Backpedalers Brewing: The definitive guide to bottle preparation

Obtaining empties.

This seems self-evident. As a traditionalist I prefer the old method of drinking more beer. This is a tried and true way of obtaining empty stubbies. If you have late-teenage sons with friends this will result in oversupply of empties.  Some people have resorted to asking friends or restaurants for empties as well - these are both acceptable methods, provided you can vouch for the cleanliness of the bottles. You can even buy empties at the brewing place.

Also specialized home brewing PET bottles are readily available (eg from Dan Murphys) , these tend to be larger (740mL) so not quite as user-friendly for summer style beers.

Bottle closure types

This relates to the type of cap it uses. Stubbies made for screw off caps are NOT well suited to the crown seals used in non-commercial brewing. Looks for bottles with the large upper lip that require bottle openers. Little Creatures bottles are good for example.


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The PET bottles have screw tops with retaining rings which do not require crown seals.

Bottle Colour

Most craft beers are in brown bottles as this glass blocks most light and therefore keeps the beer from going off. This is particularly important for us as there are no preservatives added to our beer. However given the expected lifetime of our beer (in some cases, minutes), green is a perfectly acceptable alternative.


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Bottle sizes

Generally long neck style 300-330mL stubbies are the preferred option. Many of these come in different styles and heights. It is best to keep to one height, or at least group them by height to simplify the capping process. The height of the capper must be adjusted for each height, so it's best to do it in similar height runs.

Other bottles are also suitable, many craft beers are also available in 500mL sizes, and these bottles can be used - particularly as spares if there is some excess beer and you’ve run out of stubbies.

As mentioned above, you can also buy specialised home brewing reusable plastic (PET) bottles with screw caps.

Bottle preparation

This is vitally important. Most of the off taste of self-brewed beer is due to it being tainted by rogue yeasts and other bits of sediment-ish leftover foam type rubbish caked into poorly prepared bottles.

If performed immediately after drinking, most cleaning can be simply done in hot water - avoid detergents if you can as they have a bad effect on the head retention of the beer. If you do use detergents, rinse very very well.


There are a number of steps to take to minimise beer wastage:

Rinse the bottles well

Ideally you should rinse when you’ve finished drinking (NOT during - that will cause all manner of problems, I promise). If left for too long airborne yeasts and moulds will grow in the left over beer and be difficult to remove from inside the bottle, even after serious cleaning. Use hot water as hot as you can stand to rinse them well.

Label removal

This can range from easy to very difficult. Start by letting bottles soak in hot water. After 15-30 minutes you should be able to peel off most of the label. Most are paper based and come off quite easily.


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Some are like sticky polymer and need to be peeled off by starting in a corner and slowly pulling (eg Heineken).

Label adhesive removal

After removing the label there will probably be a residue of adhesive left on the bottle. To remove this, leave the bottle to soak for a bit longer in hot water. Try using a nylon abrasive washing up pad to scrub it off - it should be fairly easily removed. Leave to soak in hot water a bit longer if it hasn't softened enough.


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If you are finding it very difficult to remove residual labels and adhesive you can use a paint scraper or similar to get started.


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Some adhesive is very, very difficult to remove. Some suggestion to overcome this are:

  1. Go out and buy and drink some other more beer with easier labels (our recommended method).
  2. Use citrus degreaser. Be warned, this will do the job very well, but make sure you really rinse well - any residual degreaser will make the resultant beer appear flat.

Disinfecting

An important step to ensure clean bottles is to disinfect them. The best disinfectants are “no-rinse”. That is, you can disinfect and allow them to dry without further rinsing. You can buy specialized brewing disinfectants from brewing supply shops:


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A specialized “squirter” can be used to fully coat the inside of the bottle with disinfectant:


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A more accessible product is Milton Anti-bacterial Tablets which can be obtained at the pharmacist.

Soak your bottles for 15 minutes and drain. Remember, sterilising is different to cleaning - a bottle with mould in it can be sterilised, but will still have chunks of shit that will ruin your beer. (Or worse, it will ruin MY beer if I happen to end up with one of your shitty bottles!). If you have any doubt as to the cleanliness of your bottle, throw it out and drink another, then rinse that new one out immediately.

Bottle drying

Allow the bottle to drain and air dry. Using an old tea towel in the bottom of a slab box works well. Be careful that the water collected in your tea-towel doesn't soak into the bottom of the box and weaken the cardboard, or your carefully tended bottles will fall through the bottom when you lift up the box and become small pieces of glass instead of bottles. These are substantially more difficult to transport beer in and are not recommended:


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A better method is to use a bottle tree - you may have one of these if you have done some home brewing in the past. This one holds over 60 bottles.


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(Contact Geoff if you’d like to borrow this - it will be free at various intervals over the next few weeks).

Storage

Store the clean bottles either upside down or in a covered box to prevent dust and other particles settling in them.