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Old 05-05-2011, 04:29 AM   #1
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Default The great plastic cork experiment

I really like the "Belgian style" corked bottles that many Belgian beers come in, and I'd love to use them for bottling. Unfortunately, corks and corkers are expensive and I don't really have the space in my apartment to use and store a proper floor corker. However, I recently discovered plastic corks which can be inserted by hand! These have been reported by others on here with mixed success, the most common complaint being that some of the bottles don't carb up properly.

Since I really want to use the Belgian bottles, I decided to do an experiment. I bought 100 plastic corks and 100 metal traps, and I broke out some Belgian style bottles I've been saving just in case I can use them in the future.

Without further ado, here is the experiment:

Equipment:
I'll be using 5 different bottles for the first run. They are:
Dogfish Head Sah'Tea
Chimay Red
Affligem Dubbel
Ommegang Three Philosophers
Unibroue Terrible

More bottles will be coming as I acquire them. I have a Westmalle Dubbel that I'll use as well when I get around to drinking it (in a month or so).

The corks are distributed by crosby and baker. I think they say "Lokorb" on the top, but it is kind of hard to read. The traps are your standard wire dealies without the plate you see on most commercial examples.

I'll be using Coopers carb tabs (2 per bottle) and dry bread yeast (I bet I'll get some flak for this). Plain tap water will be the only ingredient that goes in the bottles. After 2 weeks or so I'll pop the bottles in the fridge for a couple of days and find out if they held pressure.

Assumptions:
I'm assuming that all bottles from one company are the same, so if the Ommegang bottle carbs up I'll assume all Ommegang bottles will carb up correctly. This might be a bad assumption, but it is sort of the best I can do with limited resources.


Sorry for the terrible picture.

Initial observations:
I used way too much yeast, but I don't really care for the purposes of this experiment, as long as they eat the sugar.

As for the corks, I managed to get all of them in by hand. The dogfish head's cork went in about as easy as your cat goes into a travel cage before you take it to the vet. I don't expect a leak in that one. The Unibroue's cork went in much easier, I'd pick that one to fail before any of the others.

The other three felt about the same, I figure all of them should carb up OK with no issues.

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Old 05-05-2011, 04:44 AM   #2
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Thumbs up! I have a whole wall of various Belgian bottles that I've been waiting to use. Subscribed.

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Old 05-05-2011, 04:53 AM   #3
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Cool experiment. Looking forward to results in a week or three.

So, did you buy the corks at your LHBS or online?

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Old 05-05-2011, 05:05 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by passedpawn View Post
Cool experiment. Looking forward to results in a week or three.

So, did you buy the corks at your LHBS or online?
LHBS. Thinking about it now, it probably would have been better if I had bought them from online, just in case there are differences between what you can buy online and what I got at my LHBS. The ones I have look identical to the ones pictured here:

http://international.stockfood.com/i...rs-680288.html

I'd take a picture myself, but I doubt my terrible camera could show any of the details.

The bag i bought is branded by Crosby and Baker, so I imagine most LHBS's should carry an identical product. The number under the barcode says "CB 6450".
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Old 05-05-2011, 11:32 AM   #5
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I tried this and wasn't real impressed with the results.

I went online to a site by the water and found a floor corker and went to my LHBS that had the corks cheaper that I could buy them elsewhere.

The results?

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Old 05-05-2011, 12:41 PM   #6
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As you noticed the DFH has a smaller diameter mouth than the Ommegang style belgian (they will leak most likely) bottles. The issue is bottle consistency when using the plastic corks. I *think* the plastic corks are meant for the champagne bottles because the bull nose bottles are not used to bottle anything but belgian beer. They aren't designed for champagne pressures and aren't real common truth be told. So that would lead me to believe that the plastic is meant for sparkling wine and the heavier champagne bottles. So I would say that if you want to cork with plastic in the future only save the champagne bottles.

Don't let me take away from the experiment though. I hope the plastic works for you in the bullnose bottles because that'd allow a lot of other guys to reuse those nice bottles.

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Old 05-05-2011, 04:08 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smokinghole View Post
As you noticed the DFH has a smaller diameter mouth than the Ommegang style belgian (they will leak most likely) bottles. The issue is bottle consistency when using the plastic corks. I *think* the plastic corks are meant for the champagne bottles because the bull nose bottles are not used to bottle anything but belgian beer. They aren't designed for champagne pressures and aren't real common truth be told. So that would lead me to believe that the plastic is meant for sparkling wine and the heavier champagne bottles. So I would say that if you want to cork with plastic in the future only save the champagne bottles.

Don't let me take away from the experiment though. I hope the plastic works for you in the bullnose bottles because that'd allow a lot of other guys to reuse those nice bottles.
Really? I've heard Ommegang bottles in particular work well with the plastic style corks. The other "bull nose" bottles I have heard mixed reviews with (hence the experiment). The corks are for champagne bottles, but for all of the bottles it significant force to get them into the neck. The Unibroue slightly less, the DFH quite a bit more (although the DFH never had a cork in it even when it was new and the bottle may not have been designed to accept corks at all).

To be honest I don't think I'm getting the DFH out without a wrench. My hand looked like that one guy's hand from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" after I was done getting that thing in there.
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Old 05-09-2011, 07:49 PM   #8
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Just as a quick update; all of the bottles have dropped clear, and from outward appearances it looks like all have held pressure successfully. I think I'll chuck one in the fridge tonight and check to see if I have nasty yeast-flavored seltzer water in a couple of days. If that one checks out, I'll chuck the rest in and finish the test of the initial 5. Really all I'm looking for is a "pop" when I open the cork, actually conditioning the yeasty water isn't really on the table as I'm not planning on drinking it.

I also tried handling them a bit roughly to try to break the seal. I turned them upside down and shook, and I pressed down hard on the corks (I heard this caused one guy's bottle to lose its seal). None of them reacted in the slightest to that.

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Old 05-14-2011, 04:41 PM   #9
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Alright! Finished the first five for this experiment. I'm a bit disappointed, but results are results.

Now to the results:

Unibroue Terrible: Not carbed. Actually, it had some carbonation, but I think it was just residual CO2 left over from the fermentation process. I want these to work so bad I'm actually going to include the "Terrible" and a "Maudite" in my second round, just in case I messed something up.
Affligem Dubbel: Leaked a bit. Not carbed. A bit of a disappointment, but I'm glad I found it out with water instead of beer.
Chimay Red: Carbed! I'm glad this one worked; it is a very dark bottle and should do a good job keeping the light out of whatever beer you put in it.
Ommegang Three Philosophers: Carbed! Ommegang was mentioned in "Brew Like A Monk" as the best bottles to use with plastic corks, and it looks like that was good advice.
Dogfish Sah'Tea: Carbed! But it was a hollow victory. I thought getting the thing on was difficult, getting it off was almost impossible! Took about 15 minutes, but with the help of a crescent wrench and a 5" Kabar I got the sonofabitch off. Cork got pretty much destroyed in the process.

So by my final count I see 2 not carbed, 2 carbed, and 1 DQ by PITA factor. I'm happy the Chimay and Ommegang bottles carbed correctly, but unfortunately both Chimay ($10.49 cheapest) and Ommegang ($8.99 cheapest) are rather more expensive than the Unibroue ($5.99) and Affligem ($6.99) bottles that didn't carb up.

Here are a few lessons for anyone who might want to attempt this experiment independently:

1. Use more carb tabs. Those carb tabs were calculated taking into account the residual CO2 that is already in your beer when you bottle. This residual CO2 isn't present with the water coming out of the tap, obviously. While it wasn't too difficult to tell which was carbed and which wasn't, it would probably have been easier had I used 3 carb tabs per bottle instead of 2.
2. Watch how you store the bottles. I left one on its side in the fridge and it leaked a bit. It does make it easier to find out which won't carb up right I guess....
3. The wire traps I have suck. They are really single-use, I broke every single one of them unwinding to get them off. The ones on the commercial bottles seem to be made of a softer metal, and I think are far superior. Should last for several uses as well.
4. While the DFH bottles aren't really suitable for plastic corks, they should work fine for anyone who can handle 29mm crown caps. It would be worth it to save them if you can, as the bottles are very dark and are made from very thick glass.

Next up...Unibroue Terrible (again), Unibroue Maudite, Westmalle Dubbel...and whatever else strikes my fancy at the liquor store! I'm definitely going to pick something up from Allagash.

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Old 06-17-2011, 06:28 PM   #10
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Default Tried the plastic corks, not impressed

Just had to chime in here, I bottled a Belgian Quad with these recently, and was very disappointed with the results. I bottled in mostly Ommegang 3P bottles and they seemed to either a) not hold a seal at all, or b) hold a seal, but then, when very gently put into the fridge, lose the seal, bubble, and flatten by the time they're chilled. I was so frustrated I broke down, bought the colonna capper/corker, opened every single one, carb tabbed, and corked. I really should have done this from day one.

My reco would be to either bite the bullet and get the corker (not bad at $66, plus it's also a nice capper), or try to get bottles with slightly narrower mouths to use these plastic corks.

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