Build Your Own Counter-pressure Bottle Filler!

Of late, I have been bottling a lot of beer for friends. That probably has something to do with the fact that I have been running a serial repitch experiment at work that is turning out 30 gallons of beer every couple of weeks. Now, I have a strong liver and all, but… there’s no way I can deal with that much volume. And, while the beer is free, I still can’t bring myself to dump any of it at the end of the experiments. #BeerLove

So, my neighbors are some lucky people right about now.

However, when bottling it up, I’m mindful that oxidation is a problem, so I always bottle using a counterpressure filler so I can purge the bottle with CO2 before filling, and fill with already carbonated beer from a keg. The problem is, counter pressure bottlers tend to be a bit unwieldy and top heavy because of the valves necessary to control beer and gas flow. (Yes, the Blingman Engineering Beer gun is a clever solution and is not so unwieldly, but it doesn’t actually guarantee an oxygen free fill and if you’ve used on for very long, you know the mess that foamy pours will make. That, and I can buy a fair amount of brewing ingredients for the price of that sexy, oh so sexy, piece of kit.)

So, I finally got tired of my setup threatening to fall over, having to prop it against my taps, and occasionally building up too much pressure and having the thing pop out and spray foam all over my ceiling. From that frustration comes the adjustable height counter pressure bottle filler.

It’s major advantages:

  • It has a stand, so it is stable and will not tip over.
  • You no longer have to lift it in and out of bottles between fills, which for me occasionally meant hoses popped off at all the wrong times. (Beer fountain!)
  • The filler stays stationary and you move the bottles, which means a faster transition between filling and capping. So, less oxygen ingress.
  • You can slide the filler up and down for different bottle sizes, so the stand will hold the cork in place and give you a good seal with no threat of popping off, whether you are using 12 oz bottles, 22s, 750s, or growlers. As long as you work on one size at a time, switch over between bottles is fast. Even if you don’t, you could easily have a couple of blocks to put under bottles so the filler stayed in place and you just slipped spacers under different size bottles. I’m too clutter averse to do this, but you be you and I’ll be me.

It’s major disadvantages:

  • Slightly more complex than a beer gun.
  • Requires some time to build.
  • Other than that, I don’t know. I’ll get back to you later.

So, how does it all go together?

First off, I can’t claim original thought on the filler itself. There are lots of plans on the net and mine is an amalgam of several, based on what I had lying around. To imitate mine, you’ll need:

2 – 1/2” ball valves – preferrably stainless, as brass can oxidize your beer. You could probably do Pex/PVC if you had a line on cheap ones.

1 – 1/4” ball valve and 1/2” MIP- ¼ FIP reducer, OR a third ½” ball valve and 1/2” close nipple. Can be any material since only gas and waste foam pass through it.

2 – 1/2” threaded Tee. Can be any food safe material that is nonreactive (stainless, PVC, etc.)

2 – 1/2” threaded barbs. Again, any food safe non reactive material. Mine are nylon.

2 – 1/2” x close nipples. Any food safe non-reactive material.

1 – 1/2” MPT x 1/4” compression fitting – brass. (You’ll see why later.)

1 – 1/2” MPT x 1/4” push to connect fitting, PVC.

1 – 1/2” MPT x 3/8” OD Compression fitting – any material.

4.5” of 3/8” OD rigid tubing of any material. Must have ID larger than 1/4”. I went for copper, since I had it lying around from a plumbing project. You could probably use acrylic from an old broken racking cane or bottle filler.

18” of food safe, non-reactive 1/4” OD tubing. Stainless is preferable for durability, but be creative and save a buck or two.

1 – #1 rubber stopper, drilled. (#2 may work too, but I haven’t tried it, so I’m not sure.)

Some teflon tape.

Before we assemble, we have a bit of modification to do on one part. The 1/2” FPT x 1/4” compression needs to be modified so the stainless tubing can pass through it, rather than just enter into the compression side and butt up against the end where it constricts. So, what has to happen is you need to drill out that fitting just a bit so your stainless tubing can slide through. So, I’d recommend a 9/32” drill at first, and if that doesn’t work, move slowly up until you can just slide the stainless tubing through.

Then, what you’ll do is slide the stainless tubing through the compression side until around 3/4” protrudes beyond the compression side.

Add your compression ring and clamp down. You’ll now have a fitting with most of the tubing extending out the 1/2” MPT side and just ¾” Extending past the compression side. (Note, my picture shows a FPT fitting because I happened to have that lying around, thus necessitating an extra nipple to get MPT to join into the elbow. Again, be creative and use what is in your parts bin.)

Once that is done, it’s assembly time! Start by wrapping all your MPT threaded parts with several wraps of Teflon tape. For our application, some is good, more is better. I know the master plumbers out there will tell you that you only need a couple wraps to allow the parts to slide freely enough to seal. But, that’s not my experience using the cheap parts they sell at box stores, and I HATE chasing leaks. So, I’m a multi-wrap kinda guy. Do what will let you sleep at night.

At this point, the step-by-step instructions stop. You can look at the labeled diagram below and see where all the parts go. Put that shiz together!

The only thing that will be different between yours and mine is that you will have no clear tubing above the stopper, and no pipe clamp there either. I was trying to accomplish something else in a previous build, and that is unnecessary any more. Your stopper will wedge right on the end of the copper tubing.

Once you have that all put together, you have a fully functional counter pressure filler. I used mine like that for quite some time, but the really nice functionality comes with the stand. So, let’s talk about how to build that.

As with the filler itself, your design may change depending on what you have lying around. Mine was all using leftover bits in the garage. So, you may find easier ways to do this. For my build, what you need is:

1 – 10” x 10” piece of 3/4” thick wood.

1 – 30” x 10” piece of 3/4” thick wood.

1 – 10” x 5” piece of 3/4” thick wood.

2 – 12” pieces of 1” square metal tubing. The metal does not matter. Aluminum is easier to machine since you can use woodworking tools, but you will not be able to put a colored finish on it like I did.

2 – 1/4” x 2” carriage bolts

2 – 1/4” star knobs

2 – 1” copper pipe straps. (Those fit better than any of the sizes of conduit straps, but are definitely more expensive.

A few screws.

The build:

Screw and glue the 10”x10” base to the 30” by 10” back piece.

Cut a channel out of your metal tubes that is the width of the square base on the carriage bolts. I did this by mounting a grinding wheel in my table saw and passing the tubing over it. That worked pretty well. If you don’t have a table saw, get creative or take some beer to a friend that does. Or, buy your tubing with a channel in it already. Or…. I dunno. Figure it out…

Drill 2-3 mounting holes in the side opposite the channel you cut. Diameter, number, and spacing will depend on the size wood screws you have lying around. Be creative.

If you want the snazzy color on your steel channels:

Sand them down to remove the oxide coating on them. The finer grit you use, the more your color pops at the end.

Clean well with your favorite degreaser (I went with 70% isopropanol), but do NOT wipe clean at the end. Just dip ‘em in for a final rinse, or spray liberally with a spray bottle. From here on out, do NOT touch them with your fingers or anything with grease/oil/lint on them.

Fire up your BBQ and let it get nice and warm. The temperature you select will determine the color you get.

220 °C temp=light yellow

265 °C = brown

277 °C = purple

293 °C = blue

316 °C = black

Odds are your BBQ does not heat that evenly, so you’ll get somewhat of a rainbow effect. I was actually hoping for that, and it turned out pretty cool. If you want monochrome, try your convection oven while the SO is not there. 😉

Let the pieces sit in the heat for 15 minutes or so. Actual time in there has no effect on the color, it’s just to be sure the pieces actually get to the temp your BBQ/oven is set at. Once they do, the color is there.

Done. Turn off the heat and let them cool. Again, if you get grease/oil on there, the color will change. But, now, a quick wash with soap or isopropanol will remove the oil and restore the color. If you don’t like the color you got, you can re-heat if you want to move up the color scale. Or, you can sand down and try again if you want to move down the color scale.

Back to the build!

To mount the rails, justify the tops of the rails with the top of the stand, and space them 7” on center apart. (Yes, you can change this, but it just has to match the holes you’ll drill in your mounting plate below.)

 

 

 

To mount your counter pressure filler on the sliding plate, center it and bring it down until the lower “pressure relief valve” is just below the base of the plate. This allows east rotation of that to where it’s convenient and easy operation of the valve on it.

Carefully set your copper pipe straps on either side of the upper tee and trace the position of the mounting holes. Remove the filler for now.

Drill pilot holes for the mounting screws that you just located.

Drill two 5/16” holes 1-1/2” in from the edges and 1-1/2” up from the bottom.

These will be where the carriage bolts poke through and the star knobs screw on to allow adjustment of height. Depending on the depth of the square bases on your carriage bolts, you may need to drill a larger sized recess on the back of the plate to give clearance. I used a 3/8” drill and just put a slight divot on the back side of these holes so the wood would sit flush on the rails.

 

Finally, put the filler back on the board and screw on the copper pipe straps, but lightly enough so the filler can still pivot in the clamps.

Feed the carriage bolts through from the back of the plate and screw the star knobs loosely on.

Slide the carriage bolt heads into the track and tighten the star knobs so the square base of the carriage bolt engages the slot in your metal tracks. Temporarily tighten in place at the top of the tracks.

Place a bottle under it all, loosen the bolts and drop the filler head down into the bottle with slight positive pressure applied. Tighten the bolts.

 

You are ready to fill!

To fill:

If you are a text averse person, see the following video.

If not, read on.

Attach a hose to one barb fitting and to a keg or a tap. Attach a second hose to the other barb fitting and your CO2 tank. You don’t have to, but I recommend having a tube on the lower valve too, so if you have excessive foam you can just vent that to a waste bucket. It can be a serious mess otherwise.

Once you are hooked up, with a bottle in place, open the lower vent valve. Then open the upper gas valve and flow gas through the bottle for a few seconds. Close the lower vent valve and build pressure in your bottle. (Make sure your gas regulator is set at a reasonable value! Mine runs around 10 PSI or less.)

Now you are ready to add beer. Close the upper gas valve and open the beer valve. Beer may or may not flow in, depending on the pressure in your keg. Adjust the flow rate by releasing pressure from the vent valve to speed it up, or keeping the vent valve closed to slow it down and crush any foam buildup.

As the bottle fills, if all goes well, you will have very little foam atop the liquid and when the foam reaches the top of the bottle, you can shut the beer valve.

Wait a second for residual pressure to dissipate. Some foam may flow out the vent valve, which is OK, if messy. (Hence the recommendation for a tube there.) When the pressure (or foam) is done venting, pivot the bottle toward you and you should be able to slide it off the end of the stainless tube. Cap immediately. If you are really detail oriented, you can rap the bottle on the counter top to knock some gas loose such that the foam comes right back to the top and then slap your cap on there. Cap on foam is always the best practice to keep oxygen out!

Slide your next bottle on, pivot it in to lock it in place and lather, rinse, repeat.

Happy filling! May you never get oxidation in your beers. Let cardboard flavors begone!

Will Deutschman

Will Deutschman

I'm a college professor with expertise in biochemistry who gave up doing 'hardcore' biochemistry for brewing science research a few years back. Now I study yeast metabolism and sugar mobilization in malt. Working with students, we have been able to present our findings at professional conferences like the World Brewing Congress and American Society of Brewing Chemists annual meetings. Introducing students to the science behind beer is one of my favorite things to do in the world.

Outside of my "professional" life, I'm a BJCP certified judge, I bike and ski everywhere at every chance I get, and after a day of that, love chilling on the couch with my 2 dogs and 1 cat.

I also salve my need for intellectual challenge by designing and building fun brewing related projects, the best of which is my 100% solar powered brewing setup. #NerdAlert.
Will Deutschman