Bottles store beer after fermentation is complete. Good bottles will:
- hold the beer
- maintain pressure and not break (very often)
- protect the beer from the harmful effects of light and oxygen
- be easily stored, chilled, and transported
- provide an attractive serving container
A typical home brewer will need enough bottles for at least 2 batches of beer - about 100 12 oz bottles for 5 gallon batches - and possibly a great many more.
Bottles should be selected based on criteria of size, functionality, convenience, style, and availability.
Bottling is simplified if all of the bottles used in a single batch are of approximately the same size, both volume and height. This allows you to set up the bottle capper (if using crown caps) once, and provides a constant flow for the filling operation. Bottle volume should be picked based on the intended use, as well as what will easily fit in the cooler or refrigerator. A 3 liter growler, for example, is easy to fill but may be more than is typically drunk at a single sitting. Single serving bottles may also be required when submitting beer to competitions.
Bottles need to keep the beer inside under pressure until ready to serve. Thin walled bottles may not hold the pressure created by either natural or forced carbonation, and breakage will result. Given a choice, bottles rated for higher pressures are preferred over lower pressures.
Style is a matter of aesthetics. There are many bottle sizes and shapes, and the home brewer can choose whether to have product that looks consistent or which values diversity.
An active home brewer will need many bottles and will need a source of bottles to replace those that are lost, given away, or broken. Once you have picked a style and size bottle, you will need a source for more.
Bottle Colour and Suitability
Bottles are available in several colors, the most common being clear, green, brown and blue. Bottles may also be coated or painted; while these can be very attractive, it can be difficult to be sure they're adequately cleaned.
The most common color is brown because it blocks some of the harmful light and UV rays from spoiling your beer. This is an important consideration for commercial brewers; home brewers may use clear bottles if they're careful to control exposure to light (particularly sunlight). Many beer tasting competitions require the use of brown bottles for entries.
Crown Caps are the most commonly used on glass beer and soda bottles. They are installed using a capper, which forces the sides of the cap down to grip the top of the bottle. Crown caps may be used on both twist-top and non-twist-top bottles. If capping twist-off bottles it is imperative that you use a bench-style capper. Use of a butterfly capper may result in the bottles not sealing and carbonating, or the necks of the bottles breaking.
Swing Caps, or "Grolsch-style" caps, are ceramic or plastic caps attached to the bottle through a wire mechanism. A rubber or plastic washer provides the seal between the bottle neck and the cap. Swing caps require no special equipment to use; they may be sealed by hand. Swing caps may also be repeatedly unsealed and resealed, making them particularly useful for larger bottles; part of the bottle may be poured and the bottle resealed, reducing gas loss between pours.
Can be purchased by the case or individually at your local homebrew supply store or online from various homebrewing retailers. These bottles are unused, all in a consistent size, clean, dry, and ready to be sanitized.
They are available in various sizes in the normal pop-top style cap, PET plastic, or the EZ-Cap swing-top caps.
Can be rescued from your local recycling center, some places may charge you a few cents per bottle while others don't seem to mind, usually they only mind if they are paying customers that bring in their bottles.
Bars that sell bottled beer may also be excellent sources for bottles. Talk with the bartender or manager for permission to rummage through their empty bottles.
When collecting recycled bottles, select unchipped and undamaged bottles that meet your standards for size, strength, and style.
For an extensive list of bottles with crown caps found suitable for refilling, see Pry off bottles.
Preparing Recycled Bottles for First Use
In addition to the standard cleaning and sanitation steps required of any bottle, recycled bottles require some work to prepare them for first use. These steps should be performed before bottling day.
- Inspect the bottles for chips, cracks, and other damage. Discard or recycle any damaged bottles.
- Verify the bottles meet your standard for volume, height, and style; the bottles will work with your capping and cleaning equipment (as appropriate); and that you can visually tell whether the bottle is clean.
- Empty the bottles of any liquids or solids they may contain. It may be difficult or distasteful to remove some of the things that get crammed into bottles; use judgement to determine whether to proceed or to discard/recycle these bottles.
- Remove the label and its adhesive from the outside of the bottle. This is particularly important if you will be sanitizing bottles in a dishwasher (labels and pieces of labels will clog the filter), but will also improve results for other methods of cleaning and sanitizing bottles.
Delabelling is the process of removing labels and their accompanying adhesive from bottles. The technique used will vary by type of label.
Bottles with silk screened or painted labels (e.g. beers from Stone Brewing Company) do not need delabelling, but can be delabelled using CLR (Calcium-Lime-Rust) spray, or a soak in Star-San, if desired. A ghost image of the painted label will remain visible in the right conditions.
Plastic-wrapped bottles (e.g. Guinness Draft) are easily delabelled by cutting the label<ref>Disclaimer: Be very cautious when using sharp objects to cut things.</ref> and pulling it off. Pliers may be useful to strip away the label once a the cut is started.
Standard coated paper and foil labels can be removed with one of the following methods:
- Submerge the bottles in hot<ref>Disclaimer: hot water can cause injury if used improperly.</ref> water and soak for at least 30 minutes to loosen the adhesive and scrub vigorously with a metal brush, steel wool, or scouring pad. Rinse thoroughly. This works fairly well for bottles for many brands of British and European beers; the adhesive is water soluble and the labels will float off after a short soak. This method does not work well for most American beer bottles.
- Submerge the bottles in a cleaning solution (water combined with a percarbonate based cleaner such as Straight-A, One-Step, B-Brite, or OxiClean) and soak for 30 minute to an hour. Peel off the labels and use a scouring pad to remove the remaining adhesive and paper. Rinse thoroughly.
- Submerge the bottles in a solution of 1/4 cup ammonia to 1 gallon hot water and soak for 30 minutes to an hour. Peel off the labels and use a sponge, rag, or scouring pad to remove the remaining adhesive and paper. Rinse thoroughly. This works very well and will leave bottles squeaky clean.
Characteristics of Recycled Bottles
|Bass||Crown||Amber||12||230||206||Very Easy||Marked with Bass logo|
|Budweiser American Ale||Crown||Amber||12||228||254||Medium||Marked with logo|
|Great Lakes||Crown||Amber||12||229||198||Medium||Marked "No Refill" on bottom band|
|Grolsch||Swing Top||Green||16||223||372||Very Easy||Older style bottle|
|Grolsch||Swing Top||Amber||16||223||410||Very Easy||Older style bottle|
|Grolsch||Swing Top||Amber||15.2||232||377||Very Easy|
|Guinness Draught||Crown||Amber||11.2||230||244||Easy||Plastic label peels off easily. Remove the "widget" with needle-nosed pliers before using.|
|Harpoon Brewery||Crown||Amber||12||229||196||Difficult||Marked "No Refill" on bottom band|
|Left Hand Brewing Company||Crown||Amber||12||231||229||Medium|
|Magic Hat Brewing Company||Crown||Amber||12||?||?||Medium|
|Mendocino Brewing Company||Crown||Amber||12||228||212||Medium|
|Michelob Original Lager||Crown||Amber||12||228||209||Easy||Bulge at base of bottle neck and Michelob in script on bottle.|
|Mt Carmel||Crown||Amber||12||?||?||Difficult||Has a Tyvek (or similar product) label that is easily peeled off, but the adhesive requires significant scrubbing|
|New Belgium Brewing Company||Crown||Amber||12||225||195||Medium||Distinctive bulge on neck resembling a bicycle tire.|
|New Holland Brewing Company||Crown||Amber||12||?||?||Difficult|
|Petrus Winter Ale||Cork||Amber||25.4||295||?||Very Easy||Requires oversize crown cap or sparkling wine cork.|
|Rogue||Crown||Amber||12||232||229||Difficult||Label requires prolonged soaking, scraping, and scrubbing to remove.|
|Rogue Old Crustacean||Swing Top||Ceramic||26||275||881||Trivial||Lovely black ceramic bottle - dificult to determine if it's clean.|
|Samuel Adams||Crown||Amber||12||231||213||Medium||Marked with Samuel Adams logo|
|Samuel Smith||Crown||Amber||18.7||254||490||Easy||Ornate with molded text. Removing foil on neck requires more effort than the label.|
|Smithwick's Irish Ale||Crown||Amber||12||227||223||Medium||marked "355ml" on bottom band|
|Stone||Crown||Amber||12||231||230||Trivial||Painted label - Paint Can be removed with Star-San Soak.|
Other Types of Bottle