There are many steps to making a good homebrew process, and some things don't seem that important, but usually they are critical.
Almost every little action on brew day and afterwards affects the finished beer.
One key stage is getting the fermented beer from the fermenter into bottles or kegs. I remember struggling with this early on, until I learned some clever little tricks.
Oxidation and premature beer shelf life are the biggest problems. Monitor the final gravity of the beer over 2-3 days to see if there are any changes. After fermentation is complete, thoroughly sanitize all equipment, then use an automatic siphon with a long tube to minimize splashing. A closed CO2 system is the best way to do this.
Now, depending on your familiarity and skill level with brewing, this may sound very simple or extremely complex. Either way, you want to make sure it's done right so you get the most out of your beer and it tastes great.
If oxidation is such a big deal, why not just cut out the bottling bucket?
Well, yes, you can, but it's not the best idea because you can easily suck all the waste (debris) from the bottom of the fermenter into the bottle.
This would be bad because you could introduce more suspended yeast into the bottled beer, which could lead to off flavors and bottle bombs.
If you have a conical fermenter, filling the bottles directly from the fermenter works best, but it's still not ideal. Unless you have precise accuracy, you can still absorb some unwanted material.
When people go directly from the fermenter to the keg, they usually do so.
Besides letting the dregs get into the bottle, another drawback is mixing the sugar evenly into the beer. If you do it directly from the fermenter, you don't want to stir the sugar because it will excite all the yeast.
If you put the beer into the bottling keg first, you can put the sugar in beforehand and let gravity mix the beer. The theory is that as the beer goes into the keg, it will swirl and mix well.
So if you boil the base sugar and add it to the bottling keg and then take the beer out of the fermenter, you end up with a better product and a clearer bottle, which is our ultimate goal.
I have even tested adding carbonation drops to each individual bottle and I have always found it easier to add the sugar to the bottling bucket and more consistent in terms of carbonation throughout the batch.
Now, it depends on personal preference and taste, and everyone has their own unique way of doing things. The design of the fermenter can change this as well.
If you use a standard bottling keg, the bottom will be a fairly flat area, but if you separate your homemade fermenters (as I often do), then you may have to deal with uneven areas.
For transferring beer from fermenter to bottling keg, you should leave about an inch or so above the waste surface to be on the safe side.
Assuming you have some critical kit, transferring beer from the fermenter to the bottling keg is really not that difficult.
I really recommend that you always use Star San as your sanitizer. I've tried using other household chemicals, but No Rise Elements is such a time saver.
Also, get yourself a decent automatic siphon. It will save you time and effort, and also reduce your chances of adding bacteria to your beer by sucking on the end of the hose (yes, people do that sometimes!) .
Basic steps: Transferring beer to a bottling bucket
1. Assemble your siphon tube
2. Sanitize all equipment and surrounding areas
3. Place the fermenter on high ground
4. Place the bottling bucket (or bottles) a few feet down
5. Remove the lid/stopper from the fermenter
6. Insert/connect each type of siphon tube you have
7. Place the open end of the tube into the bottling bucket
8. Start your pumping/syphoning
9. Siphon until the fermenter is almost empty
10. Add sugar and start bottling beer!