Reusing Empty Bottles

When I started home brewing, I naively thought that brewing my own beer would end up costing less than buying beer. It is true that the cost of ingredients for a batch of beer cost less than buying an equivalent number of (fancy) six-packs, but there are other costs associated with brewing. One cost that I didn’t anticipate is the price of empty bottles. At around 75 cents apiece at my local brewing supply shop, the bottles cost as much as the beer I put in them! Using these bottles pushes the cost of a home brew six-pack towards $10, ignoring the startup cost of equipment.

Needless to say, reusing bottles has become a financial necessity. The rinse-scrub-rinse-sanitize cycle is tiresome, but there really isn’t any alternative. After all, brewing beer is 90% about cleaning and only 10% about actually making beer.

Considering the ridiculous cost of empty bottles,  it makes the most sense to just use empty commercial beer bottles. In some cases, full bottles of beer cost less than empty ones — you just need to be sure that the bottles you’re using don’t have screw off caps as these bottles won’t seal properly. The only problem that I ran into with using commercial beer bottles was the labels. I don’t know what glue they use to affix the labels, but they are a pain to get off. I tried soaking and scrubbing and various solvents and detergents. By far the best and easiest option for label removal turned out to be OxiClean. They make a version that is free of perfumes and dyes, and it works perfectly. After soaking the empty bottles in a solution of OxiClean for a few hours, the labels practically fall off.

Using empty commercial bottles for brewing is, I think, the best way to go so long as you’re on top of keeping them clean. Here’s what I do to ensure that my beer goes uncontaminated:

  1. Rinse bottles thoroughly immediately after finishing. I fill them half way with water, shake vigorously, drain and repeat at least 3 times for most beer. If the beer is bottle conditioned, there tends to be some yeast stuck to the bottom of the bottle, in which case the bottles need to be scrubbed at this point with a bottle brush. For bottles that are force-carbonated this step doesn’t seem necessary.
  2. Let the bottles soak in a bucket of OxiClean solution for a few hours. Remove the labels of the beer and scrub the insides of the bottles thoroughly. Rinse each bottle at least 3 times, shaking vigorously.
  3. Let the bottles dry upside down. Once they are completely dry, store them until bottling day. I usually store them upside down so that dust doesn’t settle inside them.
  4. On bottling day, rinse the bottles and let them soak in sanitizing solution until immediately before filling. Empty the bottles and let them drain upside down on a sanitized rack for a few minutes before filling the bottles.

There you have it. Inevitably, some bottles from every batch are given away never to be seen again, but reusing commercial beer bottles can easily  make up the difference.

Will Rosenbaum

Saarbrücken, Germany

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