This tutorial covers how to bottle your fermented beverage from a keg using the Blichmann Beer Gun.
I’ve spent a lot of time bottling homebrewed beers and homemade hard ciders with the standard bottle filler/bottling bucket setup that comes with your typical home brewing kit (e.g., one of the MoreBeer kits). It is a straightforward method and it works fine–after siphoning your finished beverage into the bucket, you gravity-feed it through a spigot in the bottling bucket through a tube and into the bottles via a plastic bottle filler that allows you to cut off the flow of liquid as needed–but it’s time-consuming.
It also forces you down the paths of producing either an uncarbonated beverage or one that is primed with a small amount of sugar in the bottle to cause a controlled fermentation that carbonates the contents of the sealed bottles…this latter approach has implications for clarity, as a bottle-carbonated beverage will have yeast sediment in it that is not as prevalent in a force-carbonated scenario…i.e., in a keg.
If you don’t brew or make hard cider or mead all that much, and especially if you bottle only and don’t have a keg setup, you might as well stick with the gravity method. However, if you get to the point where you’re generally kegging your beverages, but still want to bottle some occasionally (or fill a growler here and there) for portability, gifts, competition entries, or aging purposes, you should consider getting a pressure filler to fill carbonated beverage straight from the keg. The Blichmann Beer Gun is one such device; I recently acquired one and once you get the equipment assembly portion of it down, it’s a quite handy and fast way to:
The beer gun itself is pretty simple–like the Internet, it is a series of tubes, except that, instead of data delivery, it has one tube for CO2 delivery and another that sits inside the CO2 tube for liquid delivery. The rest is just trigger and connection pieces for gas and liquid, as well as a stopper that halts the liquid flow until you depress the trigger.
It comes with an instruction set that covers assembly (it comes assembled in-box; you need to disassemble it, sanitize the components, and reassemble it before first use), connecting the gas and beer lines to the beer gun, and how to fill bottles with it. The instructions are adequate for these purposes. What they don’t cover in any depth is connecting up the various gas and liquid lines to your regulator and keg–or the components that may be necessary for your particular keg setup–so I’ll focus here on that aspect.
Connecting the Components:
First up, heed the warnings on the instructions–the beer gun is not designed to handle more than 15 psi of pressure, for instance, and is better around 5 psi in my experience (high pressure will result in a lot of foaming as you attempt to fill the bottles).
The instructions picture a dual CO2 regulator with a Y adapter and shut-off valves inline with the Y valve outputs. This would be an ideal scenario, as it allows independent control of the gas flow and would allow you to leave another keg connected–unaffected by the beer gun setup–at its own pressure while you bottle from another keg (knowing what I do now, I wish I’d initially purchased a dual regulator–or at least a CO2 distributor–as it better accommodates the expansion of connections that immediately and magically present themselves once you start to regularly use kegs). Chances are, though, that your keg setup is somewhat different, so my primary suggestions when purchasing a beer gun are:
In my case, I have a single CO2 regulator from a Northern Brewer kegging kit; based on ‘you might also need’ recommendations, I purchased a 1/4″ flare from MoreBeer along with the beer gun and the accompanying accessory kit. This turned out to be both more and less than what I needed…I already had ball lock connectors for the keg, for instance, but I ended up needing an extra 1/4″ gas hose and connectors (in addition to the set that comes in the accessory kit) in order to hook everything up.
Pictured to the left is my keg as normally hooked up–gas line from the regulator to the ‘in’ keg ball lock connector, and dispensing line/plastic faucet hooked to the ‘out’ connector. This is a dispensing configuration with the keg under pressure constant pressure.
To add the beer gun into the mix, a few things needed to change, including running a gas hose to the beer gun (while keeping a gas line to the keg in place) and replacing the standard dispensing line/faucet with a dispensing line to the beer gun.
Steps for my single-regulator, single ‘T’ flange, ball lock keg setup (your mileage may vary):
For the most part, this portion is straightforward and the packaged instructions are sufficient, so I won’t belabor this topic. I will, however, mention that I found it a bit more effective to keep the bottle at a tilted angle for most of the fill, rather than just for the beginning of the fill as recommended by the instructions.
After you fill your pre-sanitized bottles, cap them, wipe them down, and store them out of direct sunlight…if it’s a hard cider you’ve bottled, those with 7% or more abv should store well for up to a few years.
I’ll also mention that I definitely lost some carbonation in the beverage pictured–a blackberry mead–by: 1) ignoring the gas leak in my line; 2) not allowing time for re-pressurization when I hooked everything up after having bled the keg pressure off; and 3) starting out with the mead at a low baseline level of carbonation. It is also noticeably harder to fill the bottles to the top with the beer gun, as foam-overs are pretty easy to do and it takes some practice not to produce them. All the same, with the CO2 purge aspect of filling with the beer gun, it’s less of a concern to have extra head space in the bottle because there isn’t much oxygen present to oxidize your beverage.
Once you’ve finished with your bottling, I recommend turning off the regulator pressure, bleeding off the keg pressure, rinsing out the keg, and then adding some sanitizer solution to the keg, re-pressurizing, and pushing some sanitizer solution through the beer gun to clear and sanitize both the keg components (e.g., the dip tube) and the beer line.
From there, you can clean and maintain the keg per the packaged instructions, disassemble and sanitize the beer gun, and even enjoy one of your beverages immediately (since you don’t have to wait for a bottle fermentation for carbonation to occur). Not that you didn’t already test before bottling by filling up a pint that you then sampled for, er, quality control purposes (hint).
From there it depends on your setup. At some point, for convenience’s sake, I hope to set up a CO2 distributor so that I can have a separate, dedicated line for the beer gun and not have to mess with the flange anymore. That said, it’s pretty quick to set up and break down the flange connections.
Overall, the beer gun is a great way to bottle beer from a keg, allowing more flexibility around planning your bottling activities and adding the advantages of forced carbonation, zero carbonation wait time after bottling, clarity, and CO2 bottle purging over bottle-carbonation. I highly recommend it–with good maintenance, one of these should last quite some time and become an indispensable tool in your home brewing/home cider-making toolkit.
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