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The only solutions I've found are expensive, and involved a pricey piece of equipment called a beer gun. Is there a way to carbonate my beer before bottling so I can ensure a good carbonation?

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Well you carbonate the beer in the keg the same way as if you were going to serve from the keg. There is no carbonation procedure on the way into the bottle.

To get carbonated beer into the bottles however, the cheapest way to do it is to jam some 3/8ths inch tubing onto the end of your picnic tap. Using about an 12 inch piece of tubing you can put the tubing all the way to the bottom of the bottle and fill slowly. If you use cold bottles you'll lose less carbonation.

I tend to turn off the gas and turn my regulator down to near zero pressure. Bleed the keg completely. Put the tubing/picnic tap device into the bottle and depress the tap. Then slowly open the regulator until there is just enough pressure to see the beer start flowing. Fill 3-4 bottles at a time and cap them off.

Thats the cheap way I do it. I tend to carbonate the beer a little more than I would normally serve it at. Just by a few more pounds on the regulator during the carbonating process. That way I lose the extra upon fill.

Never had a judge complain of oxidation or under carbonated beer, and I am only into it for the cost of 12 inches of tubing.

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great suggestion. of course it is coming from the "master" :-) –  drj Aug 21 '11 at 7:29
    
This technique isn't new for sure. But I first heard it from a retired pro brewer that was back to homebrewing, and this is how he described it to me. And its always worked for me. –  brewchez Aug 21 '11 at 10:58
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To make that method work even better, run the tubing through a #2 one hole stopper. Seat the stopper in the bottle and start the beer flow. When pressure builds up in the bottle, the flow will stop. Very slightly crack the stopper to resume the flow and regulate the speed. This pretty much eliminates foaming when you fill. –  Denny Conn Aug 21 '11 at 14:17
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I'd also say to cut a 30 degree slant on the bottom of the tubing to reduce turbulence. I've used the stopper approach - it can work well, but takes some practice; before I got the hang of it, I got a few impromptu beer showers, and covered our ceiling with decorative pattern of stout. –  mdma Aug 23 '11 at 21:05
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Graham, if you're turning the pressure down to just enough to make the beer come out of the hose then you shouldn't have to worry about exploding a bottle. Besides the stopper would just pop out before any glass would move. –  Mattress Jan 6 '12 at 18:17
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This is a good design for a counter pressure filling device, it used the same principals as a long tube bottling filler uses in a brewery. I think these designs can be refined or modified but are a good starting point. http://www.ipass.net/mpdixon/Homebrew/CounterPressureFiller.htm

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There are two parts - carbonation, and getting it in the bottles.

For carbonation, there are various methods, but I use the set-it-and-forget-it method. Beer goes in keg, keg goes in fridge, CO2 gas gets put on keg. Just set the pressure to the amount of CO2 you want in solution - "volumes" of CO2 - based on the style of beer and a handy temperature / pressure chart like this one. Then you wait until it's carbed to your preference. I usually wait 2 weeks for full carbonation. Here's another link with a style guide.

Now to get the beer in the bottles, I prefer a variation of the Biermuncher Bottle Filler. It's just a picnic tap, hose, rubber stopper and racking cane. You basically jam the racking cane in the picnic tap, then put a stopper on the racking cane. The stopper allows you to keep backpressure on the beer as you're filling.

enter image description here enter image description here

I do it right off my taps using an adapter for my Perlick faucets. I've made two videos on the process I use. It's convenient and cheap. I can bottle right at serving pressure (12psi), and I don't have to move kegs or change any fittings in the fridge, which is a big plus - the keg I want is invariably all the way at the back.

First video

Second video, updated for new kegerator

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Excellent answer with Pictures and Video, Deserves more up votes! –  Kevin Colby Jan 5 '12 at 19:37
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