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Homebrewing & Bottling: A Message to Micro/Craft Brewers & Wineries

While writing my last cider entry I inadvertently exposed a pet peeve of mine regarding the bottling practices of a few micro-breweries and wineries. After a little thought I was thinking I'd like to go into the topic a bit more.

Besides my momentary tastes and the quality of the product there is another huge factor that drives the purchase of my specialty fermented beverages. Being home brewer I'm always on the look out for bottles (much to my girlfriend's dismay) that I can use for my brewing projects.

Buy bottles new at any given home brew store it will cost you 50¢ a piece for 12oz and $1.00 each for 22oz... maybe a bit more some places. Since they purchase in bulk it doesn't cost the commercial brewer 50¢/$1.00 per bottle however if the contents are good and if those bottles are able to be reused they have an extra "added value" to me. I suspect a good number of loyal craft beer customers like myself are home brewers too, so breweries... Listen up if you care.

There are certain bottles and styles I prefer however and I'd like to review those first.

Rogue Stoneware BottlesFlip Top Bottles (EZ caps).
Man I think flip top bottles are always nice to use when home brewing. Most or pretty big which is nice, they are fairly easy to use when bottling (no capping) and I feel really they just add a classier touch to some company's packaging and identity. Without a doubt I always end up gifting my flip top bottles out first, or saving them for the best occasions.

Besides a few examples like Redstone Meadery's cool cobalt blue flip tops and Rogue Brewery's kick ass stoneware flip tops they use on some of the premium beers, it is hard to find something delicious in a flip top. It is even harder to find something drinkable and affordable. They are expensive to purchase and bottle in regardless of who you are, and it should be understood that cost is passed along to the customers.

Big Bottles
Old Quart Size Beer Bottles22's and their larger cousins seem to make bottling time a whole lot easier and faster. They hold more volume which means less bottles to clean, less bottles to sanitize and less bottles to cap. And let's the face facts if I'm sitting down to a cold bottle of home brew, 22+ oz bottles are a better size. My all time absolute favorite bottling bottle ever was the now extinct (I think) 1 liter beer bottle. Now those kicked ass. They were huge. And better than that I liked the dimensions of these bottles, they remind me of the Olympia or Lucky Lager"Stubbies" in a way. I don't recall what happened to the rest of my stash but they are gone and out of my life forever I am afraid.

Orval BottleUnique or Custom Shaped Bottles.
Provided they don't have branding cast into them I like funky and different bottles. Some don't ever leave my collection or are reserved for "special gifts". Some of my favorites are Anchor Steam's 12oz (pre-twist cap) and 22oz bottles, Sam Smith 20.4 bottles (I excuse the branding in this case) and I really dig the shape and heavy dark glass of the Orval Belgian Trappist beer bottles. So cool.

Domestic Sparkling Wine (Champagne) Bottles.
What is a domestic champagne bottle and what is the difference? Well European are often the standard and their larger bottle opening does not accept the standard beer style bottle caps. For reason I don't know or question there are cap-able wine bottles that now accept standard bottle caps. My favorite Washington cider Wescott Bay Orchards recenlty converted from 22's to a cap-able flat bottom, green glass wine bottle now and I bought a ton of their cider this year when I was trying to stock up on larger cap-able wine style bottles.

Production Bottling Mistakes 101 for Craft Brewers.
For the craft brewer that is interested in the little details and is interested in going the extra mile to please their customers there are a few rules you should consider when designing your bottle packaging.

#1) Twist Tops and Caps are the Number 1 No-No.
So what is the deal? The bottles can't be any more or less than standard cap-able bottles. Is the bottling equipment cheaper? Think about this they saving you any money if they are costing you sales? A little detail like a twist cap could be a deal breaker when it comes time to buy. So often I've passed a great tasting beer with a twist for another choice because I had a bottling coming up. Remember this brewers, there are plenty of awesome beers/ciders that use cap-able bottles.

#2) Heavy Duty Industrial Label Adhesives & Painted Bottles.
Few things are worse than a stubborn label with heavy duty glues that won't come off a bottle easily. I understand the need for labels that don't fall off the bottles happen to get wet or "break a sweat". However adhesives of that caliber can't be cheap to buy nor can they be good for the environment I imagine. I only need try to dislodge a stubborn label once or twice before pass that brand up. A quick session in the dishwasher should be more than adequate for label removal.

Painted bottle are impossible and a huge no-no. I don't buy them normally, or if I do they get kicked to the curb and recycled. There are a few exceptions to this rule too. The aforementioned Rogue Stoneware and occasionally the larger 22oz or whatever Red Stripe bottles. The exception to the exception... I don't give them away.

Damn guys! Use some common sense when choosing your bottles and labeling supplies. You were home brewers once yourselves and maybe not so long ago. Did you forget what it was like trying to obtain usable bottles? You must remember spending endless hours scrubbing labels off bottles? Do you care? Show us. Use "home brewer friendly" bottles and labels.

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Reader Comments (3)

Hear! Hear! I cannot stand heavy duty industrial stuck to the end of time labels on bottles. Absolutely miserable!

January 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBlack Coffee & Bourbon

so, what brands use the flip tops?
I've looked around a little for them with no luck so far...

February 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTWYLA

They can be hard to find since flip tops are an expensive option for the craft beverage producer. I do know that" rel="nofollow">Redstone Meadery is distributed around the country... meaning it comes from Colorado and we can get it in Washington and Oregon. Redstone is a great tasting mead and they bottle in cobalt blue flip tops.

Rogue also bottles in the stoneware flip tops, but the outside is painted on and I kind of like looking into the bottles.

February 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteroldtimeydave

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