Where to put your beer after its fermented is a very important decision to make and different for each of us, depending on our current situations (space, laziness etc). So in this article I will aim to highlight the pro's and con's of each so that you can finally find an answer to Barreling or Bottling, the ultimate question.
A 5 Gallon Barrel
Most common in 5 gallons (23 litres), although there are 2 gallon barrels available, the Barrel is one method for maturing and dispensing your beer. Similar to what beer arrives in and is served from in real ale pubs, these barrels allow the whole batch of beer to mature and gently carbonate, then, when ready, can be dispensed from the tap.
Bottling is the second common method for maturing and dispensing your beer. Bottles for home brewing come in many different forms and capacities with the following being the most popular; Firstly there is the standard glass 500 ml amber bottles, these are sealed with crown caps (or plastic screw caps for the plastic alternative) and will look like bottled ale you would buy commercially or swing tops, which are based on the old style Grolsh bottles and come with their own sealing cap.
Cleaning and filling
One thing that the barrel has in its favour is the ease of cleaning and filling, a simple swish of steriliser, rinse and stuffing the syphon tube in will suffice rather than having to clean out each individual bottle which can save you an hour or so of time, and sanity, when it comes to your bottling workout. With regards to the bottles, filling is not exactly hard it just needs more concentration, if you have a syphon tap or clip you can stop the flow in order to swap to the next bottle to avoid any spilled beer.
Both methods ideally need to be stored for at least 3 weeks in a cool dark room out of direct sunlight. Bottles come up trumps here as they can be stored in cupboards more easily than a full barrel can, however the bottles will take up more floor space so it really depends on what you have available.
Secondly, if you want to move the beer it is advised to, once moved, leave the barrel at least 24 hrs before drinking to let everything settle. Bottles on the other hand, are easily transported with no fuss especially to the fridge, which unless you have a separate fridge just for your beer, bottles are more practical.
In the barrel the beer will gently produce enough Co2 on its own to allow a couple of pints a night to be drawn from it without opening the cap or adding extra Co2. Once the cap gets open and oxygen gets in contact with the beer, it will quite quickly turn so if you are going to draw off more you will need to attach a Co2 valve. This lets the barrel down slightly as its an extra cost to buy the converted lid and to restock the Co2, however, it is not difficult to do and will prolong the life of your beer considerably..
Alternatively to carbonate the bottles, you put ½ teaspoon of sugar (or 1 Carbonation Drop) in each 500 ml bottle when filling to create a perfectly carbonated beer when opened 3 weeks later. This makes bottling perfect for making lagers or sparkling ciders, styles that can be disappointing from a Barrel.
Both methods are equally as effective for maturing and dispensing your beer, it really is down to your own personal requirements. As with any question you may have, if your not completely sure on which to use, please give us a call on 01473 232 422 for more information.