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On Sunday (day 0) I bottled beer for the first time (with my first batch). I asked my brother how I could determine whether or not I successfully locked the caps onto the bottles to make them air-tight, and he said that I could stick them underwater and look for bubbles to float out.

I live in San Jose, and recently it has averaged 80*F daily. I have used a swamp cooler for my fermenting tanks, so I decided to do the same thing for my conditioning bottles. I got a tub, placed all the bottles in, and then filled the tankwith water, completely submerging the bottles. I carefully watched them during this process and noted that none of the bottles released any bubbles. According to my brother's theory, this means I correctly attached the caps to the bottles and made them air-tight.

On day 0 and day 1, nothing happened. Then, on day 2 (Tuesday), all my bottles had varying amounts of bubbles chilling on the caps, underwater. They are just stuck there, chilling. What is the meaning of this? Some caps are completely filled with bubbles, while others only have 10-25% of their surface covered.

I just took one bottle out of the water and observed that it still has the empty room on top--indicating that it has not filled with water. I also just wiped off the bubbles from half of the bottles and will observe later whether or not bubbles reform on the caps. EDIT: Bubbles never reformed even after 14 days

Why the Bubbles?

(P.S., if one of my bottles were to explode underwater, would the water somehow minimize the likelyhood that one bottle would shatter the other bottles, or that glass would fly up out of my tub?)

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I'm not sure you can be certain those bubbles are from fermentation in the bottle. Put in a few empty caps, and a bottle full to the brim of water also for comparison. If you still get bubbles you know it's not from fermentation/air leaking out. –  mdma May 14 '13 at 19:14
@mdma fill a bottle of water to the same spot as my conditioning bottles or to the very top (brim?) of the bottle? –  Matthew Moisen May 14 '13 at 19:16
Just a question but if your capping was bad wouldn't the bottles fill up with water? I mean I understand that the yeast will put out CO2, but wouldn't water get in? I find using water as a test a bit silly. Seems like the best way is to just wait and see. If they aren't capped properly there won't be any carbonation. If they are then they will be carbonated. If they are bottle bombs then you didn't finish fermentation or added too much priming sugar. –  Chris Plaisier May 14 '13 at 23:07
Moreover unless you pass your day looking at your bottles how can you know if some gas went out of the bottles and you didn't see it? :) –  Paolo May 15 '13 at 8:12
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1 Answer

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The caps are not perfectly smooth - they contain nucleation points, imperfections or dirt along the surface, where a bubble could form (similar to how boils are formed at nucleation points when heating water). As the cold water heats up, dissolved gasses are forced out of solution. Some of this gas dissipates, but some of it will attach to the nucleation points on the bottle caps.

This has nothing to do with the beer inside. You would probably have noticed any leaks in the previous two days, and any leaking gas wouldn't form on the top of the bottle caps - it would come out near the seal.

To answer your second question,

There would be some minor minimization of risk, due to the water's drag on an exploding bottle, but the bottles are very close and there's not that much water. I doubt you'd notice any practical difference between an exploding bottle in this small water vessel than in open air. The wet, broken bottle(s) would probably be more dangerous to you during clean-up, though.

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Great answer about the nucleation points! Makes sense to me. Also, keeping the bottles in water is surely going to increase the risk of the caps rusting. –  Graham May 15 '13 at 12:10
Thank you sir. @Graham Do you think this would affect the beer if the tops of the caps rusted? –  Matthew Moisen May 15 '13 at 16:57
Yeah it could affect the flavor, or perhaps trigger a miniscule leak that lets the C02 out over time. I'd take them out the water ASAP, and dry them off good. Maybe leave them out on the kitchen table overnight to make sure they air dry. Better safe than sorry. –  Graham May 15 '13 at 19:53
My first thought when seeing the bubbles was that some sort of chemical process was occurring on the lids. Oxidation or some other reaction because of the conditions inside the bottles and those on the outside of the beer. –  Chris Plaisier May 15 '13 at 21:16
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