I’d like to think that in every hobby there is a task that no one looks forward to. That one thing that you have to do in the hobby that is unbearable at times but still has to be done. In homebrewing that task is bottling. Oh sure, it’s fun the first few times you do it because it’s new and you love the hobby, but after a while you begin to dread it. The cleaning, the sanitizing, the filling, the capping. It can get to you at times.
At this point you’re probably asking, “Mike, what the hell does this have to do with American and Belgian brewers?” Well, I’ll tell you. As a homebrewer you can easily buy bottles from any number of local or global vendors. It will cost you about 13 dollars a case. But if you’re a homebrewer it probably also means you’re a beer fan which also means you’ll still be drinking a lot of commercial beers. If I’m drinking a commercial beer, I’m going to save the bottle for homebrewing use later on.
Well, I’ve saved a lot of bottles, probably close to 8 cases worth. Well there comes a point where you need to prepare the bottle to your homebrew in. In my case that means removing the label. Oh sure, I could leave the label on and it would save me a step. But this is my beer going into the bottle now, not theirs. So I want the bottle to be brown and label-less.
To try to move this story (and my point) forward, on Saturday I loaded up my basement sink up with about 50 bottles and then proceeded to fill it with warm water. I’ll leave the bottles overnight and by the next day they’ll be ready to get peeled. It’s not really a fun process. You peel the label off, but there is always paper and glue left behind. Unless that bottle is a Belgian bottle.
I don’t know the science behind it, I don’t know if it’s some sort of weird European magic glue that they use on the bottles. But every Belgian beer bottle I’ve ever come across, the labels comes off without me having to touch it. It’s like sweet beautiful bliss when you go to pick up that Belgian bottle and the label just slides off.
I have a theory behind why the American brewers have stickier labels than their European counterparts: the cooler. Something tells me that most Belgians aren’t throwing a six pack into a cooler and heading out to a sporting event or a picnic. American brewers have to worry about their labels sticking to bottles while being submersed in ice and water.
That being said, there are a couple of American brewers that have pretty decent labels to remove. The best I’ve encountered so far is from our very own Schlafly. The labels will peel off all in one sheet and leave only a small amount of glue behind. In a task that can get really annoying, these bottles were a joy to work with.
Here’s a quick list of good and bad American bottle labels:
- New Belgium (though I ran across a couple of difficult ones yesterday)
- O’Fallon Brewery
- Ray Hill’s
- Bells (I’d rather recycle the bottles than try and peel their labels off)
- Red Hook
I think I’m going to update this list as time progresses. I’m sure it’ll be of use to someone.