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.
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.
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?