Bottling with plastic PET bottles

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Some time ago, I decided to change my bottling away from glass and replace this with the PET plastic soft drink bottles that are readily available. I had a number of reasons for this change but the main one was I had simply become fed up with the work involved in filling forty four green Grolsch bottles at the end of every fermentation.

Those bottles, so lovingly collected, had served me well over the years. In the beginning, I had nearly twelve hundred but sadly, time and space constraints had whittled the collection down to a mere three hundred and now even these faithful servants were destined for the scrapheap. (I actually sold them).

The new plan centered on the two-liter (4 pint) plastic bottle. I had done as much research as is possible with the web and decided that the reported disadvantages of light strike and slight porosity to oxygen I could live with. The light strike situation, where the beer will supposedly de-grade or "skunk" due to ultra violet radiation passing through the clear plastic would be countered by storing the bottles in dark places.

Permeation of the bottle by oxygen is apparently a very slow process, two years, or so, and I'm confident that the beer will have been well and truly consumed within that cycle. The advantage of having far less bottles to fill, the ability to see the condition of the beer in the bottle, less risk of breakage and the enormous burst pressure in excess of 8 Bar (125 psi) convinced me that this was the way to go.

Getting organized

My fermenter, another faithful servant of over fifteen years, brews 22 liters (6 gallons). It actually will do 24 liters (6.3 gallons) but I like to leave a generous head space, this ensures that the brew does not rush out the airlock in those first few enthusiastic hours of a yeasts life. This volume of brew, 22 liters, will obviously need eleven x 2 liter bottles. (I was always good at math). The plan is to have four brews in constant cycle and based on consuming one bottle per day this would mean that the oldest age of a bottle would be forty-four days or approximately six weeks.

For me, this is fine. I only brew using extract cans and when I find an acceptable "vin ordinaire" brew for day-to-day consumption I tend to stick with it. Over the years, this has been Cooper's lager, brewed with Light Dry Malt and dextrose, served, and drunk very cold and I see no reason to change.

The four "vin ordinaire" brews are to be supplemented with four "special" brews, each of these also being 22 litres or eleven bottles. These brews can be anything that takes my fancy, still in the extract style but covering whatever is available on the market. The length of storage of these will mainly depend on my patience, however if I'm to be mindful of light strike then I will have to consume them within two years. I think I'm up to this task.

Therefore, in total I was looking for eighty-eight 2-liter PET soft drink bottles. The first problem was one of getting the collection together. The sight of me ratting through the neighborhood rubbish bins and dumpsters I knew would not go down well at home, so I decided to purchase. The easiest way is to buy them, eleven at a time, at the local supermarket. Of course, they will be filled with soft drink and must to be either consumed or discarded. This also has the advantage that the bottles are new and you know their history. Grabbing one out of a dumpster and it could have been filled with anything!

I brought the "no-name" generic cola for roughly a dollar a bottle and I figured I was doing the world a service by tipping the revolting concoction down the sink, the worst brewed beer is infinitely better than that muck. I washed the bottles out with very hot water and left them at that. I'm not the biggest fan of chemical sterilization of bottles and have not done it for years, for me, hot water is sufficient. (Please don't berate me, I've been doing it this way for a long time, and it works for me).

Problems

Seldom are things as easy as you imagine them, and if they are, it generally means that you're doing them wrong. In this case, the first hurdle was encountered even before the initial bottling. Empty PET bottles are terribly unstable in the vertical position, the slightest breeze or vibration sets them tumbling. I tried to ignore this but it was a fiasco. By necessity, I bottle in the open, and as luck would have it, a stiffish breeze was blowing. I spent the first twenty minutes chasing bottles and in the end taped them together as a makeshift solution but there had to be a better way.

I decided to make a simple jig to hold the bottles firmly in place. I had some old bamboo flooring and decided to use this as I figured that bamboo would not be too bothered if it got wet from time to time.

I marked out the diameters of twelve bottles and drilled four 5mm (1/4") holes evenly around each diameter. I used 5mm (1/4") pegs, 100 mm (4") long and glued them into the holes. A smaller diameter was added to take a drip bin (more on that later). I added a couple of pieces of timber at each end to act as feet; this makes it easier to pick up. The resultant jig holds the bottles firmly and it fits on to the small bench I use to bottle. Progress indeed!

The jig is light and easy to carry around. It allows me to set up and charge the bottles with carbonating sugar replace the caps and then take the jig and bottles to the bottling station for filling.

Filling the bottles

When I fill, I use gravity and a bottling wand with a shut off valve located on the bottom of the wand. This is standard practice however; I have modified the filling process for ease and ac-curacy.

Bottling with plastic PET bottles - Peter Watson (aka Deeferdog) - jig-542.jpg

More than anything, I hate working on the floor, however if this is to be avoided then the fermenter must be placed higher than the workbench. In fact, it must be placed so that the bottom of the container is higher than the top of the bottle to be filled, otherwise the bottle will fail to fill to the correct level. I have a small block and tackle and I haul the fermented up into the open roof of the shed where I do my filling. This necessity to conform to the law of gravity can only be ignored by using a pump and I cannot be bothered with that.

With the fermenter now in place and the wand connected to its tap with a flexible hose. The bottling can now commence. This second time of filling with these 2-liter containers went much more smoothly thanks to the jig, yet I could see that there were further improvements that could be made. If the flow of beer from the fermenter could be made to stop automatically at the correct fill level in the bottle, then this would leave me free to do other tasks whilst the filling process was taking place.


I decided to try to do this using an old balance scale. I made a bottle-holding jig and fitted it the scale so that now I was certain that the bottle would not fall off. I used weights on the other side of the scale until they balanced a bottle filled to the correct level with water.

The filling wand had to be fixed to a post so that its position remains fixed. After more than one at-tempt I managed to get the sys-tem working and it has made the job of bottle filling much more pleasant. As can be seen from the sketch, as the bottle approaches equilibrium with the weight and the scales come into balance, the valve at the bottom of the wand commences to close. The whole sequence is very gentle and it allows me to be shaking the previously filled bottle to dis-tribute the carbonation sugar and then burping it to rid it of oxygen.

Bottling with plastic PET bottles - Peter Watson (aka Deeferdog) - 2-543.jpg



Bottling with plastic PET bottles - Peter Watson (aka Deeferdog) - 3-544.jpg
When the bottle is filled, the wand is lifted and swung over the drip bin as the wands DRIP! (Drives me nuts!). I place the next bottle on the scales, lift, and position the wand in the bottle and away we go again.

I have also fitted a flow tap between the fermenter and the filling wand to control the flow in the first two bottle fills. I found that these were too vigorous and foaming in the bottle spilled out the top before the beer had reached the correct level. This fixed the problem.

My aim is to do a complete fill with no drips or spillage but I confess that I have yet to achieve this.

Conclusion

I have been using the bottles for some time now and they continue to impress me. I have to admit, I have put a lot more effort into setting up than I ever did when I was using the Grolsch bottles, also I'm retired now and have a lot more time to devote to my hobby.

The four small indents at the base of the bottle are perfect as sediment traps for the dead yeast and Coopers extract sediment always seems to set hard. The caps appear to last quite well and I have not replaced any as yet. If a bottle leaked its gas, I would simply recharge it with sugar and replace the cap. This is another advantage of the PET bottle, it is very easy to verify the state of the carbonation by pressing on the side, and they are drum tight after a few days.

Adding a label is still something that I'm working on. I print them on my printer and use top quality 180-gsm paper, then I spray with two coats of gloss varnish before finally cutting out the label. The adhesive is spray contact. So far, the results have been a bit up and down and they are still in the unfinished projects basket.

It is obvious that I am a big fan of these containers; however, not everything is perfect with them, two liters of beer at then burping it to rid it of oxygen.

Bottling with plastic PET bottles - Peter Watson (aka Deeferdog) - 6-545.jpg

One sitting may be daunting to some, and any unconsumed beer would tend to go flat in the refrigerator if left overnight. (This is an assumption, two liters is not the biggest challenge I have faced). Another irritation is the fact that the bottles must be stored upright if the sediment is to remain at the bottom and the beer be sparkling. I have found this to be one of the biggest nuisances with them.

When pouring beer, the first couple of glasses are clear and bright, however as the bottom is approached the sediment does make its presence apparent, and this set me thinking, could the beer be forced out while the bottle remained vertical? You bet it could! I now have a system where each bottle is like a little keg and I enjoy draught beer every night

I told you I was retired and had plenty of time! I'll write a bit on the system if anyone is interested. 'Bye for now, and thanks for your time and interest in this article.

Cheers,

Deeferdog.

Bio-My forum name is deeferdog. I live on the Gold Coast in sunny Queensland, Australia. I am retired so have time to enjoy life and drink well crafted beer. I have been brewing almost continuously for over fifteen years, exclusively using extract kits. I get just as much enjoyment fiddling around with the equipment as brewing and drinking the product.

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32 COMMENTS
Posted: 
February 7, 2014  •  11:24 AM
Very very interesting. I would defenitely be interested in how your system etc works. Please post the "kegging" to eliminate the sediment.
Posted: 
February 7, 2014  •  03:23 PM
I like your approach, well done. You definitely need a dark area. I can see an upside to this. Your friends don't have to return the bottles.
Posted: 
February 7, 2014  •  04:23 PM
This is brilliant. I use 1 and 2 liter PET bottles all of the time, filling them from the keg.
As kegs, I do use pinlock cornies but I also use the 6 liter tap-a-draft PET bottles as kegs in my minifridge. They cost about $7 each and are easier to clean than mini-kegs That works great as well. http://forum.northernbrewer.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=119596
Posted: 
February 7, 2014  •  06:29 PM
Incredible set up and system! Would love to see how you have developed the "...system where each bottle is like a little keg and I enjoy draught beer every night"
Definitely a fun hobby! Thanks for the tips and ideas.
Posted: 
February 7, 2014  •  07:11 PM
Pretty sweet idea. I've started using these bottles for force carbonating to cut down on the time before I can drink them. I'm also working on a dispenser tap for them. I'll be posting that in the DIY forum soon.
Posted: 
February 7, 2014  •  08:06 PM
Great Article Indeed.
Having said that, on my first beer I have used a 1.5 liters plastic bottle as I was three glass bottles short. (was used as plane soda bottle which is water + CO2)

The beer came from the same batch, and bottles matured the same amount of time and under the exact same conditions.

Carbonation was the same (level) in all bottles, color and smell as well. Taste, however, is different! I thought it was only me, and because I knew out of which the beer came from, but two other people who tasted could recognize there was a difference although both "beers" were good tasting.
Posted: 
February 8, 2014  •  11:06 AM
I really like this as well!
I like your clever and low cost solutions. I agree that PET bottles has an undeserved bad reputation. I agree that UV can be prevented by storing dark and the slight O2 permeability is a low price to pay for avoiding the glass shrapnel of bottle bombs.
I'm in Sweden myself and I really like what you Aussies are doing, low cost SOLUTIONS, and not caring about what is the 'right' way to do things (I'm thinking about no chill for example).
Keep it up!
Cheers!
Posted: 
February 8, 2014  •  11:44 AM
I have done this with clear one liter bottles. One advantage I like is seeing the yeast on the bottom. During the pour you can easily stop before draining the yeast. I haven't had any skunk issues yet: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f13/skunk-test-451334/
Posted: 
February 8, 2014  •  12:19 PM
Never thought about the advantage of using clear bottles letting you see the beer condition. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Posted: 
February 9, 2014  •  10:34 PM
Never thought about plastic bottles - so much easier - I do however, think you went to a lot of extra work building the jig - some of the 2-liter bottles are delivered in a plastic 8-bottle holder. Your local soda vendor may be able to "Lend" you a couple. They are also stack-able - other words, you can stack 3 or 4 8-packs in the floor space of 8 bottles.
I will try the plastic idea with my next batch!
Posted: 
February 9, 2014  •  11:30 PM
@baron987

Hi, thanks for your feedback, I never thought to even look for what you suggested, I'll ask at the supermarket and see what happens,

Regards,
deeferdog
Posted: 
February 10, 2014  •  12:03 AM
Great, quotable line!
"Seldom are things as easy as you imagine them, and if they are, it generally means that you're doing them wrong."
Posted: 
February 10, 2014  •  11:23 PM
I wasn't going to read this because I like beer in the bottle. But I decided to read it and I am glad I did. It was a very entertaining article. I like to see the ways others approach what is quickly becoming my favorite past time. Using the scale during bottling is a bit of genius I must say. I am a big fan of using what is around you and you certainly have done that. I have a pulley derrick like you are using to raise your fermentor so that will be an easy adaptation. I don't have a scale but one can be easily fashioned with available material. Thanks for sharing!
Posted: 
February 11, 2014  •  02:02 AM
I like this idea. A couple questions:
1. are you reusing the plastic caps that came with the bottles or are you purchasing new one?

2. you mentioned squeezing/burping the bottles. Are you squeezing the air space out at the top such that the bottles have a little suction inside at the beginning of carbonation? Does this affect the carbonation?

3. how did you determine the amount of sugar to add to each bottle?

Thanks so much.
Posted: 
February 11, 2014  •  06:05 PM
When I first started brewing I had to make this same decision. I choose PET right off the bat. They are lighter, easier to store/transport and are virtually indestructible. They also come in a large variety of sizes. I have 3 liter sizes down to half a liter. The bulk of my collection is a set of 500ml amber bottles that I bought from my LHBS. This is a nice size beer (approx. 16oz) and the amber color aides in keeping the light out. I have also seen amber colored root beer PET bottles in stores. That might be a slight upgrade from the clear ones. Just a thought. I have since moved on to kegging, but I still use the bottles with a "Carbonator" cap to collect and transport my draft beer. You can't do that with glass. The bottles are still being put to good use. I also have a small collection of soda bottles in various sizes and I use them to give to friends and family. If they don't get those back to me it's no big loss. I've been very happy going plastic.
Posted: 
February 11, 2014  •  06:13 PM
1. I reuse the caps until a failure, none so far. Two days after bottling I feel each bottle. Each should be drum tight.
2. Add sugar to bottle. Fill. Screw on cap. Invert bottle and shake until sugar is dissolved (Easy to see). Gently release cap and allow built up gas to escape (Some foam as well). Tighten cap, wash bottle and store. Check in two days.
3. Two heaped teaspoons per bottle seems about right.

Regards,

Deeferdog
Posted: 
February 12, 2014  •  02:16 AM
Dog:
Been considering PETs too. Do you know(you do now) that someone makes a fitting to connect a CO2 line to a PET bottle's top; not sure of the size. I think it's about $12 USD. Good luck.
Posted: 
February 12, 2014  •  04:03 AM
@AlCophile
I have submitted another article on using PET plastic bottles as mini kegs. If they post it then you can see what I did with the top to introduce pressure. Thanks for your interest.

Deeferdog
Posted: 
February 12, 2014  •  08:30 PM
Awesome! Than ks for sharing. I would be interested in the KEG/Bottle also.
Posted: 
February 13, 2014  •  02:58 AM
Awesome post Deeferdog; we are just starting to use PET bottles here in California and we are looking forward to more of your innovations. Thanks for being retired!
Posted: 
February 15, 2014  •  02:11 PM
@kzimmer0817, I wouldn't think about how much to add to each bottle, but how much to add to the bottling bucket.
Posted: 
February 16, 2014  •  06:09 PM
Very nice writeup. Thanks for sharing.
Posted: 
February 20, 2014  •  06:52 AM
Great setup!

I also use some plastic bottles, including Coke bottles like round Christmas ornaments for holiday beer.

I can tell you from experience those plastic bottle trays from the distributor make it easier to fill.

When the big soda companies switched from 2-piece plastic bottles with a boot to the lighter 1-piece bottles, they had the same problem you did with empty bottles - they tip over easily. I understand they initally solved he problem by shooting in a little water just to hod it upright, then filing it with product.
Posted: 
February 22, 2014  •  06:10 PM
I'm totally new to this. 3 yrs ago my cousin got me a Mr. Beer Home Brew Kit (go ahead and chuckle) and I decided to use it 2 weeks ago. I drink flavored seltzer from 1 liter bottles all the time, so I thought that I would use them. Making sure I could led me to find this great article.

As far as I can tell, it's easy enough to fill the bottles from the tap of the kit's "keg" which I have on a table in the basement; it will remain stationary through bottling. The instructions also say to add 2 1/2 teaspoons of suger to each bottle and to fill to the base of the neck. I thought I would store them in a locked plastic storage bin in the basement so it would be a self contained mess if I do anything wrong.

Does anyone see anything wrong or have any comments/suggestions to this approach?

@deeferdog, I'm still not clear on what to do if I check and a bottle is not drum tight. Do I burp it and tighten or just tighten? Your answer to @kzimmer0817 seems to suggest there is a small amount of air left at the top of the bottle. Sorry for the newbie-based questions.

Thanks!
Posted: 
February 24, 2014  •  06:22 PM
Hi @MorganNJ,

I would only add one heaped teaspoon of sugar per litre bottle for carbonation. To burp, fill the bottle to about two inches from the top, then squeeze the bottle until the liquid just starts to come out of the top. Screw the cap on tight. Shake the bottle (it will feel quite slack) and you will see that it starts to become firm. Drum tight in a day of so.

Regards,

Deeferdog
Posted: 
March 2, 2014  •  02:05 AM
I used 2L soft drink bottles for several years before I started kegging, if they are kept in a dark place the system works very well. The other advantage is that it only takes a dozen bottles to contain a whole brew, which makes bottling day a lot less miserable.
Posted: 
March 8, 2014  •  04:15 AM
Hi @deeferdog,

Thanks for the response. Sorry that I just saw this. I bottled on the 23rd. I put in the kit's recommended 2 1/2 teaspoons, Filled them up to the neck, shook them and put them in the basement in an opaque plastic storage bin with a locking lid. I just checked on them and they seem fine. very drum tight. Only the last one I bottled has some yeast sitting in the nooks on the bottom of the bottle, otherwise they all look very clear. The kit says to let them sit for 2 to 3 weeks, but what's your recommendation? Also, at what point do I refrigerate them?

Appreciate the guidance.

Best,
Morgan
Posted: 
March 9, 2014  •  06:25 PM
Hi @MorganNJ,
If you drink them early, within two weeks, the beer will generally be acceptable but be much better after one month. After that any further improvement depends on the beer, (style, brand etc.) I mainly kit brew Coopers Lager and drink after four weeks. I generally like a growler to have 48 hours of refrigeration, then at least one hour in ice before serving. Thanks for your interest, Cheers!
Posted: 
March 11, 2014  •  12:55 PM
Very interesting. I like to age beers... and I also rarely want to consume a couple liters of the same beer at a time. Thus, I'll never personally go this route...... but this is a nice how-to for those that want to give it a shot.
Posted: 
March 15, 2014  •  01:44 AM
Thanks, @deeferdog. I wish this site would notify me when I get replies. I don't have time to monitor.

So, I refrigerated tonight (bottled 3 weeks ago this Sunday), but couldn't resist opening one of the 1 liter PET bottles from my first batch. I'm extremely happy with the result. Color, clarity and carbonation are great and it has a young, nutty taste. I'll definitely follow your advice and let the rest sit another week and ice them before opening.

For the curious, I bottled six 1 liter PET bottles and one 2 liter glass growler. I had no issues and, as I said, the results have been great.

Best,
Morgan
Posted: 
May 13, 2014  •  02:42 AM
I picked up two big plastic bags of one and two liter plastic bottlesn from my local recycler, the guy even went into the dumpster for me. In the dark ages (early 90's), we went from glass to plastic bottles, these were the old ones. They worked great back then and can't wait to bottle with the new PET material now.
Posted: 
September 1, 2014  •  06:58 AM
Hey I got a great video here on bottling beer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYN2OpIr37c
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