Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Joys of Bottling: 3 Approaches in a Bottle Royale

The title of this post is a little misleading, since there are no actual joys in bottling (but there are ways to minimize the pain.) Gene's last post, "The Joys of Kegging," is one side of the coin so I thought I'd present the other. As several of my past posts will show, bottling can really be a hassle but there are a few variables that you can control -- the types of bottles and the tools used to fill them. So far I've only used a bottling bucket, but I do technically own a bottle filler which I might use next time.

I neglected to mention that you can also control where you bottle but given my current condo living situation my options are still limited. When it's a little nicer outside I plan on bottling on the porch. I suspect that the ants that have recently taken up residence in our bathroom are not totally unrelated to indoor bottling, but I digress.

Without any further ado, let's start the "Bottle Royale!"

1. Grolsch Bottles

Many new brewers are attracted to the idea of using bottles that are unique and don't need to be capped. If you have much experience with high quality beer you know that a lot of the really good stuff from Belgium comes in a bottle with a champagne cork and a wire protector. This isn't practical for home-brew since these corks are single use only. Also they are probably hard to sanitize, but don't quote me on that.

If you're looking to save a couple bucks by not purchasing a bottle capper, "Grolsch" type bottles might appeal to you. They have a rubber gasket in the top and snap down with a metal lever, creating a seal. When I was asking around before my first batch I was told that some people absolutely love these and some people hate them; I'm in the latter category.

Grolsch bottles are terrible for several reasons:

  • They once contained Grolsch (see below if you don't know what I mean.) 
  • They are green glass which expose you to light spoilage.
  • The rubber seals don't always work
  • Sometimes you get a funny taste from the seal.
  • Bottle brushes get stuck in them and you can't get all the mold out of the bottom (personal experience here.) 
For those of you who are still unconvinced, you can buy generic Grolsch bottles if you really want. They actually cost more than bottles with Grolsch in them already, which confused me at first (but not anymore.) I should also mention that the seals that come with the Grolsch need to be replaced each time to ensure a good seal. My recommendation is still to stay away. 

2. 16 oz. 24 oz. Glass Bottles

These are the best and everybody uses them ('nuff said.) I like the 24 oz. ones personally since it's less capping and cleaning work.

3. Plastic Screw Top Bottles

Do. Not. Use. Plastic. These are the type of bottles that come with Mr. Beer. You can find more information on that little monstrosity here. Some people make wine in two liter soda bottles and I've heard that it works alright for beer (but sometimes explodes all over your living room.) If you're going to spend the time to make something high quality than why risk the sanitation or chemical contamination problems associated with cheap plastic? You can get glass for free out of the recycling (or from friends) and it cleans up well.

Bonus: Grolsch Review

This beer tastes like crap. It was about two bucks and tastes like somebody put a teaspoon of sugar and an ounce of pee into a Heineken. I bought one of these so I could describe what they are like "new," but I'll be pouring the rest down the sink momentarily.

Have you used Grolsch bottles? Do you disagree with me? Comment below!


  1. Just a note that you can get swing-top grolsch-style bottles that are amber/brown.  These are great, and I always keep a few around.  But I never want to give them to anyone because they are more expensive.  I usually bottle in the 12oz or 22oz bottles because they're cheap and I can give them away.

  2. I use 160z brown swing tops almost exclusively. I have never had to replace a gasket, and have used the same bottles 20 or 30 times so far with no seal issues or any sort of taste problem - as long as the seal is still flexible (ie no cracks) you're good to go. But I agree with Chris - if I give one out, it's always with the caveat that the person doesn't get any more until they return the empty.

    And Grolsch is terrible.

  3. When I lived in England Grolsch on tap was delicious so I was really excited at the idea of drinking tons of Grolsch and getting the bottles as a bonus. But you're right, it turns out that the Grolsch in bottles here is gross. Just goes to show that draft beer is always better. Unfortunately I haven't quite got as far as kegging yet. I use a wide array of crimp-top bottles and Grolsch style (some actual Grolsch bottles and some amber 16oz swing tops). I've never had issues with the seals. Several places also sell 32oz 'growlers' with the same swingtop closures which are great. I'm going to come to the defense of the plastic screw cap bottle. I brewed an English style bitter which I bottled after 5 days with no priming sugar and let the fermentation complete in the plastic bottles by releasing the CO2 build up through the screw caps a couple of times. It turned out great, very lightly carbonated, and I started drinking it probably 10 days after brew day. Cheap, quick, and I could take it places where they don't like you drinking out of glass.