To be honest it sounds like a simple task, get a bottle then put your beer in it leave a few weeks to carbonate and finally drink. However, there is slightly more to think about when selecting the right bottle so that you avoid it exploding and leaking your beautiful beer all over the floor.
So, what is the best type of bottle to choose for bottling?
In most cases, a standard 12 fl oz longneck beer bottle is the best choice for bottle conditioning your beer. Make sure that you choose a slightly thicker glass to withstand the pressure of higher ABV beers. PET bottles can also be used but will not maintain carbonation for longer than 6-12 months.
In this article, I’ve brought together everything you need to know about choosing the right bottle for your latest batch. Some of the ideas I’ve uncovered in my research may surprise you, so make sure you read right until the end!
An introduction to bottling beer
So, just in case you are very new to brewing, let’s quickly discuss how to bottle beer and why selecting the right beer bottle for your particular recipe is so important.
There are six main stages in bottling a beer, namely cleaning, sanitizing, priming, filling (racking), capping and storing your newly bottled beer.
The reason why we bottle beer isn’t just to store it in a convenient way so that we can enjoy it later, we actually use the bottle to carbonate the beer as it ages over a couple of weeks. Without this stage, your beer would be totally flat, which isn’t always that pleasant (coming from an English Ale drinker!)
What bottle should you use for homebrewing?
The major consideration for choosing a bottle for bottling your homebrew is whether or not it was designed for beer. You may think every bottle is the same, but each one has been specially designed for the beverage which is stored inside.
As we are using bottles to bottle condition our beer and introduce carbon dioxide into it, there is going to be quite a bit of pressure inside that bottle. So, if you don’t choose a bottle that is strong enough to withstand that internal pressure, it’s going to blow up and your beer is going to be wasted.
So, always use new bottles which are either specially designed to store beer or a similar carbonated beverage or to reuse one which did.
Glass or Plastic?
This decision is a very subjective one, but I think it also depends on where you are brewing too. The major factors in choosing between using glass or plastic (PET) bottles, in my opinion, are perceived taste, strength, ease of use and availability.
Although plastic bottles can certainly handle a lot more pressure than the average glass bottle, they are also much more permeable than their glass cousins. A PET bottle is going to leave your beer flat much sooner than if you stored it in a glass bottle as the CO2 can escape the plastic more easily than the glass. So, if you are bottling with PET bottles, plan to drink them within 6 months for the best results.
PET bottles may also be slightly easier to use in terms of capping. By this I mean, with all the PET bottles I have ever encountered you just have to twist on the cap rather than having to get your bottle capper out and using brute force to squeeze the cap firmly onto your bottle. When you are filling up 50 odd bottles per average batch yield, this is going to save you a lot of time and effort.
Personally I’d never really considered bottling beer in plastic PET bottles. In fact, I’d always avoided beer in plastic bottles because it seemed, perhaps wrongly, cheaper and therefore worse. However, I’ve noticed that in places like Australia many of the home brewing kits, especially Coopers, come with PET bottles. It seems to work down under, so perhaps I was wrong.
This being said, for me, there is a big difference in taste between glass and plastic. To be honest it may just be in my head, but I always think that beer taste better out of a bottle than anything else (well, perhaps not a keg!).
So, overall, I’d say that going with glass bottles will give your beer a longer shelf life and will improve the taste when you drink it. But, you need to make sure that you choose the correct thickness to ensure it can take the pressure of higher ABV beers and also be prepared for some manual labor when capping those bottles.
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Can you use regular beer bottles for homebrew?
As homebrewing is a hobby that can make a heavy dent in your bank account, recycling bottles is a great way to keep the costs down. However, it has to be said that recycling bottles are going to cost you more time, so buying brand-new bottles may be a fair exchange for your money.
My advice if you are planning to recycle beer bottles for homebrewing is to try and match the beer you drink to the beer you’ll make. That way, you can be fairly sure that the bottles will be up the task and won’t shatter.
However, I think that it’s also true of some commercial brands (buy beer from local breweries) that their bottles aren’t designed for multiple uses, so when possible choose the bottles which are designed to be returned in exchange for a small reward or fee. These will be a little more durable and perfect for home brewing.
Beer Bottle Types:
Standard Long Neck
These are the ubiquitous bottles which we are all familiar with and can store 12 fl oz (354 ml). These are really ideal for most homebrewers as they are easily available for both purchase and recycling and the standard dimensions mean there’s no issue with finding numerous styles of caps for your beer.
Funnily enough, swing-top bottles seem to be less widely used in the brewing community than they probably should be. Perhaps it’s the fact that brewing competitions stipulate that caps need to be used, whatever the reason is it shouldn’t stop you from using them. A swing-top bottle is great for combining the benefits of a glass bottle with the easy of sealing the bottle that a PET bottle has.
Check out my full article on the benefits of swing bottles here.
Screw top bottles
When referring to glass bottles, don’t use screw-top bottles if you are planning to recycle for your homebrew. Screw tops will not give you an adequate enough seal when you try to recap them with regular flip caps. However, when using PET bottles, you can recycle screw cap bottles as long as they were designed to store beer inside.
Another option to save time on bottling or to reduce the number of bottles you need is to fill up either 22 fl oz bottles or 500 ml bottles depending on where you are based. Although this size bottle may not be as popular in some places as the long neck bottles, it is another avenue to take if you enjoy your beer by the pint.
Can you use wine bottles for homebrew beer?
If you wanted to produce a bottle for sharing, something like a wine bottle seems perfect. In fact, many commercial brewers will bottle specialists or limited beer varieties in ‘bomber’ bottles which are designed for just this purpose.
However, not all wine bottles are created equal. Not to go into the production of wine too much, but basically not all wine types are carbonated in the bottle and so the bottle doesn’t have to withstand the strain that most beer bottles do.
So, if you are planning to bottle your beer in a standard wine bottle make sure that it was sparkling wine and not conventional red or white wine. Champagne bottles would be perfect as they are a lot thinker and more than equal to the task of storing beer.
Another thing to consider is whether or not you can fit beer caps to the wine bottle. Most wine bottles are sealed with a cork and may not have a lip around the top of the bottle for a cap to be fixed onto. So, again, it really depends on the particular bottle that you choose.
Where to buy bottles?
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of recycling used bottles, then you can easily pick up amble vessels from your local brew shop or even some larger supermarkets.
However, if you are busy you may not want to go anywhere to get them. In this case, I’d recommend that you head on over to Amazon and check out their stock.
For glass bottles, I’d recommend getting the standard 12 fl oz lot from Monster Brewer. You get two crates of 24 bottles which will be enough for most batch yields.
Another good option if you don’t want to deal with capping your beer is to get some flip cap bottles. These are 16 fl oz bottles so you’ll only need about 40 to the 53 odd you need with 12 fl oz bottles.
Finally, if you just want to go with the plastic option then I suggest you look at this lot of Twenty 500 ml PET bottles (16.9 fl oz). You may actually need to order two sets to get the 38 bottles of so that you’ll need for a standard 5-gallon yield of beer.
How much pressure is in a beer bottle?
This hasn’t been the easiest question to answer and as with many things in brewing beer, there is a lot to consider. Pressure is dependent on many things including mass, volume, and temperature. As a general middle of the road answer, 2.2 volumes of CO2 (7.2 psi at 36°F/2.2°C).
Different beer bottles have different thresholds of pressure just as different beer varieties will produce different pressure through bottle conditioning. Below is a rough guide to the carbonation levels for different types of beer:
British Style Ales
American Ales and Lager
German Wheat Beer
So, if you are planning to recycle your beer bottles for your homebrew projects, then splash out and buy some really good Belgian beer; a decent Trappist would do nicely. (Check out my article about Belgian Beer for some inspiration). This way you can be sure that your bottle is going to be thick enough to handle most of your batches in the future.
How do you put a cap on a beer bottle?
Capping your beer is perhaps the most important part of the process of bottling, as with a bad seal your beer could be at the risk of oxidation, bacterial infection, and inadequate carbonation.
There are two popular devices you can use to cap a standard bottle, a hand capper or a table capper. The former is a cheaper tool but can be riskier as if your hand slips you could know over your bottle of beer.
So, the way to cap your beer is fairly straight-forward.
Place a clean and sanitized cap on your filled bottle of beer.
Place the bottle capper firmly and squarely on top of the cap making sure it’s centered on top of the bottle.
Pull down firmly of the handle or handles (depending on the device used) until you can’t push down anymore.
Inspect the cap to make sure that it’s evenly pressed down around the circumference of the bottle top. If you haven’t got an even seal, the remove the cap and start again.
How do you remove labels from beer bottles?
If you are saving the planet and going down the recycling route, then you probably want to remove the original labels from your bottle and replace them with your own cool designs.
What you have to do is basically stop the glue which is holding the label in place from doing its job. This is easier said than done because that glue has to withstand a lot of changes in temperature and moisture to do its job properly.
Although you can place the bottles in an oven to heat up the glue, I’ve found that the most practical avenue to take is to put all your bottles into a bath (or container )of hot water and leave them to soak for 15 minutes or so. Then take a good wire brush or wire wool and scrub those labels off.
Make sure you wear gloves and that you keep the bottles submerged at all times before you remove the labels. This way you won’t irritate your hands with the constant friction of scrubbing nor allow the bottles to dry out before you get to them.
Depending on the brand of beer bottle and the glue that they used, the labels may even just peel off themselves and float off the bottle. In which case you’ll just need to tidy up the outside surface of the bottle to remove the last remains of glue.
If you are planning to bottle your beer and store it for only a short time then you may find that PET bottles are easier to seal on bottling day. However, if you really want to age your beer for a while, especially with higher ABV beers such as a Belgian ale, then you may want to choose a thicker glass bottle to help maintain the carbonation within.
When recycling bottles for bottling homebrew, always try and source thicker glass bottles that were built to be reused several times. This will limit the number of bottle bombs which you are likely to have. If you are already having an issue with exploding bottles at the moment, then check out my other article on how to solve this issue.