How To Transfer Beer From A Fermenter To A Bottling Bucket


There are a lot of steps in making good homebrew and some things may seem like they are not that important, but often they are critical.

Almost every little action during the brew day and thereafter can affect the finished beer.

One key stage is getting your fermented beer from the fermenter into bottles or kegs. I remember struggling with this early on until I learned a few neat little tricks.

Oxidation and premature beer racking are the biggest issues. Monitor the final gravity of your beer over 2-3 days for any change. Once fermentation is complete, thoroughly sanitize all equipment, then use an auto-siphon with a long tube to minimize splashing. A closed CO2 system is the best method.

Now depending on your familiarity with brewing and skill level this could sound very easy or extremely complicated. Either way you want to make sure that it is done right so you get the most beer and it tastes delicious.

I’ve outlined how to transfer the beer from the fermenter to a bottling bucket below. 

Can you bottle directly from the fermenter?

If oxidation, which we’ll talk about in more detail later, is such a big issue, why not just cut out the bottling bucket?

Well, yes you could, but it’s not the best idea because you could easily suck up all the waste material (trub) from the bottom of the fermenter into your bottles.

This would be bad because you may introduce more than just the yeast left in suspension into your bottle beer, which could lead to possible off-flavors and bottle bombs (see my article for more information.)

Racking directly from a fermenter into bottles works best if you have a conical fermenter (see Amazon for an example), but it’s still not ideal. Unless you have pinpoint accuracy, you can still suck up some unwanted material.

It is generally done when people rack directly from a  fermenter to a keg.

Besides having the trub get into the bottles another disadvantage would be that mixing the sugar into the beer evenly. If you do it directly from the fermenter you would not want to stir the sugar as it would kick up all the yeast. 

If you first rack the beer into a bottling bucket you can put the sugar in beforehand and let gravity mix the beer. When the beer enters the bucket it will swirl and mix itself enough in theory.

So if you boil the priming sugar then add it to the bottling bucket then rack the beer from the fermenter you will end up with a better product and clearer bottles which is our end goal.

I’ve even tested this against adding carbonation drops into each individual bottle and I’ve always found that adding the sugar to the bottling bucket is just easier and more consistent in terms of carbonation across the entire batch.

How much beer should be left in the fermenter and bottling bucket?

Now, this is up to personal preference and taste, everybody has a special way of doing. The design of your fermenter will also change this.

If you are using a standard bottling bucket the bottom will be quite an even area, but if you have divised a homemade fermenter (as I often do) then you may have uneven areas of trub to deal with.

For the beer coming from the fermenter to the bottling bucket, you should leave about an inch or so of beer above the surface of the waste material to be safe.

Make sure you pay attention to where your siphon tube is and what it’s actually sucking up.  

If you see that you have some organic material in the bottling bucket that was transferred from the fermenter I wouldn’t put it in the bottles. 

This is just me though and there are a lot of homebrewers that siphon as much liquid as possible and are ok with some sediment.

However, whenever I’ve added a little more trub than I would otherwise do, it’s led to exploding bottles and other mishaps.

I avoid all the sediment but leave behind some beer. You are the master of your domain and need to decide which scenario works for you. 

Transfering from a fermenter to a bottling bucket

It’s not actually that difficult to transfer beer from your fermenter to your bottling bucket, assuming that you have some key pieces of kit.

I really recommend that you always use Star San (link to Amazon) as your sanitizer. I’ve tried to use other household chemicals, but the no-rise element is such a time saver.

Also, get yourself a decent auto-siphon (link to Amazon). It’ll save you on time and effort and also reduce the chance of you adding bacteria to the beer by sucking on the end of a hose (yep people do sometimes do that!).

Basic steps: transferring beer to a bottling bucket

Here are the basic step using standard equipment and the order you would want to do them in.

  1. Assemble your siphon
  2. Sanitize all equipment and surrounding areas
  3. Place your fermenter on an elevated position 
  4. Place your bottling bucket (or bottles) a few feet below
  5. Remove your lid/ stopper from the fermenter 
  6. Insert/ connect  what every type of siphon you have
  7. Place the open end of the tubing inside the bottling bucket
  8. Start your suction/ siphon
  9. Siphon until the fermenter is almost empty
  10. add your sugar and start bottling that beer!

Why is a clean transfer so important? 

This is one step in the brewing process that is often overlooked because it seems very simple and it can be. Being a good brewer you should not only know how to do something but why. 

You need to do this because you want to take the beer away from all the dead yeast, hops, and grain particles left in the fermenter.

This is so you can add your sugar, which in most cases is done in the bottling bucket. The clean transfer and removal of all these particles will give you a clearer beer in the bottle.

Besides the smell, what we see first impacts the taste of the beer whether we think about it or not.

Why should we use a siphon?

Without some form of siphon hose, you are left with the options of pouring beer from one vessel to another, and that’s going to lead to splashing.

It’s essential that you try to reduce any additional introduction of oxygen into your beer after boiling the wort and cooling it down. This is especially true when racking beer for bottling or kegging.

Siphoning, especially with an auto-siphon is an efficient way of moving beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket (or bottles) while introducing as little oxygen and trub as possible. It’s also a great way to avoid making a big mess.

By placing the auto-siphon’s tube into the very bottom of your bottling bucket (or bottle) and right against the side, you’ll get nearly zero splashing.

Oxidation at this stage is a problem 99% of all brewers, even professionals face, and this is the best method to reduce the risk of band-aid tasting beer.

Things to avoid when racking beer into a bottling bucket

I’ve mentioned a few things already, but it’s best you know how not to rack beer so that you can do it like a pro. The flavor of your beer is at stake! 

  • Oxidation- Oxygen is only good when putting the wort into the fermenter, after fermentation, it will oxidize the beer which is not good.
  • Transferring trub–  Trub is the sediment that gathers at the bottom of the fermentation container.
  • Spilling beer- This is just a waste and normally happens when brewers forget to close the spigot on fermenters or close off an auto-siphon
  • Exposing it to bacteria- This can be prevented from thorough cleaning and sanitization, make sure that you have everything that you will be using sanitized including all the surfaces you may touch.  I personally recommend Star San

When do I rack my beer into the bottling bucket?

You want to make sure that fermentation has really ended. You can do this by taking a specific gravity reading with a hydrometer (pick one up on Amazon) and checking for no change over a couple of days.

After you think that it is done and you have reached your target final gravity, wait at least another couple of days.

Most recipes will tell you that fermentation takes any where between 10 and 14 days. My professional brewer friend Tom always tells me to wait at least 2 and a half weeks.

It won’t harm your beer and it will ensure fermentation has really ended before you rack that beer.

If you did happen to rack a beer that hadn’t been fully fermented, then you are going to cause massive overcarbonation within the bottle.

This happens because the yeast hasn’t yet finished the process of attenuation (processing the sugar in wort).

If you then go and add more sugar, it’ll probably stress the yeast which will both go into a frenzy of CO2 production and likely give off some funky off-flavors into the bargain.

What can you use as a bottling bucket?

This really can be any container as long as it is cleaned and sanitized properly. Any food-grade container with enough capacity would be fine, I use my stainless steel brew kettle and it works great. 

I’ve also found that, assuming you don’t transfer over any trub, that a spigot also comes in handy. This is because a flat bottomed vessel is always going to leave you with a bit of beer leftover.

So, having a spigot can help you easily pour the very last drops out of the bottling bucket into that final bottle of beer.

I also find that having something to place under the bottling bucket so that it is tilted forward (or backwards) can help an auto-siphon to suck up more of the beer than if the bucket is flat. This also works well for the fermenter.

Get an auto-siphon

An auto-siphon (see this beauty on Amazon) is a MUST have item for any serious brewer. It just makes transferring beer from one place to another so much quicker and less physically demanding.

The auto-siphon works by pumping one end up and down a couple of times. The motion causes suction which then produces a steady flow of beer from one vessel to another.

Once the flow is started, you can let gravity do what it does best. Using an auto-siphon can be quite easy and quick, but sometimes they do break. I got a crack in one once and it definitely reduced its efficiency (and used to add more air than I liked into the mix).

This being said, they are very inexpensive. You can just get a new one because you won’t want to try any other methods once you’ve used one.

Here are a few points when using one. 

  • Depth- Your siphon should be deep enough so as to actually begin to siphon, yet not so deep as to disturb the trub. It’s a happy medium that comes with practice. 
  • Getting it started- Try starting with your siphon between 2-3 inches deep into your beer. 
  • Slow and steady- After you start it, slowly moving deeper as your liquid is displaced into the bottling bucket will ensure a smooth transfer. You can adjust the position of the clip to any depth you want.
  • Watch out- During this whole process and especially towards the end when you are close to the trub watch closely, you will want to stop siphoning prior to pulling any sediment. Siphon Smart!

Common siphoning issues

I can’t get my siphon started- If you can’t get your siphon to start it’s probably because of one of three things.

A) It’s blocked. If you have rammed the siphon into the bottom of the trub, it could just be clogged. Try removing it and testing it in water to see that it does work.

B) you may just need to form a better seal to produce better suction. Sometimes you just need to remove the inner tube of the siphon and the put it back down, making sure the rubber stopper is sitting evenly on the end of it.

C) it may, like my one did not too long ago, be cracked. Check the siphon in a bucket of water and see if any water shoots out the side. If it is cracked, you can probably still get some suction out of it, but it’s best to just buy a new one.

It starts and stops or slows down- Try moving the two containers a little further apart and that the fermenter is higher than the bottling bucket.

Also, check to be sure that the auto-siphon (or racking cane) is submerged all the way into the original container.

Finally, check to see that the siphon hose isn’t kinked in any way.

How long should the tube be?

Having enough tubing to allow the tube to rest in your bottling bucket will prevent it from splash as it enters the bucket.

Since everyone uses different size tubes and buckets you will have to fit it to your setup. You can always just buy a longer tube, with the right dimensions, to fit onto your auto-siphon.

However, usually, the longest type of hose that comes with the auto-siphon, like this I bought from Amazon, is about 8 ft. I find that it does the job perfectly for my needs.

What are the alternatives to using an auto-siphon? 

 Here you have a few options if you don’t want to or don’t like to use an auto-siphon. 

  • A racking cane– This could be considered an auto-siphon but we will put it as an alternative for the sake of argument.  This skinny tube of hard plastic with a hooked bit on one end is a very common tool that many homebrewers use. The one issue with it is that getting the siphon started can be a bit complicated for some.  
  • Pump- You can get non-auto siphons that you have to pump, which if done slowly and smoothly can be a good option,  but don’t suck on it like a car siphon. This gives more of a chance that a bacterial infection could get into your brew. 
  • TubingAny food grade tube with enough length to reach the bottom of the bottling bucket will work. Also, if you have a spigot on your fermenter, then you can use gravity to transfer the beer through the tube. 
  • T-Siphon/homemade siphon- Is a homemade contraption that I saw recently and seems simple enough to use.  It is in the shape of a T and is just made of 1 nylon barb tee, 1 hose clamp, and 1 siphon hose. Be creative and find what works for you. 

source

What are the alternatives to bottling?

One option, which is demonstrated by Martin Keen on his YouTube channel, is to use a pressurized fermenting system which you can then serve your beer directly from.

How it works

Because the Fermzilla all-rounder allows you to brew under pressure (which is naturally produced by the yeast itself) you can use that internal pressure later on.

Instead of just leaving the fermenter as would work in conventional systems, the CO2 isn’t all allowed to exit. Eventually this CO2 will be absorbed back into the beer and make it carbonated.

You can also use the existing internal pressure to serve your beer.

This means you don’t need to bottle or keg your beer, or even add sugar it. As I said, the carbonation actually comes from the process of fermentation itself.

See the latest deals for the Fermzilla all-rounder on kegland.com.au

Recommended gear for bottling beer

In closing, let me tell you what would be on my Amazon wishlist for bottling beer.

Bottling bucket

Check current prices and availability on Amazon.com

Auto-siphon

Check current prices and availability on Amazon.com

Bench bottle capper

Check current prices and availability on Amazon.com

Beer bottle caps

Check current prices and availability on Amazon.com

Long neck beer bottles

Check current prices and availability on Amazon.com

Flip/swing top bottles

These are great because you don’t need to buy a bottle capper or caps!

Check current prices and availability on Amazon.com

Carbonation drops

Check current prices and availability on Amazon.com

Relevant articles:

Phil - BeerCreation

Hey, I'm Phil. I'm passionate about all things beer. I love making it, drinking it and best all, learning about it!

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