Commercial bottle re-useage: It’s all in the glue
As an avid homebrewer, I’m always interested in maintaining or adding to my bottle inventory. However, I’ve found through painful experience that I must be discerning when choosing which used bottles I attempt to salvage.
First, I should say that it’s usually a pain in the ass to reuse bottles that weren’t adequately washed out in the minutes following their consumption. Beer is actually kind of sugary in nature when you really break it down, and sticks to the bottom of a bottle like a mother fucker. I have some bottles filled with a bleach solution right now that I’m attempting to save. We’ll see if that works.
Second, not just any bottle can be reused. I’m not interested in bottles of wacky shapes and sizes or with “Samuel Adams” or “Summit” molded into the glass, and it should probably go without saying that I can’t use screw-off bottles. With all that said, I perceive the smaller the brewery, the more likely they are to use less effective adhesives in attaching labels to their bottles. In my head, I attribute this perception to the fact that most small brewers started as homebrewers and still remember how cool it is if you can reuse a bottle of their commercial brew for your homebrew. That’s probably just in my head, though.
Since a percentage of my purchase decisions honestly hinges on bottle reusage (not an overwhelming percentage, maybe 15%? Worth mentioning though), I decided recently to find out if my perception was in fact reality. Here are the brewers of the three bottles I examined:
- New Glarus (Wisconsin brewer with approximately 100,000 BBL output in 2010)
- Dogfish Head (Delaware brewer with approximately 75,000 BBL output annually)
- Magic Hat (Vermont brewer that merged with Pyramid Brewing in 2008 and produces a combined 350,000 BBL output annually)
It turns out my perception was a little bit off (technically). New Glarus just recently surpassed Dogfish Head’s output in the last two years, yet their labels were still the easiest by far to remove with hot water and some minor scrubbing. Dogfish Head’s labels took slightly more gumption to remove, in part because of the odd crescent shape portion of the label. As expected, Magic Hat’s labels took the most elbow grease to remove, bordering on “too much.”
Since completing the experiment, I also tried to remove a label from a bottle of Lift Bridge’s Farm Girl (a new Minnesota brewer with an expected BBL output of just 2,000 in 2011). That label was incredibly hard to get off. I actually had to give up. Baffles me why such a small brewer is working so hard to make their bottles unable to be reused.
Either way you scrub it, new bottles cost me roughly $0.50 per at the homebrew shop, so I’m not going to work too incredibly hard to remove stubborn labels. Here’s looking at you, Lift Bridge.