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Brewing Process: Bottle Prep

When it comes to home brewing there are two approaches to the bottling stage. The first is kegging, which is awesome, but very expensive. The second is bottling. Bottling can be nearly free and today I’m discussing my three step process to prepare bottles for holding your precious creation.

Step 1: Bottle Procurement

Everyone has friends. And if you share the other hobby that this blog covers (board games) then you likely get together and hang out quite often. Well, if you’re a home brewer this is a great opportunity for you. During our board game nights my friends typically each bring a 6-pack of beer.

Is it weird when at the end of the night I ask to keep their empty bottles? Not at all. One friend thanked me for taking his trash. But beware… here are some tips for successful bottle procurement.

  1. Don’t be sneaky. Just ask if you can have the bottles.
  2. Don’t take any twist off bottles since they aren’t good for home brewing. (Life tip: avoid twist off bottles if you enjoy quality beer!)
  3. On the drive home, put the bottles in your trunk. I can’t emphasize this one enough!

Now that you’ve procured your bottles (about 50 for a 5 gallon batch) you’re ready for step 2.

Step 2: Label Removal

This is the worst part of home brewing. If I weren’t also trying to save money by home brewing I would just purchase new bottles. But I’m guessing I’m not the only one out there who removes the labels from bottles so here’s how I do it.

It's a Utility Sink Party!

It’s a Utility Sink Party!

I first fill my utility sink full of hot water. Then I place the bottles in there for a good half hour. The idea here is to soak the labels and get them ready to be peeled off.

After a half hour I take one bottle at a time and peel off the label. There will likely be some residue left on the bottle. To remove the residue I take a dish scrubber or dish wand and apply a little elbow grease.

This is sort of a buy beware point, though. Some bottles have great labels that basically fall right off. Others have very gummy labels that leave behind some terrible glue that is nearly impossible to get off. In Wisconsin I’m blessed to have the New Glarus Brewing Company in my back yard. They have the best labels ever! Soak them and they fall right off.

And the best part about labels that fall right off is that you can make some really cool art with them. Here is a collage I made with the New Glarus labels:

New Glarus Label Art

New Glarus Label Art

To get all the labels off and residue removed will take a little while. Be prepared to stand over the utility sink for a while. But once you’ve got the bottles all spic and span I like to move on to step three.

Step 3: The Dishwasher

Dishwasher parties are hotter than Utility Sink parties!

Dishwasher parties are hotter than Utility Sink parties!

Now that your bottles are free of all denigrating marks of previous ownership they are ready to visit the dishwasher. This step helps to remove any leftover residue from the inside of the bottles and helps to sanitize them as well. And for some reason I really like how they look all lined up in the dishwasher.

The key here is to run it as a normal wash cycle, but do not use any detergent. These bottles aren’t likely to be caked with peanut butter or broccoli or any other typical dinner fare. They were filled with beer. So they really only need to be rinsed.

So run the cycle a few hours before you are going to bottle the beer. That will give you enough time to let the bottles cool off from the hot dishwasher cycle.

Bottle Prep: Simple but Tedious

And that’s it! You now have bottles that are ready to go for bottling. I would, however, make one more recommendation. And that is to do one final rinse in your sanitizer before bottling, especially if these are sitting around for too long. Better safe than sorry. If you have a preferred method for bottle prep, please let me know. I’m always looking to get more efficient!


The Monday Brews 6-3-13

Well, we’re off to the start of a great week! And since it’s Monday, that means I get to talk about beer! It’s been a while since I discussed my brewing adventures. They’re just not as exciting as board game design. But I’ll get you all up to date on what I’ve been up to.

Alberti Amber

My first taste of Alberti Amber

My first taste of Alberti Amber

As you know I bottled my first beer about a month ago. That was my Alberti Amber. It is named after Leon Battista Alberti, a 15th century Italian renaissance man who invented the Alberti cipher.

I have now been able to enjoy the beverage and I was asked to give a 140 character “Tweetable” review of the beer. After the first bottle, which had been in the bottle for about two weeks, here’s what I had to say:

I have since had a few more and I can tell that maturing is making them better.

One of the things that I was worried about was during fermentation my basement was a little too cold for the yeast to throw the kind of party they like to throw. So the result is that this particular Amber Ale is a little sweeter than normal. I actually think it helps to give the beer a little character.

Overall I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I may try to brew the same thing again and see how much different it would taste.

Ben Franklin’s Honey

I think this one will be good!

I think this one will be good!

My second beer is currently in the carboy. It has been in there for just over a week and is therefore ready for bottling.

When this was in the plastic fermenter it was really bubbling like crazy. Bubbles were coming through the fermentation lock every two seconds. For the Alberti Amber at its peak bubbles were coming through every five seconds. The faster bubbling could be due to the large amount of honey in the brew. All that sugar was really giving the yeast something to chew on.

So the brew is sitting patiently in the carboy, just waiting to be bottled. I may try to get that done tonight since I’ve got a busy week. I sure hope it goes better than with the Alberti Amber.

The bottling process seems to be the worst part about brewing. You have to peel off the labels of the bottles, unless you buy new bottles. You have to wash the bottles. You have to boil the sugar that will get added to the beer so that it can carbonate within the bottles. You have to transfer the beer from the carboy back to the plastic fermenter. I suppose you don’t “have” to transfer it, but it’s easier if you do. And then you have to fill and cap about 45-50 bottles.

That’s all part of it though. I hope this turns out to be an awesome summer beer! Hopefully I won’t drink it all before summer officially starts.

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