottle it’s hard to be consistent because the quantities are so small (unless you use carbonation drops).

      Good luck.

  15. Laura

    I’m about to start brewing my first batch of beer. Would using growlers from previous beer purchases affect the outcome, or does the final container not matter?

    • John

      Laura,

      It doesn’t matter as long as you can clean and sanitise (or sterilise) it, and seal it.

  16. Dennis

    Hi John,

    I just found your site and am so glad I did, although I’m not “brand new” at home brewing, I haven’t done any for quite a number of years.

    During the 1970s I used “Boots” own brand of beer kit, a premium bitter which had in it a yeast (which was suspended in a kind of liquid in a small polythene sachet) which you just stirred in the must at the onset of fermentation, the main characteristic of it was that when the beer was poured from the bottle (when it was ready for drinking) the settled yeast at the base of the bottle just stayed there! You never had to be so careful on pouring as it never moved and a crystal clear pint was poured every time…

    I’m wondering if that type of yeast is available anywhere?

    • John

      Hi Dennis,

      Not that I’m aware, although it sounds interesting.

      In my experience, if you store the beer upright the yeast will tend to settle to the bottom anyway. As long as you’re not too agressive, it should stay there while you pour.

      Sorry I can’t help, and good luck with your search!

  17. Marissa

    I am brewing a honey lavender pale ale. I did go a bit heavy on the honey (14 ounces) so I’m pretty sure that’s the result of this, but I would like your thoughts. It was in primary fermentation bucket for 1 week and secondary for 2 weeks. I am still getting one bubble every 45 seconds in airlock. So all together we are now at the end of week 3. This is our wedding beer so I HAVE to bottle it by next weekend (we are driving to another state for the wedding which means we have to be ready a week prior). If there is still signs of bubbling in airlock how great is the risk of explosion? I really don’t want exploding beer in the car on our road trip hahaha.

    • John

      Hi Marissa,

      The bubbling could be caused by something other than fermentation. To check, I’d take gravity readings every other day over the next few days. If they are constant, in theory the fermentation has finished.

      If they keep getting lower, don’t bottle just yet.

      Good luck with the wedding.

  18. Tanya

    My beer has been in secondary fermenter and is time to bottle but we are going away for a week can I leave it till I get back to bottle it.

    • John

      That should be OK, yes.

  19. Jim

    Hi John,

    I just inherited a whole lot of brewing stuff and put down my first extract beer. (A Weizen) Thanks for doing this site, it has really helped answer a few questions for me already.(I’ll probably leave my first fermentation a little longer now.) I wanted to ask your opinion on All grain brewing and whether you really need an insulated mash tun or not. How basic can you start? Cheers in advance.

  20. Jim

    Sorry just read your bit on boil in the bag. And it answered my question!!! :) Definitely going to give that a go next. Thanks again for doing this website. You rock!

    • John

      Hi Jim,

      Glad you found what you were looking for.

      Good luck with the brew! Hope you get on OK.

  21. Mike

    Hi John,

    It’s my first time brewing and I don’t know if I can transfer the lager I’ve brewed into bottles to store!

    I put the brew into a presure barrel for secondary fermentation two weeks ago and it should be ready to drink! Just not sure if I can only pour straight to the glass to drink or like I said put into bottles to store or put it in the fridge to chill.

    Or will it go flat?

    • John

      Mike,

      You can put the beer in bottles to store it in the fridge. If they’re sealed it won’t go flat.

      I’m not sure exactly what setup you have and what you’ve done so far, but you will probably need to add priming sugar before you bottle to make sure there is (enough) gas.

      • Mike

        I added my priming sugar to my presure barrel to start secondary fermentation which should now be complete according to the instructions!. Should be able to start drinking, just want to be able to empty barrel so I can start new batch! And to chill before drinking.

        • John

          Mike,

          I think this answers your question.

          • Mike

            Yes John, that makes sense, thanks for your help.

            Great site very helpful.

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