One of the best decisions I made (about a year after starting my brewing hobby) was to move from traditional bottling to kegging my brews. Kegging is so much easier than bottling, because you clean and sanitize a 5 gallon keg instead of lots of 12oz/16oz bottles. You can also fine tune your carbonation levels, whereas with bottle conditioning whatever level you prime at, you are stuck with. But, this isn’t a post on kegging (maybe I’ll do one of those in the future), this is my review of the Blichmann Beer Gun, a stainless steel device used to bottle beer off a keg.
Why bottle when I just finished mentioning a few advantages to kegging? Even though I like to drink my homebrews on draft, there are many times I want to bottle some of it, while still being able to enjoy the rest on draft. I bottle my beer when I want to take it to a gathering, give some to friends, and recently, to enter them into competition. I will always have the need to bottle beer, but the idea of kegging half of it and bottling the other half right out of fermentation doesn’t appeal to me. Enter the beer gun, I bottle what I went, when I want.
The Blichmann beer gun allows me to bottle my beers by attaching a hose from the gun to the keg’s beer “out” post, and another hose from the gun to my CO2 tank. I can then fill bottles and growlers from the bottom up with little foaming and significantly less risk of oxidation to the beer. (bloggers note: oxygen is good to pre-fermented wort because it helps the yeast to actively ferment, but bad to fermented beer as it could give it a wet cardboard taste). This means I maintain my keg carbonation level in the bottle, and can keep the bottles for long periods of time without the risk of losing carbonation (which is a benefit of bottle conditioning).
Tips for Using
Now to get into a little more detail for those who are thinking about purchasing one, or recently purchased one, and want some tips on bottling with this device.
1) Carbonate in the Keg
First, unlike bottle conditioning, you are bottling beer that has already been carbonated (in the keg). Since you won’t gain any additional carbonation (like you would with bottle conditioning), it is important that your beer is carbonated to the level you want it in the bottle.
2) Maintain Carbonation Through the Bottling Process
It is also important that, when transferring from the keg to the bottle, you maintain the existing carbonation in the beer (or “in solution”) and don’t lose it through the bottling process. You know you are losing carbonation when you have significant foaming while filling your bottles.
The best way to maintain carbonation is to pressurize your keg to a lower PSI setting (approximately 5 PSI or even less), and to set your beer gun to the same setting. This is not complicated when your beer gun is attached to the same regulator as your keg via a splitter (see photo above left – you can easily buy this splitter with the beer gun and attach to your regulator). CO2 also likes to stay in solution at colder temperatures. If you have any foaming issues, place the bottles/growlers you want to fill, along with the beer gun, in the refrigerator half an hour before filling, and you will see significantly less foaming (not necessary though if you aren’t running into foaming issues).
3) Reducing Oxidation
As previously stated, Oxygen + fermented beer = bad. Unless you like a good beer with a wet cardboard finish to it, you want to avoid any oxygen entering your beer during kegging or bottling. This happens when you siphon and the beer splashes around, or when you bottle and the beer splashes allowing oxygen to enter solution. The beer gun reduces oxygenation by filling the bottle from the bottom up slowly, reducing any splashing. The beer gun has a separate trigger to release bursts of CO2, which allows you to purge the bottle with CO2 before filling, which pushes the Oxygen out. Once my bottle is full, I also blast the headspace with a little CO2 and then cap the bottle.
The obligatory word about sanitizing. As we all know, sanitization is one of the most important steps in brewing good beer. Sanitize your beer gun and the beer line prior to use. To sanitize the gun simply immerse it in sanitizing solution. To sanitize the line, you can hook it up to a keg with sanitizer in it, pressurize the keg, and run the sanitizer through the beer gun. Another technique is to hook the beer gun line up to your racking cane, and run sanitizer through the line by racking/siphoning it through. When I am filling my bottles, I like to have a pitcher of sanitizer next to me so that I can place the beer gun in there while I cap bottles.
As you can see, there are many benefits to using a Blichmann Beer Gun. Prior to purchasing mine, I tried building cheap counter pressure fillers, which were better than bottling from the tap, but not good at keeping a bottle of beer carbonated over time and were overly messy. The beer gun does take time to setup; you have to connect it to your keg and to the CO2 tank, and ensure proper CO2 pressures on both. You also have to make sure it is clean and sanitized before use, and clean it after use. This can be a little more difficult and time consuming if you don’t have a spare keg sitting around to run cleaner through (and who wants to have an empty keg sitting around anyway). Outside of a little setup, teardown, and cleaning, the benefits far outweigh the extra time (in my humble opinion). When you weigh the extra time of using the gun to cleaning and sanitizing 50 bottles at one time, as well as a bottling bucket and racking cane, while also boiling DME or sugar and priming your beer, and waiting for 2-4 weeks for the beer to bottle condition, I will go with the beer gun every time!
I highly recommend the Blichmann Beer Gun to anyone who kegs and wants to share drinks with friends and/or enter those drinks in competition!