Sunday, April 19, 2015

How to Remove Beer Bottle Labels

When you've finished a batch of homebrew, you'll either bottle it or put it in a keg.  Although they are more work, I prefer bottles because they're easier for me to store and share with friends.  Buying bottles to use for homebrew can get costly - especially if your friends don't return them after they finish drinking the contents.  That's why many home brewers like me use bottles recycled from micro brews and craft brews we've purchased in the store.

In order to give your home brew a nicer look, you'll want to remove the original labels first.  That will allow you to add your own labels later on.

For Belgian and German beers, I'll often use just hot water.  For most others, I'll use the method described below.

I've found that one of the easiest ways to remove labels from craft beer bottles is:

  • Get a half-scoop of Oxi-Clean laundry stain remover (which is food safe) or a generic brand of the same material.
  • Turn on your kitchen faucet's hot water tap and wait until it's as hot as it gets.  
  • Close up one side of your sink.  Dump in the scoop of Oxi-Clean and start filling the sink with hot water.  Swirl the water around to dissolve all the cleaner in the hot water.
  • When the sink is full enough to submerge the largest bottle you're de-labeling, stop filling it.  Move the faucet to the empty side of the sink.
  • Fill each bottle you want to de-label with hot water from the faucet, as full as possible. (This will ensure that the bottle sinks in the hot cleaning solution.)
  • Gently set the bottle in the sink filled with cleaning solution, making sure the label side is down.
  • Repeat the above two steps for all the other bottles you want to de-label, or as many as will fit comfortably in your sink.
  • Wait at least 15 minutes (but 30-60 minutes is even better).  Return to the sink.
  • You'll find that many of the labels are now floating loose in the cleaning solution.  Pull those out and discard them.  
  • Take a bottle that's already lost its label, and empty its contents into the sink.  Hold it at an angle that will allow you to see if any adhesive is still visible.  If so, scrub it with a dish scrubbing sponge (the kind that are safe for non-stick pans).  The adhesive should come off.  
  • For bottles that haven't lost their labels, try peeling them off.  If they're too hard to remove, you may be dealing with a plasticized (or even completely plastic) label.  For plastic labels, you can let those dry and try peeling them off like you would a sticker.  If that doesn't work, I usually discard the label.
  • Some labels (like those from Ommegang and The Brew Kettle) don't come off on the first soak, but the first soak loosens the outer layer.  Peel off this outer layer and let the bottles soak again. Often this will loosen the remaining label material and allow them to be removed cleanly.
  • Always be sure to carefully and completely rinse the bottles you've de-labeled, or the cleaner will leave behind residue you won't like.  
  • The bottles you couldn't de-label should be rinsed and placed in the recycling if you don't want to use them.
There are some brands of beer for which the labels remove more easily than others.  The ones that tend to work best are the more "papery" labels.  I've found the following tend to clean up well:
  • Anchor Brewing
  • Anderson Valley
  • Angry Orchard Cider
  • Belgian beers like Scaldis, Chimay, La Chouffe, Maredsous, or Duvel
  • Belhaven
  • Bell's
  • Dogfish Head
  • English and most other European beers
  • Fat Head's (often these will remove by just submerging in hot water and peeling)
  • Founder's
  • German beers like Weihenstephaner, Paulaner, and Ayinger
  • Lager Heads (often these will remove by just submerging in hot water and peeling)
  • Magic Hat
  • New Belgium (not the painted-on Lips of Faith but the paper-labeled ones)
  • Omission
  • Sam Adams (usually)
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Taxman Brewing (these remove with just submerging in hot water and peeling off)
  • Troeg's
There are some I don't bother with because the labels are too hard to remove, such as:
  • Columbus Brewing Co. - you can somewhat remove these by soaking in very hot water with a strong Oxi Clean or PBW solution, then using a Nylon pan scraper to remove the paper, soaking in the Oxi Clean solution a bit more, and wiping down with Goo Gone, but even this tends to leave behind some residue
  • Thirsty Dog - sometimes you can just peel them off and use Goo Gone to remove leftover adhesive, but that's a lot of work I often don't engage in
  • Great Lakes Brewing Co.
  • Smithwick's
  • Two Brothers
Many breweries today use thin plastic labels adhered to the bottles, rather than paper-based ones. The Hoppin' Frog brewery is a good example. I find that often I can remove these by filling the bottle with the hottest tap water I have and letting it sit for a few minutes. Then I run more hot tap water over the top of the label while the bottle is still filled with hot water. This tends to loosen the label, and I can then begin carefully peeling it off the bottle. Any leftover adhesive can either be ignored or scrubbed off with Goo Gone or a similar glue-removing solution. (I've heard WD-40 is good for this, but I'm not keen on getting that stuff too close to my beer.) This works for Innis & Gunn labels, too.

Other methods that I've not personally used, but which I'm told work in some cases, include:
  • Microwave the bottle for 30-40 seconds to loosen the "sticker" type labels, but be sure to use a heat-resistant glove or oven mitt to handle the bottle or you can get burned.
  • Use a razor scraper to scrape off the label. Be careful not to get cut.  (A Nylon pan scraper can actually work well in many cases and is much safer.)
  • Hair dryer or heat gun.  As with the microwave method, a heat-resistant glove is advised.
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (half-cup in a bucket), used like the Oxi-Clean above
  • Household baking soda (a cup in a bucket of water) and hot water, and a method similar to the Oxi-Clean above
  • Use boiling water in your brew kettle to loosen them.
  • Use Star San or PBW (Brewer's Wash) in place of Oxi-Clean above.  (I've tried this and didn't think the results with Star San were as good as PBW or Oxi-Clean, but your mileage may vary.)
  • Use hot water and ammonia instead of Oxi-Clean.
  • Use hot water and bleach instead of Oxi-Clean.
  • Fill the bottle with boiling water from a tea kettle, wait a little while, and peel off the sticker.
If you've got a favorite method not mentioned here, please leave a comment describing it!

Updated:  August 22, 2015 to include CBC instructions and links to some of the products mentioned.

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