Overcoming Homebrew Bottling Exasperation

beer bottles

I have recurring nightmares about endless mobs of empty beer bottles. Please God, make it stop!

I really don’t like bottling my beer.  It’s quite literally my least favorite part of the homebrewing process.  It’s repetitive, tedious, and storing bottles takes up a lot of space. I genuinely look forward to buying a kegging system and blissfully abandoning my massive, yet necessarily evil collection of empties in the recycling dumpster.  However, I don’t want my cantankerous attitude towards bottling to discourage any newbie hombrewers. As such, here are a few good tips on managing your mutinous army of glass.

1) Clean your bottles as you go
Left to their own devices, bottles, much like pigs, are comfortable wallowing in filth.  Every homebrewer has, at one time or another, looked into a bottle only to find a massive colony of fuzzy mold growing on the bottom.  Oh sure, you can always soak it in Oxyclean and use one of those jet spray faucet adapters to try to blast it out.  But if you don’t have any clean bottles for your new 5-gallon batch, that’s going to take a big bite out of your day-drinking time.

Preventive measures are the key to winning the war on mold. The simplest thing to do is rinse your bottles immediately after you’ve poured the beer.  Complications can arise if you’re a few (or a few more than a few) beers into the evening, resulting in relaxed standards. Furthermore, if others are helping themselves to your brew, babysitting your bottles can become a tiresome exercise in futility. But these are your bottles. Nobody else is going to clean them for you once their moldy. So stay on top of it. Rinsing out a bottle only takes a few seconds, and the time you save not fighting with mold is well worth it.

2) Your dishwasher is your friend
When I first started bottling, I had problems trying to figure out a streamlined system for sanitizing bottles.  I tried using a Vinator bottle rinser.  It worked well enough, but the one-at-a-time method was pretty slow.  Eventually I bought a huge tub, and was able to bulk sanitize an entire batch of bottles at once.  This was certainly faster, but once the tub was full of bottles and StarSan, it was really effin’ heavy.  Moving the tub was a messy chore.

Enter the dishwasher.

Certified to Sanitize

Some dishwashers have a high-temperature cycle, capable of sanitizing bottles.

After reading John Palmer’s advice on sanitizing, I learned that the high-temperature wash cycle (preferably combined with the heated dry) on most dishwashers is capable of heat-sanitizing bottles.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll take great pleasure in the idea that you’re literally using heat to force your horrible bottles into bacterial compliance.  Be sure not to use any detergent or rinsing additives like Jet Dry. Also, your dishwasher is not an effective way to clean dirty bottles.  Only use your dishwasher to sanitize clean bottles.

Not only can you use your dishwasher to sanitize, it’s a great bottling station.  Once the bottles are sanitized, you can bottle your beer right on the open door of your dishwasher. This keeps spills off your kitchen floor.  Once you’re done, just close the door and any spilled beer will be washed away with your next load of dishes!  It’s so perfect, I can’t imagine bottling my beer any other way.

Second only to my Autosiphon, my dishwasher is my favorite piece of brewery equipment.

3) When in doubt, throw it out
Clearly, bottles are the root of all evil and are bound and determined to be the death of you.  As such, if you’re ever in doubt about the integrity of a bottle — chips or cracks in the glass, scratches, something dubious growing in or on it, garden variety funkiness, etc. — throw it out!  Some bottles aren’t worth keeping. As a rule of thumb, if you ever hear yourself hesitantly say “It should be ok”, it’s probably not.  At best you’ll ruin some beer. At worst, you could swallow glass. It’s just not worth it.  Trust me, you’ll find a new bottle to replace it.

If nothing else, occasionally throwing out bottles is an extremely cathartic exercise for the bottling-weary homebrewer’s soul. Personally, I enjoy scornfully admonishing the bottles I discard with chiding remarks such as “I never liked you anyway” or “You’re killing your father, behaving like this”.

4) Evoke the spirit of Tom Sawyer
In Mark Twain’s famous novel, Tom Sawyer snookers his buddies into white-washing a fence for him.  It was a brilliant plan that I absolutely admire.

The great thing about homebrewing is that your friends will be curious about it. Leverage this curiosity at bottling time. Let them find out “how cool and fun it is to bottle beer”. Then take a picture of your friends while you sit back and enjoy a cold one.

Bottling sucks -- trick your friends into doing it for you.

Bottling sucks -- trick your friends into doing it for you.

5) Buy a kegging system
Face it, bottling sucks. The sooner you buy a kegging system, the sooner you’ll be done with bottling.

Anyone else got any great tips for overcoming bottling woes?

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11 Responses to Overcoming Homebrew Bottling Exasperation

  1. Bottling does suck and even with the dishwasher method, which I started using right off the bat thanks to one of the sources you pointed me to, it just takes lots of boring time. Brewing is awesome time spent, but the bottling time sucks. I know you have been laughing at my chain brewing, but the bottling is the reason why I do it. I start brewing a fresh batch while I bottle the last batch, which makes bottling part of brewing time and it is much more fun. Plus, I have a lot of beer to drink now!!

  2. Ryan G. says:

    The chain brewing is awesome! I’m going to have to try your approach, and synchronize a bottling day with a brew day.

  3. AussieBrewer says:

    Use bigger bottles. I cannot believe people bitch and moan about bottling. Using 1.5 litre champers bottles and you’ll be able to bottle your 20 litre carboy using a dozen bottles (avoiding the sludge at the bottom of course).

    Cleaning, sterilising and bottling a dozen bottles isn’t something to whinge about. Suck it up princesses.

    Downside to this method is needing to locate these magnums – either buy them and get champomaggotted or find someone in the restaurant industry who’s willing to put some aside.

  4. Ryan G. says:

    Obviously, the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm that this post was intended to generate was lost on you.

    That being said, why would I look to a different bottling approach that introduces more downsides? To expand on your example, I could go even further and exclusively use 1/2 gallon carboys, which would further reduce the number of containers I would have to use. But this assumes that every time I grab something to drink, I’m committed to consuming (or sharing) 1/2 gallon of beer.

  5. TomServo says:

    I’ve read the John Palmer article on ‘Sanitizing Your Equipment’. I was wondering what are your thoughts on dry heat sanitation using the oven? I ask because I have a cheap dishwasher without a heat cycle.

  6. Ryan G. says:

    I’ve heard of people doing this, but I’ve never done this myself because I don’t like the idea of handling freshly-baked bottles.

  7. Harper says:

    Can’t agree with you more! I’ve blogged about my own bottling woes, and came to similar conclusions. Bottling is an evil that won’t go away, even with kegging (homebrew judges want bottles). And kegging can get complicated if you don’t have a fixed dispensing keggerator. On that front, bottles are better. Also, I don’t like gifting my buddies a keg, but a bottle is okay.

  8. Joel says:

    One of the things that saved me time was installing a second spigot to my bottling bucket.

  9. EJ says:

    Good advice on this post. I agree that this stage is the least glamorous of home brewing. My tip is to embrace the process! Be selective about the bottles you keep and store them together, thus removing the sorting stage from brew day. I’ve been drinking a lot of Weihenstephaner because they make great beer and I like the bottle shape. As a bonus the labels are ultra easy to soak off. Until you fork out the dough for a kegging system I say crank up the music, open a beer, and get sanitising!

  10. Heya i’m for the first time here. I found this board and I in finding It truly useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to present one thing back and aid others such as you helped me.

  11. Ryan G. says:

    Glad to hear it! Thanks for the feedback.

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