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Petty rant about beer bottle labels

Homebrewers know the pain of bottling. The boring bit of the whole process. Tedious, painful and messy. We try to minimize the pain by using polypins, but this means you have to drink the beer a lot quicker.

Cleaning the beer bottles is bad enough. But what really gets my goat is getting the labels off British ale bottles. I don’t know what they use to glue the damn things on, but chemicals, steam and good old fashioned elbow grease are not enough to get rid of them, and you end up with bottles with unsightly bits of paper and glue marks all over them. Not what you want to serve up your pride and joy in.

American labels are pretty bad, but then their bottles come in all sorts of weird shapes, and what with the preponderance of screw top caps, we tend to put them straight in recycling. Nothing more frustrating than spending all that time cleaning and sterilising a bottle, only to find the bugger won’t cap.

German and Belgian beer bottle labels come off with ease, on the other hand. Is this related to the fact that there is much more of a practice of reusing bottles there? Germany has a bottle deposit scheme, and in Belgium bottles often seem to be collected by the bar staff for return to the brewery.

Come on, British brewers! Do your bit for homebrewers and the environment, and use something with a half- life of less than a millenium. Flour and water paste works for us. Or Pritt Stick.


8 replies on “Petty rant about beer bottle labels”

I haven’t used UK bottles in a long time when I found out early on that my capper wouldn’t seal right on Bass bottles. I’m under the impression that Americans typically use tougher glue to hold up to the cold and wet ice-in-the-cooler treatment, while European labels fall off when in a cooler like that. They use weaker glue because they don’t drink their nectar ice-hell cold, tend not to dump the bottles in a cooler for a picnic or whatever. I either heard, read or came up with that on my own, and I think it might be a good explanation. I’ve only ever been to Ireland out your way, guys, and I recall not having an easy time finding ice for our cooler (not for beer cooling, mind you). Any other thoughts?

Hi Boak

I know what you mean with the bottle labels. Personally I find Timothy Taylor Landlord bottles the best, they are a nice shape and the labels come off if you so much as look at them. Also in my bottle collection are the Brakspear Oxford Gold and the Old black Sheep bottles primarily because the labels came off easy. The Brakspear ale has the added benefit of you being able to use the yeast for brewing with. Avoid anything by Wychwood (bottle wise) as for all the labels come off easy they are a beggar to cap with the two handled capper.

I have also heard of people filling bottles with warm water to soften the glue before peeling plastic labels off and then cleaning them up with a solvent (switch cleaner, white spirit etc).

I learned a great trick for conditioning beer in polypins from some of the guys at “beer club”. Keep them cool whilst they’re conditioning as the CO2 is more readily absorbed if the ale is cold, you may still need to vent them depending on the residual sugars but your ale will be in perfect condition in the minimum of time.

John – thanks for the tips – I’m always looking for an excuse to drink more Brakspear! We’ve also found Svyturys bottles to be good, as they’re ale shaped but the labels fall off nicely.

Wilson – hello stranger! Hope the restaurant’s going well. Your theory could certainly hold for American beers. But our ales aren’t designed to be chilled, so I don’t see why they’d want to use extra strong glue.

Milk works great as an adhesive too, I’m told.

In my time on the periphery of homebrewing I struggled with many a bottle of English beer. However, the Norwegians are even worse. And yes, the light hold of German labels is indeed down to the re-use policy.

Cheers for the link, Beer Nut – the tip about spraying the labels with hairspray to prevent the ink running is a good one, too.

Why don’t you just buy some label remover from Betterware or some other such place?

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