How to Bottle Beer (or Soda) from a Keg
Bottling beer (or soda-pop) from a keg can be tricky. The problem that you will face is that once beer (or champagne, or mead) is carbonated, as it is pushed through a dispensing line into a bottle, it tends to foam and produce a head (and de-gas, losing carbonation). If you are trying to fill a beer bottle, you often end up with a foamy half-filled bottle, and beer that is semi-flat. Bummer.
People often ask about counter-pressure bottle fillers. These are devices that purge a beer bottle with CO2, then push beer into the (pressurized) bottle through a system of levers and valves. They are typically hooked up to Cornelius kegs and can cost up to $80 or $90. Although they work well, my problem with them is that they are fairly labor intensive to clean and sterilize, and are not an easy, simple way to fill a few bottles. If you are planning to bottle fifty bottles a week, every week, then a counter-pressure filler is a good option for you. Please call or e-mail us to get a quote on the latest prices - you will be able to fill bottles day and night without problem.
But if you are just trying to fill a six-pack now and again in order to give away some gifts, or bring some beer over to a friend's house, I have seen that a counter-pressure filler is not only unnecessary, but oftentimes too much of a hassle to deal with. I have developed a quick and easy way to fill bottles with minimal problems and maximum quality - and you can probably do it with no extra equipment than what you already have in your house.
First: a quick lesson in physics. Temperature and pressure are interconnected. (It is either Boyle's or Charles' Law - I forget.) Liquids become more or less soluble to gases as they change in temperature. What this means is that: as a liquid warms up, dissolved gases within the liquid want to come out. If you open a warm Pepsi and pour it at 80 degrees F, you will see the results - lots of foam. This is because the dissolved CO2 (i.e., carbonation) is escaping from the liquid as explosively fast as it can, trying to jump out of the Pepsi as soon as you unleash it from its sealed bottle. If you pour that same Pepsi at 35 degrees, you will have a nice carbonated Pepsi in you glass with lots of tingles on your tongue. This the the dissolved C02 still in the liquid, happily content to stay within the Pepsi due to its colder temperature.
OK, so what does this mean for beer and Corny kegs? After you carbonate your beer, or carbonate your sodapop in your keg, as you are trying to move it into your bottles, the beer CANNOT warm up in transit. If it does, you will start to see the carbonation "forcing itself" out of your beverage, and this will cause foaming and a head to develop. In addition, this foaming causes turbulence and turbulence is like shaking a Pepsi as you are pouring it: you get more foam. Chain reaction. This causes lots of problems in your process.
So here is my method: If you have a spring-loaded bottle filler, carefully pull the spring-filled head mechanism off the bottle filler. Place all these pieces in a Ziplock bag for safe keeping, you will want to reassemble the filler again one day to fill bottles the normal way (with non-carbonated beer). What you will have is a straight tube with nothing on either end. This tube "jams" itself up into the dispensing nozzle of your cobra-head handheld faucet.
So, once your beer (or sodapop) is carbonated and cold, and you have poured off a few pints to make sure all is well and everything is flowing and tasting great, sterilize the bottles that you want to fill. (If you are going to drink the beer or pop within 24 hours or so, just make sure the bottles are clean - you do not need to sterilize them.) Cover the tops of the bottles with aluminum foil (to keep out airborne contamination), and put the bottles into a refrigerator or freezer for a few hours. Take the long straight tube (your old bottlefiller) and sterilize it, and then wrap it up in Saran Wrap (to keep it sterile) and put it also into the cold environment with the bottles.
After a few hours, when everything is chilled down, take the long, straight tube and unwrap it from the Saran. Jam it into the hole on your handheld faucet. Lower your regulator pressure from the 10 to 12 psi that you normally dispense with, down to 2 to 5 psi. Exhaust the pressure from the top of your Corny keg and allow the lower pressure to fill it up. Take a beer bottle, unwrap the foil from the top and put the tube into the bottom of the bottle. Dispense the beer nice and gently into the bottle. Do not hold the bottle from underneath, as the warmth from your hands may increase the glass temperature and cause foaming. Hold it by the neck if you need to.
When the bottle is filled to the brim, stop dispensing, and pull out the filler tube. The beer level will drop an inch or so due to displacement. Cap the bottle with an oxygen-absorbing bottle cap, so as to eliminate any residual oxygen from the airspace of the bottle. This will produce a sediment-free, oxygen-free, fully-carbonated commercial-looking beer. Easy, fast, and simple. You can now allow the bottle of beer to warm up, you can give it for a gift, you can send it off to a competition. If you are going to drink the bottle within a few days, oxygen-absorbing bottlecaps are probably unnecessary.
If you are not worried about aesthetics or gift-giving, but just want to transport beer from your keg to a party, or a picnic, or to the beach, we also sell (for $19.95) slick, little devices called "Carbonators." These hook up to a one-liter or two-liter plastic pop bottle, and allow you to pump CO2 into these kinds of bottles and recarbonate beverages within a few minutes.
Example: You can just fill a two-liter bottle with carbonated beer or pop, you will see foaming and loss of CO2, but then the Carbonator goes on top and within a few minutes you can re-infuse that liquid with more carbonation, and be on your way with a two-liter bottle full of your kegged beer. It does what it does very well.