Most beginner homebrew kits come with two buckets. One for fermentation, one for bottling. The two buckets are identical except for a spigot added to the bottom of the bottling bucket. A hose and bottling wand are attached to this spigot to bottle beer.
If you are doing single stage fermentation or have a lot of sediment, be it yeast or fruit or whatever else, it is important to rack off before bottling. If you don’t, you’ll get a cloudy mess and your bottling wand will likely be clogging constantly making for way more frustration than is necessary.
However, if you’ve already racked your beer to secondary and there is not much yeast sitting in the bottom of the fermenter, you can bottle without another racking. For this, you’ll need an auto siphon. The beginner kit usually comes with a racking cane, which is just a piece of stiff plastic shaped like an upside down L with a clip to attach it at the top of your fermenter. The long side goes inside and the short sticks out the top, parallel to the ground. You attach your hose and siphon out your beer into another container. How to start the siphon is the tricky part.
The best method I found for this was to fill the hose with water. You need to be careful not spill the water as you attach it to the racking cane by keeping the two ends of the hose level with each other. Once it’s attached, with your full vessel sitting somewhere high like a table, let the other end of the hose drop into the empty vessel sitting somewhere lower, probably the floor. As the water rushes out of the hose, it will start a siphon and pull your beer along behind it.
An auto siphon makes that unnecessary. It has two pieces, the smaller one looks just like the racking cane, but it is held inside another wider tube. There is a rubber piece around the bottom of the skinny tube that fits tightly inside the larger one, which has a vent for liquid in the bottom of it. When you pull the skinny, bent tube up, the larger one fills with beer from the container it is in up to the rubber piece. Plunging the cane back down will force the beer into it’s opening, out of the larger tube. This makes racking to secondary much easier and gets rid of the need to introduce more water to your beer. It also makes it possible to bottle straight out of the fermenter.
This is more convenient, but it’s also better because any extra racking is an opportunity to ruin your beer. You can introduce infections, oxygen and other harmful things to spoil your beer. I usually rack my beer to secondary and by the time I bottle it, I can do so straight from the secondary fermenter with my auto siphon.
The beer leaves the auto siphon and enters a rubberized hose. Various sizes, depending on your other equipment can be found at any good homebrew shop. After the hose, the next piece is a bottling wand.
Bottling wands can be wonderful tools or frustration machines. Usually, they are both. A bottling wand is yet another plastic tube. On one end, it fits inside the rubber hose. The other end has an attachment with a piece of plastic that blocks the opening unless it is pushed agains something, normally the bottom of the bottle. This piece is spring loaded. The bottling wand is also designed so that with it inside, the bottle should be filled the whole way to the top and when it is removed the level of the beer will be at an appropriate fill line.
The problem with bottling wand is that they clog. Hopefully your beer is clear of debris, but if it is very yeasty, or if there is any hop residue that makes it to this stage, you will be repeatedly cleaning out the wand. They are easy to take apart, just don’t lose that tiny spring. The debris usually clogs the wand so it won’t let anything out, but on special occasions, it will clog in a spot to not allow the wand to slow the beers flow. This is even worse.
After the bottling wand, it is time for the cap. Crown caps should be sanitized prior to use. I just get a small plastic cup of Star San solution and dump them in, then grab them as I need them. I like to lay out a case of bottles at a time. I fill them and immediately sit a cap on top, but wait until the whole case is full to crimp the caps.
Which brings us to the last tool. A bottle capper, in the modern incarnation at least, have a spot in the middle that fits over the loose cap on it’s bottle, with a handle on either end. You pull the handles down to crimp the cap tightly over the mouth of the bottle.
Most of this stuff is extremely simple to use. So simple that by trying to explain it, I’ve probably made it more confusing. The most important thing, which I’ve failed to mention up to this point, is to always remember to prime your beer before beginning to bottle. I’ve always stuck with the standard corn sugar to prime. One (liquid) ounce per gallon of beer will get you a good standard level of carbonation. I didn’t think I was capable of babbling so much about this simple stuff. Hopefully I haven’t turned anyone off of the whole idea of homebrewing with this nonsense.