When making beer at home we tend to use what we have around us, this could be because there isn’t the proper piece of equipment available or we are just trying to reuse things.
One item that will always be around in a beer maker’s home is used bottles. Personally, I used to come home from every party and BBQ with boxes of used bottles, people thought I was weird. But am I really?
You can reuse bottles to make your homebrew & you should do it. It will help out the environment by reusing what you have & not creating more waste while saving you money as well. Brown bottles are better than clear ones. But remember that it IS time-consuming to properly clean and de-label them.
It is easy to just say, “sure you should reuse the bottles around your house”, but there are some caveats to this. For example, you need to know how to clean them properly, what beers are best for what types of bottles, etc.
So, read on below to learn more about reusing your beer bottles for home brewing.
What are the different types of bottles for beer in the US?
In the US there are basically two types of bottles sold and used by brewers: “one-way” and returnable bottles. As the name states “one-way” bottles are meant for only one use and are light in weight and usually not ideal for home brewing.
The other option is returnable glass, which is stronger than one-way since they are intended to be returned cleaned and reused. These are not as common as the “one-way” bottle for the primary reasons of logistics and money. It is cheaper and easier to just use one-way bottles, as you don’t need to keep track of the pickups and cleaning of them.
With the rise in popularity of micro-brews and home brewers the reusable bottles are now coming back more into use. Hopefully this trend increase for the environment and for the homebrewer.
How many bottles do you need?
This will all depend on how much beer you are brewing. You want to take the full amount and divided it by the size of your bottles and add 10 to 20% for breakages, spillage, and underfilling bottles. These things happen to us all and be prepared for it.
(12 fl oz
(16 fl oz
(22 fl oz
For example, if you brew 5 gallons you will need 54 of the standard 12 oz bottles, 38 of the half-liter (16.9oz) bottles, 30 of the 22-ounce bottles, or 10 of the 64 ounce (half-gallon) growlers.
These are the most commonly used numbers, but I recommend that you always have a few extra bottles. You are homebrewing and there are no rules to say you have to use the same type of bottling for all, mix and match have fun with it.
What are the best types of bottles for homebrewing?
Generally, you want to use brown glass bottles, but green or clear will do you if you don’t have any brown. If you use green or clear, you will just have to be more aware of where you store the bottles and make sure you keep them away from light.
The reason that you want to use a darker color bottle is that it will protect the beer from UV light more than a clear glass bottle. The darker the bottle the less light that can get in and “skunk” the beer.
Beer is most often thought to get “skunked” when it is subjected to different temperatures. In reality, it is the light that causes this, a better phrase would be “lightstruck” than “skunked”.
After you have chosen you bottled and filled the bottled you need to store it properly. Here are some tips about how to store it properly after bottling. Please check out my article here
Can I use plastic bottles?
Using soda bottles is absolutely fine for homebrewing, as long as they are clean, and are often used Down Under.
In fact, using at least one plastic soda bottle every time that you bottle your beer is a great way to prevent massive bottle bombs. What I mean is, you can use the plastic bottle as a “Plastic Canary” (that’s what I call it) to warn you when you may have over-carbonated your beer or to tell you when it’s ready to drink.
When you first fill the soda bottle it will be easy to squeeze, but once the gas builds up inside it, well it’ll start feeling like a regular soda bottle. When the bottle becomes very firm, that means that most of your batch will be reaching a good level of carbonation.
If the soda bottle starts to really swell and balloon, then you should start implementing Operation Anti-bottle bomb (OK, I couldn’t think of something catchier). If you do have exploding bottles, check out the video below for more details.
What size bottles are best for brewing?
Most homebrewers, if bottling, will go with at least a 12 fl oz or bigger. Using the 7 U.S. fl oz “pony” bottle is doable, but very time consuming to clean and fill, not to mention storing it.
By using a larger bottle you can not only save space when storing them but save time when cleaning them as well. It is just more convenient.
However, you need to think about how you’ll be enjoying the beer in future. If you are drinking it at home, you probably don’t want to go over about a 16 or 22 fl oz bottle for each beer. If you are sharing it out to friends and family and have multiple beers to try, smaller bottles are better for sharing!
Personally, I normally rack about half the batch into larger bottles for home use and the other half into 12 fl oz bottles for friends and parties.
If you want to learn a little bit more about bottle for homebrewing, and why wouldn’t you?, go over to my more in-depth article on bottle types here.
What types of tops are best? Swing-top? Twist off?
The type of top will depend on the bottle that you have chosen. I personally like the swing-top bottle since it is easy to use and can save you a lot of time when brewing since you do not need to use the capper.
These bottles that use the swing top tend to be sturdier as well, so they can take handle more carbonation for those stronger Belgian ales. However, you need to change the seals on them from time to time otherwise oxygen will start to seep in and leave a bad tasting beer. Every 10-20 uses should be about right for a seal change in my experience.
I also think that swing tops or EZ tops (whatever you call them in your brewery) also lead to more sociable interactions just pop the top and you don’t have to worry about collecting caps or breaking a bottle while opening it. They are just a pretty cool way to drink home brew from.
If you haven’t ever used them, learn more about swing-tops in my article here.
When it comes to twist top bottles, which are quite popular in the US, I wouldn’t bother keeping them for reuse in your home brewery. Although possible with the right equipment, most homebrewers just don’t have the right kit to recap these types of bottles.
If you can’t get your hands on swing-tops, then opt for the bottles that you have to open with a bottle opener. These non-twist, non-swing top bottles are ideal for use in homebrewing and really cheap to reseal.
What are the downsides of using recycled bottles?
There are positives and negatives to everything. What you will do in the end is up to you, but before you start testing and trying different types of bottles here are a few reasons why people don’t use recycled bottles.
- It’s time-consuming- You want to take off the labels and clean the recycled bottles before you use them. This will involve soaking and scrubbing them for an extended period of time. Oxyclean is a great way to speed up the process of getting the label and all the glue of when soaking.
- Aesthetics– So brewers want a certain look for their beer and having another company name on the bottle might not work for them. Bottles like Sam Adams have raised lettering so even if you get the label off that will still be there. Also, if you are entering a competition you usually are not allowed to show other company’s logos.
- Strength- Some bottles are just too weak for the beer you are brewing. These bottles were made to be single-use and then recycled. If you are going to brew something such as a Belgian beer, you need the bottle to be strong to withstand the internal pressure. Read here how to stop bottles from exploding.
- Capping- We discussed this above but some caps won’t fit the bottles you are using. This is a very common issue and people tend to find a bottle that works with their capper/ caps and stick with them. These are many reasons for this like the tops may too big or the rim too small. Another reason may relate to the size of the neck with doesn’t allow a proper fit your capper or it might be you just can’t close them for an unknown reason.
A top tip for the last point is when you buy some new beer to try and are thinking of recycling the bottles for your own beer, just cap one bottle before you clean and de-label it.
If it doesn’t fit easily, then you’ve saved yourself the annoying situation of getting all the way to filling it with homebrew and realizing it won’t reseal. Obviously I’VE never been this stupid, lol.
Why should I bottle the beer instead of kegging it?
When someone rolls out that keg of beer it is a glorious sight, but I think that we all love this because it is not seen as often and can be a treat. For home brewing, I like to use bottles most of the time, and here is why.
- Equipment- To put beer into a keg it takes special equipment, this is not to mention if you want to drink it at home you will need at least a tap. Since you are a homebrewer this probably won’t suffice and want a kegerator to hold and store the beer as well. If you’re not married, great, but if you are you already know what I’m going to say!
- Space- Not only do you have to get the equipment you have to store it. If you are living in a smaller space or have a family, it is just not feasible to have all that is needed for kegging and storing the beer. Bottles can be thrown away, kegging equipment can’t.
- Cost- It is more expensive. You need to buy everything for kegging, which is more costly than just a capper and bottles. So, if you are just starting out, stick with bottles for a while.
- Sharing– I do believe that sharing is caring, especially with beer. If you put the beer into a keg, like a half barrel, it is hard to transport, you need cups, a tub for it and ice and a tap. While a case of bottles can be brought almost anywhere and if need be the bottles left, while you would probably want you keg, tap, and tub back.
- Flavor/Taste- The bottle-conditioning can add character and flavor to the beers. Different types of beers need different conditions which is not possible with a keg.
How long does it take to clean, sanitize, and bottle?
It should take you around 1-2 hours. Without a dishwasher 2-3 for the whole process. You can read more on the fastest ways and easiest way to do it in my article here.
The first time you do this it may take a bit longer than normal as with anything. This step is very important and you don’t want to rush this though, if you do it could ruin the whole batch.
You can speed up the process by doing a few things. The most important I’ve found is actually giving the bottles you want to recycle a good rinse and scrub as soon as you’ve finished using them. This is especially true if it’s previously had homebrew in it as left over yeast in the bottle can try like concrete!
However, most of us have a dishwasher in the US and if you use it after the bottles are cleaned, you can sanitize the area more quickly.