How To Bottle With The Blichmann Beer Gun

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Overview:

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:

  • Bottle a portion of your batch, leaving the rest available on draft.
  • Bottle a clearer, force-carbonated beverage than you can get with bottle carbonation.
  • Purge your bottles of oxygen prior to filling with a blast of CO2 into the bottle (not an option in the standard, gravity-bottling approach).
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like field-stripping a rifle, except not really…

Assembly:

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:

  • Determine what you actually need beforehand, as the accessory kit may not have all the parts you need or you may have some of them already depending on the kegging equipment you have at home.
  • Don’t assume that the instructions packaged with the beer gun will adequately cover this topic–they don’t.

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.

keg_pre_gunPictured 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):

  1. Turn off the gas at the regulator shutoff valve. Please do this–trust me, you do not want to attempt to disconnect or connect these components with high-pressure gas flowing to them.
  2. Using the keg’s pressure relief valve, bleed off some of the head space pressure in the keg (the keg remains pressurized after you turn the gas supply being turned off, likely at a higher pressure than what you want to dispense with). Not necessary if your keg’s equalized pressure started below 15 psi and you have a separate gas line into the beer gun (i.e., if you don’t have to attach a flange or splitter) that doesn’t require disconnecting your current gas line into the keg for set up.
  3. Remove the ‘out’ ball lock connector and attached dispenser/faucet from the keg.
  4. Disconnect the gas hose from regulator to keg at the keg ball lock connector.
  5. Attach the gas hoses to the flange–one from the regulator to the flange, one from the flange to the beer gun gas connector, and finally one from the flange to the keg ‘in’ connector:flange_gas_hoses
  6. Connect one end of the liquid line to the beer gun’s liquid tube (the small one jutting out of the back behind the trigger assembly.
  7. Connect the other end of the liquid line to a ball lock connector, using the 1/4″ nut and barb connector from the accessory kit: beer_gun_liquid_line_cropped
  8. Then–and only then–attach the liquid line ball lock connector to the keg’s ‘out’ position.
  9. Check your connections.
  10. Insuring first that you’ve dialed down the pressure to under 15 psi, open the pressure valve on the regulator.
  11. Listen for leaks in the gas lines and connectors; locate and fix any that aren’t very minor (I had a minor one in the new gas line I assembled, but it was minor enough that I continued), first turning off the gas and letting pressure out of the keg relief valve before you unhook any gas hoses.
  12. Allow some time for the gas pressure to build in the keg (if the regulator is making groaning sounds in the absence of hissing gas leaks, it’s still in the process of re-pressurizing the keg). If you are concerned about carbonation loss relative to the prior baseline, dial up the pressure a little (say to 10 psi), give it more time before bottling, and then deal with the higher foam level you get with higher dispensing psi. Or, set things up initially through a dual regulator or distributor setup so that you don’t have to bleed pressure out of a keg in order to complete the connections.
  13. Begin bottling per the beer gun’s packaged instructions.

Bottling:

beer_gun_bottlingFor 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.

Sanitation/Clean-Up:

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.

Summary:

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.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t assume that the beer gun + accessory kit has everything you need or that you need everything in both–check the specs against your equipment first.
  • For convenience, I should have bought a gas connector kit for the extra gas line I needed, rather than separate hose, barbs, clips, and connectors that I had to assemble myself and which then leaked when connected to the gas.
  • I need to account for and implement the best beer gun connection setup that fits my long-term kegging expansion needs.

Miscellaneous:

  • If you prefer a visual demonstration or want one as an addition, there are some good video walkthroughs for the beer gun on YouTube.
  • If you’re considering buying any of the equipment discussed here, please do so by initially clicking through the associated link(s)s in the above content–doing so will help me support  my blogging habit and won’t cost you a penny more than if you’d just purchased it on your own directly.
  • See the other tutorials and, if you aren’t already kegging your beverages, the kegging tutorial in particular.
  • Thank you for visiting The Cidersage Blog! Please leave a comment (WordPress login required, since if I disable that requirement I get a zillion spam comments a day advertising everything from Gucci bags to Sports Commentary) or contact me through the Contact Page.

2 Comments on How To Bottle With The Blichmann Beer Gun

  1. Great article. I am planning on getting one of these but I have a question for you. With all 3 of my cornelius kegs I can’t dial the pressure down to 5 PSI. If I do they begin to leak CO2 from the seals. I have new seals and use the seal grease on them. Can I leave the pressure at 12 PSI on the keg and regulate it on the beer gun so I don’t get any foam? I am currently using the standard bottling wand and it works great at 5 PSI but as I said I loose a ton of CO2 out of my keg in the process.

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your comment. The beer gun itself doesn’t have a pressure regulation mechanism to my knowledge. I think you’d have to have a 2nd regulator inline from the keg to the beer gun to dial that down, and a normal kegging regulator is set up to interface with a bottle and a gas line, not two gas lines.

      I’ve had leaky keg issues before, but none specific to low pressure (at least that I correctly diagnosed).

      You could try periodically disconnecting the gas to the keg altogether and filling off the residual pressure in the keg, but if there’s a problem at 5 psi you’ll likely still encounter the same issue unless the leak is actually on the gas inlet post seals while a gas line is attached to it.

      Dan

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