Cleaning Bottles

Soaking bottles...

Stripping empty bottles of their labels can be a bit of a chore. If you want your homebrew to look the part though, it’s a chore that has to be done. Here’s a few techniques that are working for me.

If only everyone used the same kind of glue and label material, stripping them from bottles would probably be a lot easier, as there would be one commonly know way of doing it. As there appears to be almost the same number of glue and label combinations as there are breweries, it can take a while to work out the techniques required for each type. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth trying to strip the labels from certain bottles, as the level of effort required is just too high. This poses a problem, as if you only ever drink beer from breweries that use a glue that could survive a nuclear explosion, then you’re a bit screwed.

Bottles stripped of labels... In certain circumstances it’s worth taking the pain though, especially if you are after a particular bottle shape or size. Take the Thornbridge bottles, I’ve given up on taking the labels off those, as they are nigh on impossible to get off cleanly and thus require lots of extra clean up. There are loads of beers I drink that come in 500ml bottles, where the effort to remove the label is much, much less, so I just use those instead; I’m particularly thinking of German beers here. I take the pain when it comes to Moor bottles though, as I want that particular bottle shape and size; at least I did before they changed it. Getting the labels of those is a complete bitch, but worth it.

No matter what kind of bottle you have, a good long soak in hot water is a good starting place. You could, if you wanted to, put your bottles into your homebrew boiler and hold them at simmering point for twenty minutes or so as well. The idea here, it to soften the glue and if you’re lucky to have the labels float off without you having to do anything; German bottles are great for this. If you’re going to simmer them, just make sure they are completely submerged, otherwise you run the risk of getting a tide mark on the neck of the bottle, which can be brutal to shift.

Scrubbing the sticky off... Once the glue is soft, it’s time to remove the label. If you’ve simmered the bottles, they’ll be hot, so take the necessary precautions, or let them cool down first. Labels on BrewDog and Hardknott bottles come off quite easily after a soak, just try and be consistent with the pressure you use to pull them off, as stopping and starting can lead to lines of adhesive being left in the bottle. The Ridgeway Querkus bottle in the photos, has a clear plastic label on it, it came off without a fuss and left pretty much nothing behind it.

Some labels will come off and leave a very sticky patch of glue, or label base behind them, I’m looking at you Thornbridge. The Harbour Brewing bottle in the photos did a similar thing, but it wasn’t quite a sticky as some. You might also get bottles where the label and glue part company, the label floats off while the glue stays on the bottle; a bit like the Brasserie Larché bottles I brought back from France. In some cases the film of glue left behind can just be wiped off, in other cases, it’s worse than the sticky label backing on Thornbridge bottles.

If you’re lucky, all you’ll need to do after getting the label off is to give the bottle a wipe with a cloth and you’re done. If you still have any adhesive, or sticky label backing on the bottle, it’s time to use a bit of elbow grease. I’ve tried in the past to use one of those green scouring pads, but they just get clogged up and become next to useless. Clean and ready to use... I’ve also used the metal scouring pads, which suffer from the same problem, but only if used without first applying some washing up liquid to the bottle. That appears to be the key, dunk the bottle in some water, apply a bit of washing up liquid and scrub away. You should eventually end up with a clean bottle.

You may find that with some bottles, like the aforementioned Moor ones, you can’t get the labels off for love nor money. I’ve found that when the labels have had a really, really good soak, that you can rub them off with the back of a knife. Or, if they’re ultra stubborn, the sharp side of a good chopping knife. It’s a lot of effort, but if you really want that size and style of bottle, you’ve no choice. You’ll most likely have to scrub the bottles quite a bit after the scrapping of the labels too.

Have you found a better way to get the labels off bottles…? If so, please let me know!

Update

I have tried BrotherLogic‘s oven method and can confirm that it works, sort of. I set the oven to 120°C, popped the bottles in and gave them ten to fifteen minutes. Then using a sharp kitchen knife, it was easy to pick a corner of the label off the bottle and then pull the rest of using my hand. Depending on the bottle though, the label would either come off cleanly, or leave all the glue behind it. I’ve found that this is the only easy way to get labels off Prosecco and Cantillon bottles, for example. I’ve also found this this method doesn’t necessarily mean that labels on Moor bottles will come off, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I have no fucking idea what glue they use, but I really wish they’d use a different one…

Update

Thornbridge's new embossed bottles...Just a quick update about Thornbridge bottles, as they’ve changed. There are three labels on a Thornbridge and they’re all different, it’s the back label that seems to cause the most grief, the residue left by the other two cleans up with minimal fuss. However, they’re now using custom embossed bottles that have the Thornbridge T embossed around the shoulder, so if you don’t like using embossed bottles, you’ll have to find another source for this style.

Update

For the life of me, I can’t remember how I stumbled across this, I think someone tweeted about it, but it’s been ages. Anyway, evidently peanut butter will remove label glue from your bottles, this I had to try. So I popped into a local supermarket and bought their own brand smooth peanut butter, I wasn’t about to waste my decent wholenut chunky on an experiment like this, and gave it a shot.

As you can see from the photos, it didn’t really work. I did pick the bastard of all bastard bottles though, as they were from Oakham Ales. The labels on Oakham bottles come off really easily, but the glue, my [insert favorite diety here] the glue! One bottle can clog a metal scourer, no matter how much washing up liquid you use. They’re a complete nightmare, which is why I choose them for this experiment.

The peanut butter did take a bit of the sticky off, so they weren’t quite as sticky to the touch, but they still required an obscene amount of scrubbing to get all of the sticky off. The bottles then required a good clean, as peanut butter is oily and the bottles had an oily residue left on them, even after all the scrubbing.

I’m in no rush to try this technique on any other kind of bottle, especially when other labels come off so easily. Your milage may vary though, as there are a few US based websites promoting the technique. Maybe their peanut butter has something else in it that helps, I don’t know…

Update

The Ormskirk Baron has tweeted me a couple of times with his technique, which is to pour boiling water into the bottle and leave it for a bit. He (and a few others to be fair) claim this is all that is required and that the label and glue will them come off. Can’t say I’ve had much luck with this to be honest, as the labels either rip, or leave the bits of glue behind.

I’m also not sure about the environmental impact of having to boil the kettle lots of times if there are more than two or three bottles to de-label. Kettles aren’t exactly the most energy efficient and I can fit a whole box of bottles into the oven in one go, where I’d have to boil the kettle a minimum of four times (my kettle holds 1.7 litres, so depending on the bottle size).

Again, your mileage may vary and it might work better with certain bottles over others, you’ll just have to try.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 Round-Up

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

Today is the last day of this years Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt. So if you want your favorite to have any chance of reaching Friday’s grand final, you’d better pop into your local store and clear the shelves. That is, if they haven’t been cleared already, as I’ve been trying to get hold of some more Harbour IPA and Thwaites Crafty Dan, but both my local stores have been out of stock for some time.

The format has been tweaked again this year, with the beers coming from four regions, rather than five. This means that the top three beers from each region go through, so there will be twelve rather than ten beers contesting for the Sainsbury’s listing on Friday. Unlike last year, where I thought a lot of the entries weren’t so good, this year has seen some pretty damn good beer, from all over the country. Before I try and predict which ones will make it to the grand final, you can read what I thought of them by clicking on the links below:

Now for the standard disclaimer. I can only comment on the bottles that I’ve bought (or been sent, although I bought all of them anyway), as with everything on this blog, the reviews I’ve given these twenty beers are just my opinion. You may very well find that you don’t agree with me and that the bottles you have bought tasted completely different; that’s fine, beer is like art, it’s just a matter of opinion. Based on my reviews though, here’s who I’d like to see in the grand final, not that I’d necessarily put all of these beers forward given the choice:

Scotland and Northern Ireland

North

West

East

  • Reindeer Droppings — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Querkus — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Lavender Honey — Wolf Brewery

If attending the last couple of grand finals has taught me anything, it’s that the judges and I don’t agree. So while I’d love to see something like the Harbour IPA, Thwaites Crafty Dan, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, Harbour Porter No. 6 or Hardknott Infra Red win, I’m not even going to stick my neck out. What will be, will be.

I’ll be attempting to live blog from the grand final on Friday. The last time I tried to live blog, I ended up consuming a ridiculous amount of beer, taking twice as long as normal to cycle home, crashing the bike on the driveway and sleeping on the sofa. I think this attempt will go slightly better, although I may end up just posting stuff to twitter

Great British Beer Hunt: India Pale Ale and Infra Red

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Harbour Brewing Co., who are based in Cornwall, but I’ve never crossed paths with any of their beers, so I was very pleased to see two of them in the final of the Great British Beer Hunt. I decided to start with their India Pale Ale, as there had been lots of positive posts about it on twitter and untappd, so was looking forward to trying it.

Harbour Brewing co. India Pale AleIt poured a slightly hazy, light brownish, deep amber amber colour, with an off white head. The head dropped to a thick covering fairly quickly. While it wasn’t the smelliest beer I’ve ever had, once you got your nose right into it, there was a lovely, thick, dank hop aroma.

It wasn’t as full bodied as I was expecting, it felt quite light in the mouth and definitely didn’t feel like it was over five percent. There was a nicely orange, grapefruit marmalade kind of flavour to start with, that wasn’t overly cloying, or bitter. In fact I’d go as far as to say it was wonderfully balanced, just tending to bitterness in the lingering citric aftertaste.

It’s less of a slap you around the face hop bomb and more of a subtle beer, that beguiles you more and more with each mouthful, until you’ve totally and utterly fallen under its spell. It’s a very, very nice beer indeed and I’d be surprised if it didn’t do exceedingly well. Definitely one you should put in your basket.

I’ve had plenty of Hardknott Infra Red before, I first blogged about it way back in 2010, when it was a very limited bottling run. Back then Infra Red was hand bottled, capped and labeled into 500ml bottles, these days, Hardknott’s fancy bottling machine can churn out thousands of capped and labeled 330ml bottles a day; It’s amazing to see how far Dave and Ann have come in those short years.

Hardknott Infra RedIt poured a reddish brown mahogany colour, with a very lively pale tan coloured head. This bottle was possibly a touch over carbonated, as the head stayed at a good finger for ages and was fed constantly by bubbles rising up the side of the glass. The nose was all caramel malt, with very little else going on.

It was a bit lively in the mouth, from all the carbonation, which was a bit of a shame; although it wasn’t bad enough to detract from the taste. It didn’t taste how I remembered it though, I was expecting much more of an aggressive biscuity, crystal malt mouth prickle, but it was more of a smooth, rich, red stewed fruit affair. There was a bit of a prickle, towards the end of the mouth, just not as much as I remember there being.

The bitterness, while there, wasn’t overwhelming, even though there was quite a bit of it. It cut through the initial maltiness and left as pleasant, fruity bitterness lingering in the mouth. You could still taste it, minutes after having a mouthful, so I suppose some people will probably find this to be bordering on too bitter for them. While it’s not the beer I remember and my judgement might be clouded by my memories, it’s still a plenty tasty beer.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

Yes, it’s that time of year again, the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 finals are underway, with the final twenty beers on the shelves of stores nationwide for the next three weeks. The format is similar to last years, but with five beers from each of four regions, rather than four beers from five regions. Which also means that the top three beers from each region will progress to the grand final, meaning twelve, rather than last years ten, will battle it out on the 4th of October for a guaranteed, minimum six-month listing in stores nationwide.

The pricing of the bottles in store has also changed this year. Last year, it was buy three for £4, with each of the beers having an variable individual price if you didn’t want to buy three. This year, all beers appear to be a flat £1.50, which makes some of them absolutely ridiculously good value for money. It’s also good the see that only one of this years finalists is in a clear bottle, so a definite improvement there.

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013 bottles 1

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013 bottles 2

This year the regions are broken down as follows:

Scotland and Northern Ireland

North

West

East

  • B Bock — Batemans
  • Black Pepper Ale — Batemans
  • Reindeer Droppings — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Querkus — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Lavender Honey — Wolf Brewery

As in previous years, the beers aren’t in the main beer section of the store, you’ll find them in the season aisle; this causes the same confusion every year, but there you go. I’ll be posting reviews of all of the beers as and when I try them, and I’ll be blogging live from the grand final on the 4th of October.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 bottles on the shelf of my local store.

Is Craft Beer Going Mainstream?

My Twitter timeline has been pretty full today, full of Iron Maiden and FHM; not exactly common bedfellows it has to be said. Evidently, this months FHM features a load of craft beer, as you can see from the image above. The double page spread appears to have beers from some of the bigger craft beer purveyors like Thornbridge and Dark Star, plus some from the newer, or less well known ones like Wild Beer Co. and Tiny Rebel. I’ve not actually seen the issue in question, as my local Tesco didn’t have any copies of FHM in stock when I popped in at lunch, Hopefully they’ll have some in at some point this week so I can have a proper look, as evidently, there is also a six page article featuring that Scottish brewery.

It makes me wonder though, what with events like Craft Beer Rising having just been, SIBA Beer X (with a cracking craft keg list) just about to kick off and the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo, Birmingham Beer Bash and Independant Manchester Beer Convention all still to come, are we at a tipping point? Now that lads mags like FHM are running craft beer articles, are we about to see craft beer going mainstream?

By mainstream, I mean not niche. We beer geeks live in a bit of a bubble, we’re pretty irrelevant in the big scheme of things, a tiny enclave in a world of industrial beer. I doubt that a few hipster beer festivals and lads mags articles are going to change the drinking habits of the majority of the beer drinking population, no matter how much we hope they will. However, I’m assuming the target audience for FHM is mainly late teens, early twenties, so they have the vast, vast majority of their drinking lives ahead of them. If even a few of them become curious due to articles like this and start asking for some of these beers in their chosen night time drinking establishments, then maybe, just maybe we might start to see a few places dabble with getting some more interesting beer in stock. That has to be a good thing, no…?

Update: here’s Hardknott Dave’s take on being one of the featured breweries

Tebay Services

You might wonder why I’m writing about a service station on the M6 on a beer blog. The simple answer, is that the Tebay Services has rather a good selection of beer. I don’t normally go on that part of the M6, I prefer the A14/M1/A66/M6/M74/M8/M90 to get home and back, rather than the A14/M6/M74/M8/M90; it’s not quite as busy, or as long. The only problem can be the A66, which has a nasty habit of being closed, as it was the other week when I was taking the kids to Scotland for half term. I really don’t like having to go on the A1 North of Alnwick, as you always get stuck behind a slow moving lorry or tractor on the single carriageway sections; which doesn’t do anything for the blood pressure.

As we were leaving really early to come back home and I was still quite tired from some epic Munro bagging a couple of days before, I decided to try going all the way down the M6, rather than cutting across on the A66. Partly as we’ve not been that way in ages, so I’d forgotten how long it takes, partly as I wanted to switch off and cruise the whole way home on the motorway and partly to drop into the Tebay Services to see what beer they had. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as I’d heard they’d probably have some Hardknott, it was worth stopping off to see.

Luckily for me they had bottles of Editions I and II of Rhetoric, Hardknott’s one off, slightly more experimental line of beers; I’ve been wanting to try them since I’d first heard about them. In addition to the great selection of Hardknott beers, they also had a pretty good selection from all over the country, with both large and small, English and Scottish breweries represented. It’s definitely worth stopping and popping in if you’re passing, especially if you’re either not going to, or can’t stop at Booths in Penrith*.

I really like the branding on these Rhetoric bottles, so clean, simple and uncomplicated; totally unlike the contents! Edition I is a star anise infused quasi-bombastic Belgique quad and was like drinking a sweet, highly alcoholic liquid aniseed ball. It was totally unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before, there was so much going on. It sounds like it’s going to be terrible, but the aniseed and that Belgian beer spiciness worked really well together, especially once it had sat for a bit, warmed up and smoothed out.

Edition II is a black cherry matured grandiose stout; imagine drinking a boozy, but smooth and soft, liquidised black forest gateaux and you’re on the right track. Again it took a while to reveal all of its flavours, there wasn’t a lot of cherry to start with; but once it had sat and warmed up a bit, the cherry flavours really came out. I think it’s probably one of the best, if not the best, beer that Dave has made yet, I really, really enjoyed it and wish I’d bought more than one.

Both of these beers are worth hunting down, especially the Edition II. If you can’t find them locally, can I suggest a day trip up the M6 to the Tebay Services?

* The only bad thing I’d say about it is they weren’t cheap, but when have service stations ever been cheap…? Hardknott are selling Rhetoric I on their website for £3.85 a bottle, I think I paid £4.60 for each of these, which to be honest, I’ve not got too much of a problem with. I’ve not been to a Booths yet, but I hear their beer selection is excellent and they’ll be getting Hardknott beer in the near future…

You Can’t Take It With You

In my last blog post I mentioned that I was going to spread my wings a bit and start trying more beer, rather than always going for the perceived best that a brewery makes. That would have been a smashing idea, if I actually had any money. Gone are the days where I could walk into the Bacchanalia and blow £70 – £100 a week on rare and expensive beer. I blame building an expensive extension to the house, the financial meltdown and the fact that everything seems to have got all expensive all of a sudden. Either way, I’m totally skint and the beer fridge is empty.

One thing I have done though, is lay down a load of bottles for a rainy day. As you can see from the photo, there’s quite a collection from various breweries. I’ve never really had a plan when it’s come to ageing stuff though, I’ve just chucked it in the cupboard and tried to forget about it. I’ve not really thought about how long things should be aged for and when they’ll be at their peak and ready for drinking. Some are pure experiments, like the Orval Project (more on that in a future blog post), but most have just been set aside for some unspecified point in the future.

"Death twitches my ear;
 'Live,' he says... 
 'I'm coming."
               ― Virgil

We’ve all seen Dead Poets Society and the numerous motivational quotes extolling us to Carpe diem, Seize the Day. So I’ve decided that it’s time to drink some of the stash, what rainy day am I waiting for? All those BrewDog Abstrakt bottles, why am I holding on to them when most of them are shite? I could drop dead tomorrow from an aneurysm, never knowing what that bottle of Marble Special 2009 tasted like. Unless I’m holding onto a beer for a very particular reason (that 750ml bottle of the original Hel & Verdoemenis 666 is for my 50th birthday for instance), it’s going to either get drunk, or have a date put on it for when it will be drunk.

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, 
 find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their 
 island of opportunities and look toward another land. There
 is no other land; there is no other life but this."
                                             ― Henry David Thoreau

Why wait for a rainy day that might never come…? You can’t take it with you.

Advent Beer – Æther Blæc 28 Year 2010

My previous Advent Beer was Hardknott’s Æther Blæc 27 Year 2010, so it it seemed logical to drink the sibling Æther Blæc 28 Year 2010 bottle as the next beer. It’s been aged in a barrel from the same distillery, that amazingly enough, had whisky in it for 28 years, rather than just 27 years. This kind of thing fascinates me, as you get to find out the characteristics of individual barrels and how they impart their flavours on and change the base beer.

It poured a jet black with a very good brown tan head. In fact, I wasn’t really paying attention at the end of the pour and the head came spilling over the edge of the glass from no where. Unlike the 27 Year though, the head didn’t last and dropped to a ring round the edge of the glass fairly quickly. Learning a lesson from the 27 year, I took this one out the fridge well before I started to drink it, so that it wasn’t too cold. I’d definitely say that both these beers shouldn’t be drunk cold.

The nose was quite intense, far more so than the 27 Year version. There was a definite woody edge to all the hedgerow fruit and I suppose, a bit of character from the whisky as well.

It felt smoother in the mouth than the 27 year version, and didn’t bubble on the tongue as much either. It was just as full bodied, but it felt more intense as well. Where the 27 year had been subtle and rounded, the 28 year was just more. It wasn’t in yer face, as such, it was just more powerful in all the flavours. The woodiness was greater, the fruity after taste was more intense and lingered longer. The hedgerow berry flavour was really to the fore as well, I wouldn’t say just blackberries, as there was quite a sharpness, so maybe some rowan berries or something similar in there too.

I’m amazed how much difference there was between the 27 year cask and the 28 year cask versions, but then I suppose each cask is different and it’s not as simple as just an extra year. I liked both versions and I’m not sure if I would prefer one over the other. I think the 27 year might just edge it for me though, but only because it was subtler, slightly more rounded and oh so ridiculously drinkable. That doesn’t mean this version was bad, far from it, it was excellent. The intense fruity berry flavour, lingering long after the last bit of liquid had slipped, languidly down my throat was joyful. I wait with baited breath for this years instalments, all three of them…

https://twitter.com/#!/HardknottAlex/status/149072524687323136

Advent Beer – Æther Blæc 27 Year 2010

Æther Blæc is Hardknott’s, brewed once a year, barrel aged imperial stout. I had the 2009 version during last years Advent Beer and it was really nice. The only reason I had it for Advent Beer, is the same reason I’m having this bottle (and it’s sibling) for Advent Beer. I always think that whisky barrel aged beers will be too phenolic and whisky tasting and that I wont like them. I really need to get over my prejudices …

It poured pretty much jet black, with a brownish tan coloured head. It appeared to have quite a bit of condition as the head formed really rapidly and looked like it wanted to grow very large, very quickly. In reality, it stayed at about half a finger for ages and even an hour after pouring, was almost a complete covering. It was far too cold when first poured, so I left it for a bit to warm up and reveal itself.

There wasn’t a huge amount going on on the nose, but a deep inhale did bring forth some aromas. It was quite complex, I would have just said some sweet malty notes, but there was more than that. Bit’s of wood around the edges and some rich stewed plummy, fruit notes floating languidly around.

It was a little over carbonated to start with, but the wait for it to warm up helped in that regard. It was full in the mouth, with bags of flavour right from the start. Lots of malty flavours to start with, then the woodiness from the cask and a long juicy mouth watering, slightly phenolic after taste. I was really surprised at how drinkable it was, yes, you could tell it was strong, but it wasn’t hard work and I had to fight the temptation to glug it down without thinking.

I was half expecting a beer that was going to play second fiddle to the whisky barrel, but it didn’t. It had great balance between all the components and it was really nice to drink, fantastic even. If only all barrel aged beers tasted this good.

Advent Beer – Single Brew Reserve 2009

Last night along with the Cambridge Moonshine Second Quarter, I had Saturdays Advent Beer too. I didn’t pick it at random, as I didn’t want to end up with a big bottle of De Molen or one of the Hardknott’s. I want to enjoy these beers, not get rat arsed on a school night… This is another one of those beers that was sitting all dusty and unloved in a box at the Bacchanalia and which Ed was very generous in giving to me for nowt.

It poured a crystal clear burnished coppery brown, with a decent head. The head didn’t last though and dropped to a patch covering fairly quickly. There didn’t appear to me much sediment at the bottom of the bottle after the pour, obviously, you mileage may vary if you manage to find a bottle of this. I didn’t think there was much on the nose to be honest, vague hints of a marmalade type note maybe, but nothing much else.

It felt quite lively and effervescent in the mouth, at least to start with, as it calmed down a bit by the time I got to the end of the glass. If I’m being brutal, which I am, I found it a touch thin and a bit one dimensional. Now don’t get me wrong here, it was perfectly balanced and an absolute joy to drink, with juicy subtle flavours that were reminiscent of marmalade. While there may have been a brief hint of stewed plums at the start, it just tasted the same the whole way through the mouth and down the glass, there just weren’t any other intertwining flavours.

  • RateBeerSharp’s
  • Single Brew Reserve 2009, 4.3%, 500ml

It pretty much set out it stall at the start and that’s all there was, which I thought was a shame, as good as it was and it was good, I think it would have been spectacular if it had revealed a bit more…