I really enjoy most aspects of homebrewing, but I have to admit that even I find that bottling is a laborious task at the best of times. Could swing top or flip-top bottles be the answer?
Personally I bottle a lot of the beer I make simply because it’s the easiest way to share it with my friends, normally at the weekend running group I go to each Sunday. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it!
Recently I’ve found that using swing top bottles cuts down a little of the time it takes to fill a bottle, place the bottling wand somewhere sterile, grab a cap and capper and then successfully cap the bottle. So am I onto something or should I be wary?
Swing top bottles are an excellent choice for bottling homebrew. Their design makes them quick to seal, strong to withstand high levels of carbonation, aesthetically pleasing and good at preserving beer. Using them makes your bottling day shorter and is less cumbersome to use than a bottle capper.
Nevertheless, it’s not that clear cut and I’ve done a lot of research into this question which I’d like to share with you below.
If you are still on the fence about using swing top bottles or you have perhaps heard that they aren’t the right choice, just read on and I’m sure I can show you how great they are!
Are swing top and flip-top bottles the same?
Yes, these are different terms for the same thing, which is also known as a Quillfeldt stopper invented by Charles de Quillfeldt back in 1874 in the USA.
More traditional versions boasted a cork made of porcelain, but modern examples are generally plastic with a rubber gasket which is secured by some wires.
But, you know what they look like already otherwise you wouldn’t be here. I’m just going to call them swing tops in this article.
How swing top bottles work
Swing tip bottles have a specially formed cork which is surrounded by a self-sealing gasket about mid-way up the cork.
This cork is held in place by a set of wires with a latch system. When you flip the latch down you can get an excellent seal on the bottle.
Because of the pressure from the wire latch and the simple design, these types of bottles are perfect for reuse.
How to assemble store-bought swing top bottles
When you buy your brand-new swing top bottles from the store or online they will arrive disassembled.
There are two main parts, the bottle, and the cork with the gasket and wires attached.
- Step one: Ensure that the ring wire is pointing away from the bottle as you look at it.
- Step two: place the cork in the mouth of the bottle.
- Step three: fit one of the wire arms into the hole in the neck of the bottle.
- Step four: place the other wire arm into the other hole provided.
- step five: push the ring wire downwards until the bottle is sealed.
- step six: release the pressure by lifting the ring wire.
- step seven: Repeat steps five and six a few times to ensure a proper seal.
Troubleshooting: often the biggest problem is when you put the sealing mechanism on the wrong way, that’s why you need to start with the cork in the bottle and work from there.
If you haven’t got the ring wire sticking out on the outside, then flip the entire mechanism over. This should solve the problem and enable you to fit the latch system properly.
Can you reseal swing top bottles?
Yes, without a doubt you can definitely do that! Whether or not you mean “can you reuse a store-bought bottle for homebrewing or if you can take a swig and reseal it?” may need a slightly different answer.
There is no issue reusing swing-top bottles, in fact a lot of companies seem to be leaning towards the reuse of their products anyway.
Contrary to popular belief, the swing top bottle wasn’t designed purely to be opened, resealed and opened again.
It’s not like beer lovers in the olden days wanted to drink a sip and then close the bottle again for any reasons of taste or hygiene. However, it is true that the Beer Stein championed in Germany was invented to keep things out of your beer
In fact, the swing-top bottle was a predecessor to the more ubiquitous crown caps (invented in 1892) which most brewers are familiar with. So, it was just the best system of the day to keep beer in the bottle.
Where to get your swing top bottles
Depending on where you live and the beer styles you like to drink, you may find it easier to source bottles more cheaply.
Drink them yourself
I personally recommend that you simply recycle beer bottles as not only can you taste even more types of beer, you are also reducing the demand for producing bottles to some extent.
Just make sure that you keep the bottles nice and safe while they are in your care and check each one in the light for any hint of a crack or damage to the latch mechanism.
Ask for donations
Although it may sound embarrassing, you can always ask for bottles. In preparation for a big family reunion, I have been brewing about 4 or 5 batches of beer, which equates to 60ish bottles a batch.
I’ve been collecting bottles from friends, neighbors and even in the local bars that I frequent. Now everyone knows what I’m up to and they will save bottles for me at parties and other events.
If you know that a particular bar serves a style of beer from a swing top bottle, then strike up a conversation and ask if you can take them off their hands. 9 times out of ten they will be delighted to get rid of these empties.
However, sometimes you just need those bottles yesterday and so buying them is the best option.
You can get them from your local brew shop, but often buying them online is the best way to ensure that they are in stock and arrive when you need them.
You can see this brand and others and all the deals available right on Amazon and get your bottle delivered this week!
Advantages of using swing tops over caps
Just through my own experience of bottling beer on a weekly basis for the last couple of months, I always find that using the swing bottles I have for each batch is better. This is for several reasons:
As I’ve mentioned before, with my technique, using swing top bottles involves a lot less fiddling about.
I usually bottle sat down with my sanitized bottles in boxes on one side of me, a table with caps and capper the other side and the bottling bucker and auto-siphon in front of me.
When capping I have to fetch a bottle, fill it with the auto-siphon tube, place the tube somewhere clean while I pick up a cap and capper, then place the bottle between my feet to close the cap effectively.
With a swing top, I can literally close it with one hand, or at least without having to place the bottling tube into some sanitizer while I do it. It gains me perhaps 10-30 seconds, which on 60 bottles really adds up!
Ease of use
As I recycle lots of different types of bottles, both conventional long necks and swing tops among others, each bottle can be easier or harder to seal than the last.
Sometimes when using a hand capper you just don’t get that central close around the bottle and you have to push down several times until the crown cap looks to have sealed uniformly around the bottle top.
With a swing top purely due to its design, the seal is perfect 99.9% of the time, the first time. It’s just an easier experience from my point of view.
To my mind, swing top bottles are also a little bit sturdier than the more widely used long neck variety. They often hold beer which is more carbonated, which requires a stronger bottle.
They also need to accommodate the wire locking mechanism, which requires thicker glass, at least around the neck. All in all, it’s just going to reduce breakages and explosions due to too much pressure. If you are having an issue with exploding bottles, then check out my in-depth article into how to fix this, right here.
What can I say, when you hand someone a homemade beer in a swing top bottle, you just look cooler!
How to tighten swing top bottles
In brewing, whenever you use a beer bottle you’re always going to get some sort of inconsistency with your bottling. From one batch to another you could see a difference in the carbonation level of your beer.
Sometimes it might be your swing top bottles, especially if you’ve used them a few times. There are two main culprits to this:
If your gaskets are old or dried out, which will happen if stored in certain climates or environments, they may just need replacing. You can grab a pack of replacement seals very cheaply on Amazon these days or in your local brew shop.
You can also try periodically rotating your seals each time you clean and sanitize them just so that they don’t wear out on a particular spot due to pressure etc.
If the wires which hold the cork in place are damaged and bent out of an angle that pulls the mechanism closed, it’ll pop open or give a bad seal.
If this is the case for you, then you can use some plyers to squeeze the wires back into an effective shape.
Are swing top bottles dishwasher safe?
Yes, absolutely. Swing top bottles can be placed in the dishwasher with or without the cork system being removed.
The heat shouldn’t damage the rubber parts in any way. However, just remember that you still need to thoroughly clean the bottles inside before using them, a dishwasher won’t clean them but rather acts as a good sanitizer.
What beers are sold in swing top bottles
Below is a list of individual beers and breweries which use swing top bottles and are a great source of recyclable bottles.
- Brasserie BFM
- Brasserie Lefebvre
- Brasserie Des Légendes (Ellezelloise)
- Flensburger Brauerei
- Rogue XS series
- Schwaben Brau
- Sterkens Brewery
- Tettnanger Kronenbrauerei
- Wieselburger Bier
- also……360 Vodka
Can you reuse any type of bottle?
In addition to swing top bottles, you can use any type of bottle for bottling your homebrew with the exception of twist tops, this is simply because they won’t accept a crown top.
I really recommend that you go with a larger bottle than the 12 fl oz variety, purely because it means fewer bottles to fill!
For more information on choosing the right types of bottles for home brewing, please read my full article: Types of Bottles for Homebrewing (Size, Type, Caps, Recycle).
Hand capper versus bench cappers
If you’ve decided to forget about swing top bottles or still want to cap some bottles each time, which is better a hand capper or bench capper?
I have used this type of hand capper (see Amazon) a lot and find that it’s great if you don’t have a lot of space for storage and if you switch between lots of different bottle sizes during a bottling day.
The only thing I don’t like is that you sometimes can’t get an even seal on certain bottles and have to push down several times.
This is great if you use bottles that are all the same size and have a dedicated space for bottling which you can leave all set up.
I feel that this bench capper gives you more of an ‘assembly line’ feel to your bottling day and can be really easy if you are working with a brewing partner.
For more details on other types of bottles, you can use for homebrewing, check out my in-depth article here.