By Mike Silva
Beer bottles are as much a part of the drinking experience as they are important for branding among breweries across the world. From the thick Belgian bottles featuring crown caps or corks and cages for their highly carbonated beers, to the green flip top bottles from the Dutch brewery Grolsch, to Russian River Brewing’s 510ml bottles, they are all distinguishable and serve a purpose. As home brewers, we pride ourselves with the product in the bottle as well as the presentation. Who doesn’t enjoy a creative label that tells a story!
Id like to preface this article by emphasizing safety is crucial when dealing with bottles. We will cover a range of topics below to have a safe and fun bottling experience.
Style choice varies on beer style as well as personal preference. The Belgian style or champagne style bottles are great choices for highly carbonated beers as the glass is thicker than standard bottles. The standard 12oz or 22oz are great for most other beer styles. “Flip Top” bottles commonly referred to as “Grolsch” style bottles are popular amongst home brewers as they are easily reused and don’t require special equipment like a capper or cork press, they do however require more detailed sanitation due to the extra parts as well as occasional seal replacement.
Color of the bottle is not just for appearance! We have all had that beer in a clear or green bottle that smells and tastes like a skunk and there is actually a reason for this. How you choose to store your beer should be taken into consideration in order to prevent “skunky” beer. This occurs when UV light reacts with hop compounds in the bottle. Brown bottles are commonly used as they naturally block the UV exposure. If you decide to use Green, Clear, or Blue bottles, be sure to limit exposure to light.
Carbonation is a crucial factor in deciding which type of bottle to use as different bottle styles can accommodate different volumes of CO2. The methods of carbonation vary from force carbonation using a keg and CO2 pressure, to bottle conditioning using priming sugar or bottle tabs that will produce a specific volume of CO2 as the yeast consume the sugar and create CO2. The amount of carbonation you target is typically according to the style of beer you are producing. From lightly carbonated British Ales, to nearly effervescent Belgian Ales, you can reference the BJCP guidelines to get an idea of the carbonation range for your beverage. There are many calculators online to help determine the proper amount of priming sugar or carbonation pressure to use for reaching the appropriate carbonation range for your beer.
Oxidation is an off flavor, which occurs by introducing oxygen to the finished beer during packaging and can taste like wet cardboard or sherry. We want to mitigate contact with oxygen as best as possible during packaging and there are a few best practices you can follow below:
If you are bottling from a bottling bucket, purge the bucket with CO2 prior to transferring your beer over.
Purge the bottles with CO2 prior to filling
Cap on foam
Use a counter pressure bottle filler
Make sure tubing is purged of any oxygen by filling with liquid prior to filling bottles.
If you are using priming sugar or bottle tabs, you have the added advantage that the yeast will scavenge the oxygen in the bottle and replace it with the produced CO2.
Sanitizing your bottles and bottling equipment is essential in preventing infections in the packaged beer, which can lead to the dreaded “Bottle Bomb”. This occurs when wild yeast or bacteria contaminate the packaged beer and continue to attenuate the final gravity of the beer even further causing the volume of CO2 to increase. Acid based sanitizers such as StarSan and Saniclean are very effective and safe for consumption
Size is a matter of preference. There are a variety of sizes ranging from the common 12oz and 22oz “Bomber” bottles we see domestically, to the 500ml-750ml of Europe. The chart below covers the common bottle sizes and approximately how many bottles you will need according to your batch size.