Pro-Style Homebrew Bottling Protips
In my homebrew, I kind of obsess about the quality of what’s inside those mysterious, unlabeled brown bottles. But what about the outside? It’s one thing to brew beer you like, and any amount of lab/masking/painters tape and Sharpie can be appropriate… for your own consumption. As long as you know what’s in your homebrew bottle, it’s the brew that counts, right? Of course.
But how about kicking your presentation up to the next level? Can anyone really appreciate your corny hop pun name without you describing the image you had in your mind? When you tell a fellow homebrew drinker to try your “Megazord’s Mega Sword” Barleywine, why hand them a bottle that doesn’t look the part?
If you’ve ever taken a trip over to any of my recipe pages (top o’ the page up there, drop down menus are SWEET) you’ll see that I’ve done some amateur label design of my own. This is just the start of how I try to kick up my homebrew presentation another notch. BAM, mofo. You can be like me, too. Read on, push the limits of your creativity, and add more fuel to the homebrew fire with these tips for homebrew bottle labeling and presentation.
Clean your bottles, fool!
Ok, classic homebrew move: you go to your local liquor store and ask for the leftover brown bottles for your own custom elixir. Or, alternatively, you and your friends decide to redirect all of your craft beer bottle consumption into an empty 24 pack next to your trash instead of into the recycling bin (you recycle, of course). In the end we have 48-50ish bottles ready to transform from commercialized to custom.
I know it’s difficult getting some of those labels off, especially if you use higher-grade craft bottles that have laminate, water-resistant labels. There are bottles that I’ve found easier to remove labels from, like Sam Adams and Flying Dog, whose label glue dissolves easily with soap and water. Other methods include:
- Steaming the bottles over a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes.
- 1/4c of ammonia mixed with a gallon of water for a 30-minute soak. Use gloves when removing!
- 16 tbs baking soda to 32c water (2 gallons) for a 30-minute soak. (This one is the best!)
But for god’s sake, don’t half-ass it. The least appealing thing I see in homebrew collections is the tell-tale sign of laziness, a half-removed label, glue still sticking to the bottle collecting dust. Gross. Clean that label up with some Goo-Gone or nail polish remover, and use a sharp edge to scrap the residual glue off.
You could always go the less cost-effective route and purchase bottles, which I do sometimes, but it’s not the most affordable (or green) option. You don’t have any labels to clean off, but there’s still usually dust and dirt on the outside. You’d still do well to soap ’em up anyhow.
The outside of your bottles makes an impression too – don’t let overflows from capping stain the outside of the bottle, avoid dust buildup (unless you’re aging a storied Belgian quad), and keep the bottles out of direct light for the sake of your beer.
Apply photocreativity here, here, and here.
So you’ve spent hours coming up with the perfect name for your homebrew, one that effectively describes the epic taste that’s about to inhabit the drinker’s mouth. Visions of legendary gods, monsters, hop and barley puns, cultural enigmas, and family lore are all drawn on to bestow a rightful title to your amazing creation. But… the bottle does not even remotely reflect the sensational nature of the name.
So what are you gonna do? Get creative.
You even don’t need any marked artistic ability. Just search your beer’s name or related terms on Google Images and apply your 3rd-grade MS Paint skills to overlay some text. It’s as simple as that. You can be as funny, trashy, clever, or raunchy as you want – it’s your home-brew, after all!
If you feel like getting a bit more creative, there’s other options for you. You can draw your own pictures – from stick figures to charcoal masterpieces. You can use your favorite computer software to assemble your ideal label image. I’d recommend either jumping into a free image-editing software like Gimp for Mac or any number of free PC alternatives if you don’t want to plunk down the cashola for Photoshop. I’ve personally found a $14-option for Mac, Pixelmator, that 99% like an Adobe product and works very well for my purposes of homebrew labeling and blog image creation.
Don’t feel intimidated by the complexity of Photoshop, Pixelmator, or other image editing softwares. A quick Google search can usually solve any problem you have in working with the basics. More advanced problems can usually be found in any number of photo-editing forums online (Google “photoshop forum” and search the forum archives for your solution). You might even pick up a new skill in the process!
Makea dem labels!
Now that you have the perfect picture for your label, how do you get it on there? There’s a few options.
Print them out at home. This is probably the most economical option. You can get a bottle-sized Avery label, but make sure they’re waterproof! Otherwise even sweat condensation from the fridge can ruin the label. I’ve made that mistake before. You can even load the specific size of the label onto an image editor. Make sure you end up printing a document that matches the arrangement of the label sheet. And make sure you have enough ink! There’s a lot of complexity to this method, but if you are nifty with computer formatting it might be your best option.
Order stock beer labels. There are several online brew shops that sell these kinds of labels, and they’re great because they’re low-effort and you can put a nice consistent look to your batch. You can also use this option to number each bottle and maybe add other fun facts.
Side story: my homebrew batch’s label was a “Hello, My Name Is…” nametag. It went well since we named the beer, “Amber.”
Use a custom label site. There are a few of these out there, but I really like Grogtag. This is a new, fresh beer label site that allows you to make a label from a standard library of graphics, Create a single label template, or upload your own custom labels all the way down to the bottle-neck labels. Neato, huh? Not to mention the labels themselves are removable and re-usable, as long as the adhesive doesn’t moisten too much, so you can conceptually print out a bunch of labels with your homebrewery’s logo on it, and re-use them with a Crayola wet erase crayon for each batch you do. Sweet deal.
Pop a cap in dat ass.
When you cap your brews, make sure they’re clean! Old caps can get rusty and gross, not to mention possibly contaminating.
There’s also sites, like Garage Monk and Wild Hops Print Shop, for custom cap design out there. You can usually get 100 caps for $30-$40, depending on the amount you order and the complexity of the style. Sounds like fun? Just be careful that you’re comfortable spending the extra green per batch to make this all possible. with labels and caps, ink and custom templates, you could be spending twice the amount you would usually spend.
So… is it worth it?
From letting you know whether it’s pale ale or hefeweizen in your brown bottles, all the way to creating your own homebrew brand with themed beer series, it’s totally up to the homebrewer how far they can go. I think it’s a nice touch, a good way to customize each beer and give it a personality, and a really nice impressive step to show off your creativity. One step close to looking pro, if you ask me. Have fun with it! It’s your homebrew, make a statement.