Sunday, September 23, 2012

Catching labels with vinegar. Haven't tried honey.

One of the annoying facets of homebrewing has been securing adequate bottling supplies. I've got a small stable of Grolsch-style swing top (EZ-cap) bottles, which are my favorites, but not enough for all the beer I expect I'll soon have ready. Hence, I've taken to collecting reusable (i.e. non screw-top) beer bottles and have invested in a capper.[1]

Now, I probably could just throw the beer into bottles that still say "New Belgium Trippel" or "Singletrack Copper Ale" (which we definitely didn't kill a whole sixer of last night. No sir). But being the anal-retentive type that I am, I'd rather not mislead myself and/or my drinking buddies that way, so I needed a way to remove the commercial labels. (I also need a way to make my own labels, and possibly a design team to help out, but that's a problem for another day.) One approach that was suggested was to heat the bottles in the oven to 400°F-450°F to melt the glue; then peel off the label whole. This worked for Sam Adams bottles, but not for others.

That method was chiefly favored for those collecting beer (and wine etc.) labels. If it had worked, I'd have not cared whether the label came off in one piece or many, but since it didn't (some of the glues just absolutely refused to melt), we decided to go the chemical route.

I tried a test run last week, with several bottles (mostly Mission Street and New Belgium) in my chemical bucket in undiluted vinegar. Left them all night, came back in the morning, took a razor blade to the labels and they came right off. Well, they still needed some coaxing, and they definitely left in pieces.

Doing the real run now; probably have thirty bottles to de-label, including a whole box that JJ's Market was kind enough to let me haul off. Assorted doesn't even begin to cover it. Anyway, the vinegar (5% white vinegar, initially undiluted) seems to be taking a lot less than all night to do its work, so I'm moving on through them pretty well.

Some observations and ideas for next time:
1) Start with your shortest bottles. Fill them with water (to keep them from floating), put them in the bucket, fill around them with vinegar up to the neck.
2) Don't use a metal razor to scrape off the labels if you can avoid it. The vinegar acid will react with the metal to discolor or corrode it. Doubly true if you're thinking of using a knife or metal kitchen utensil that you don't want to replace. I'm using a hard plastic spatula and it's going great.

[1] The Red Baron Capper, if you're interested.

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