Although it’s absolutely possible to purchase brand new empty bottles to hold your beer, many (if not most) of us go down to the bottle shop or liquor store and spring for bottles that already have craft beer in them. Emptied of said craft beer, secondhand bottles can accommodate homebrew just as well as they do commercial ales and lagers. And you get to enjoy some great craft beer in the process.
Removing the label from a bottle of commercial beer, however, can try the patience of even the most even-tempered of Trappist monks. While some bottles might be simple peel-and-rinse affairs, others require more aggressive techniques. Here, then, are a few proven methods for ridding bottles of their former lives’ branding.
In some cases, the label will simply peel right off. If this holds true for your favorite craft beer, then congratulations! You have found the Holy Grail of label removal. Most of us aren’t so lucky.
The most commonly employed regimens involve some soaking. Immersing bottles in a soapy solution for as little as half an hour can loosen many labels, although more stubborn examples may require several days in the bubble bath. Soaking also loosens stuck-on residue that may lie at the bottom of the bottles. Common soaking media include
- Star San
- Baking soda
OxiClean and PBW should work for most labels, while an ammonia solution can encourage more troublesome ones. But take extra care when working with ammonia: Use gloves, work in a well-ventilated area, and never, ever combine ammonia with bleach (they produce a toxic gas when mixed).
Star San can usually remove those pesky screen-printed labels that are fused directly to the glass. Baking soda, while gentler than other options, works with some of the less stubborn labels out there.
On a related note, European beer bottles often employ less stubborn adhesives than their American counterparts. In many cases, the labels will lift right off and float to the top of the soaking solution in a matter of minutes.
When all else fails, some steel wool or a razor blade paired with a little elbow grease will rid you of most beer labels. But if you have to resort to scraping, you may want to consider switching brands or purchasing new bottles from your local homebrew supply store.