Glass bottles have evolved from the 14th century to the present day, and today they allow us to enjoy a beer in places far from the production sites, guaranteeing a quality product with good carbonation and no risk of the bottles breaking or bursting due to the pressure generated during carbonation.
The beer industry generates a lot of environmental waste that could well be reused, since most of it is neutral and reusable material, such as glass.
However, this situation can also be seen as an opportunity to be seized by the craft brewer as it allows them to save on packaging and helps to offset the high cost of smaller-scale productions.
In this article, I will go over if beer bottles can really be reused, which ones are the most convenient to use due to their characteristics, what kind of caps are the best, and more!
In short; can Beer bottles be reused? Glass beer bottles can be reused since glass is an inert material, they are easy to clean and sanitize, and they can be reused as many times as necessary as long as they are properly cleaned, sanitized, and free of cracks or damage to the container itself.
Now the question is, can all types of bottles be reused, or is one type more suitable than another?
Can all types of bottles be reused?
Glass bottles can be reused as many times as necessary. Glass is a relatively inexpensive and accessible material. It is an inert material that does not release by-products into the beer and its smooth surface allows for efficient cleaning, which makes it ideal for beer production.
PET plastic bottles can also be reused a few times but not indefinitely because, being such a flexible material, they tend to break or tear due to friction, impact, or just general use.
Commercial bottles can also be reused as long as they are dark or amber in color. Bear in mind that cleaning and sanitization are of the utmost importance, even more so with commercial bottles, because this is essential when trying to obtain a quality beer without contamination or unpleasant flavors.
Now, is it possible to reuse wine bottles for beer?
The wine bottles currently available are not recommended for reuse with beer. The dark color of their packaging encourages their use since they grant protection against ultraviolet light, however, the natural or synthetic corks allow the entry of small amounts of oxygen, a feature sought after in long-aged wines, but not desired in beer brewing.
In addition, these types of bottles are not designed to withstand the carbonation pressure that comes with this type of beverage and will most likely break.
If possible, use brown bottles
Although I have already mentioned this, it is worth repeating: it is recommended, if possible, to use brown bottles that prevent the penetration of ultraviolet light into the beer because the interaction of the beer with light can have a negative impact on the final taste and aroma of the beer (mainly in heavily hopped styles).
What type of cap is best (crown, screw-cap, swing-top)?
Crown caps are usually one of the most economical and secure caps available, usually sealed with a manual or automatic capper, creating a completely airtight seal.
Screw caps (plastic or metal) are usually a good alternative but have the disadvantage that they may leak gas over time and do not provide a completely airtight seal in most cases, which means that your beer may not carbonate properly.
SWING TOP systems are more modern and attractive to the eye, however, they imply a high cost when bottling because they require a rubber gasket that needs to be replaced over time and some metal supports to achieve a proper sealing of the bottle, they are also more difficult to clean because they have more accessories.
If what you want is an economical and safe bottling method, then you should opt for the crown cap, if what you want is a fast and agile bottling method without the need for carbonation to last for extended periods of time, then I would recommend the screw cap.
If what you want is an eye-catching and original system, then I would recommend SWING-TOP bottles (I use swing-top bottles a lot and they work very well, but special care must be taken when closing them so that they are really airtight. I say this because when I first started using them, some of the bottles didn’t really carbonate at all).
Drawbacks of reusing bottles
There are several complications when reusing bottles, which are described below:
- Contamination: poor hygiene of a reused bottle can lead to the development of unwanted microorganisms that can negatively affect the taste of the beer. Also, traces of chemical agents that have not been rinsed out properly can also have an effect on the taste of the beer.
- Risk of bursting: reused glass bottles may have been knocked around, creating brittleness in the glass, which can cause the bottles to break when they are being filled, or later when pressure increases due to carbonation.
- Gas leakage: reused bottles are more likely to have small imperfections in the neck or rim, causing the closure not to be completely airtight and not to carbonate properly due to leaks.
- UV protection: reused bottles may present imperfections that can cause the protection they offer against ultraviolet light to fade, negatively affecting the quality of the beer.
How long does the whole process take: Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Bottling?
The time it may take is variable, depending on the equipment you have, the level of dirt you start with, your skill level, etc.
However, it is a process that requires a few hours to achieve effectively (at least two hours in general if we are talking about relatively low quantities of beer, such as 18 or 20 liters, or 1 gallon).
Cleaning and Sanitizing
The first step is to start cleaning: The objective of cleaning is to remove all visible dirt from the bottles, such as the remains of yeast, labels, dirt, etc.
The process consists of immersing the bottles in hot water and scrubbing both the inside and outside of the bottles with steel wool sponges and brushes.
Once we have removed all the dirt from the bottles, both inside and outside, we proceed to rinse them. Rinsing is preferably done with warm or hot water so that we can get rid of the dirt more effectively.
After that, we must start cleaning with chemical agents. Alkaline cleaners are useful for this situation and are used by diluting them in hot water between 60 to 80 degrees where the bottles should be submerged for at least 30 minutes.
Alkaline cleaning allows any tiny particles that are difficult to see to be removed from the container, ensuring a more thorough cleaning. After this, you need to rinse them again to remove any remaining dirt and chemical compounds.
Once the rinsing is finished, sanitization is performed.
The purpose of sanitization is to eliminate microorganisms that can spoil the beer. It is usually 70% alcohol or StarSan.
Sanitizing is done by spraying the inside of the bottles with any of the sanitizers mentioned above and letting it act for about 10 minutes. Any remaining sanitizer should then be allowed to drain by placing the bottles upside down.
The sanitization stage does not require rinsing.
How long do cleaning and sanitizing take? This is by far the toughest part of the whole process, and whenever I brew a small batch of beer, say 20 liters or 1 gallon, it takes me at least one hour to clean and sanitize the bottles (and I generally keep them really clean to begin with, if yours are really dirty it will probably take you about 3 hours).
Here are two instructive links for efficient cleaning and bottling of beer.
Bottling is the last stage in the brewing process and consists of transferring the beverage from the fermenter to the bottles so that the beer can carbonate naturally inside them.
Ideally, bottles should be filled from the bottom up using a bottle filler to reduce the risk of oxidation, however, if a filler is not available, a valid alternative is to do it carefully by tilting the bottle 45° (I recommend always doing it with a filler).
Bottling requires the addition of sugars, also known as priming solution, to initiate fermentation within the bottle, such as corn sugar, sucrose (table sugar), or honey.
The way of adding the sugars (priming) varies among brewers, some prefer to use corn sugar directly without actually creating a solution (boiling it in water), others prefer to dilute the sugars and add them directly to the fermenter, and there are those who dilute the sugars and add them directly to the bottles.
Any alternative is valid.
Once the containers have been filled, the bottle is closed, making sure that it is completely airtight so that the carbon dioxide generated by the refermentation process remains inside the container and is incorporated into the beer.
Throughout the cleaning and sanitizing process it is important to wear gloves and goggles to prevent the chemicals from causing any type of injury to the skin and eyes, although products such as StarSan are generally completely safe.
It is also very important to sanitize all tools that are in contact with or in the vicinity of the beer, e.g. hands, caps, capping machine, sugar dispensers, etc.
The reuse of bottles is a viable- and recommended alternative to be applied at the homebrew level, but it implies meticulous observation of the levels of cleanliness and sanitization to avoid contamination of the beer.
Special care is also required when handling chemical agents that may cause injury to the individual.