Last year we decided we decided we were going to give bottling a go. We were trying to establish our business, and trying to get our beers into the hands of as broad a spectrum of people as we possibly could. Bottling seemed like a no brainer. Open ourselves up to bottle shops, and the fridges of premises who’s keg and cask lines are tied. We looked at buying our own bottling line, we looked at using the lines of the breweries that we use to brew our large batches of beer on, we looked at using using facilities specifically set up for this purpose, where we would send a container of beer to them and receive it back fully packaged. The compromises in quality required to use other people’s bottling lines (we’d be required to sterile filter our beer), meaning the end product would just not be the same as the beer you’d taste in either keg or cask, led us to a flat dead end. It just wasn’t a goer. Which led us back to how we could do it ourselves without having to buy a full scale commercial bottling line. We are not the first to come across this problem, and we won’t be the last. Talking to our friends in the industry it was clear that most people when starting their businesses out had reached the same cross roads. Contract out bottling, do it yourself, or don’t bottle at all. So how do you bottle, without full scale commercial equipment, while maintaining quality and consistency? With great difficulty, and with a great deal of man hours, is unfortunately the answer. On racking day we rack into 600L tanks that we later bottle from. We get about 1800 bottles from a bottling run from these 600L tanks, which equates to about 75 cases. It doesn’t take long at the brewery to rack our beer into the tank, that’s the easy bit, but once we get it back to our warehouse that’s when the fun begins. It takes us around 8 hours, with 3 people (those that follow our twitter feed will recognise the video embedded below that I posted the last time we were bottling Pale) to get through a whole batch from set up, bottling through to clean down. We have a 4 head filler, which basically means we can fill 4 bottles at a time. It’s entirely manual so the first person takes 4 bottles and hooks them onto the filler. Once they are full they are passed onto the next in line. The cap is placed onto the bottle and then the bottle and cap are placed under the capper which is just a very large press. You put the bottle in the correct position, and pull the lever, the cap seals on. Not really hard work the first time, but 1800 times later your arms starts to hurt a bit…
Finally we have one person passing clean bottles to the bottle filler person, and also taking full, sealed bottles from the capper and placing them into our boxes. The jobs not done yet though, as the bottles at this point are still unlabelled. We know what they are, but I doubt they’d sell well in this condition so it’s off to the labeller we go! Not on the same day I might add, as we enjoy being (partially) sane, and the thought of a bottling run and a labelling run back to back may well push us off the edge..
We bottle condition our beers so before we begin our bottling run we add the required yeast to the 600L tank to allow the beer to begin fermenting again in the bottle (again, making it fizzy for you!). This only happens at the right temperature, so we always make sure to sit our bottles (we do this too for our kegs and casks) in a room in our warehouse which we keep at around 20 degrees. We do this for around 2 weeks so this gives us some breathing space between bottling day and labeling. Our labeling machine is set up in the conditioning room (very cosy and warm for the person operating it) and we literally spend an hour here and an hour there labeling. The machine is a very manual process also, meaning we do one bottle at a time. It is partially automatic though (our old one required us to turn a handle to rotate the bottle and apply the label!) so all we have to do it pick the bottle up and place it on the machine. The machine rotates the bottle and finally, we have a sellable product! Our bottles were always designed to be screen printed onto the bottle rather than labelled. It’s a painful thing for us that in the scale we are bottling the costs to screen print just make it totally unviable. Which means we’ve got to label, which takes us ages, and ends us up with an inferior looking bottle!
But wow they have sold well! We decided to go with our stubbies as we thought they looked great and would help differentiate us from the huge array of other beers on the shelves. You folks seem to have loved both the beers in the bottle and the bottles themselves. Which makes this next sentence a bit painful to write. We have decided to quit bottling our core beers for the time being. We don’t have much capacity, and we are turning back keg and cask customers. We are diverting beer from keg and cask into bottles that then cause us huge stress, time (read money!!) and headaches and we’ve got to the point where the benefits are being outweighed by the problems. We really appreciate everyone who has bought our bottles over the last 6 months, and hope that you enjoy them enough that you’ll bear with us until we can put ourselves in a position that we can bottle efficiently in house in a way that makes it viable. When we do, we’ll use our stubbies, and they’ll look 10 times better as we’ll not do it until we can do it in the volume that will allow us to screen print directly onto the bottle. Which brings me to my final point. Though we will no longer be bottling our core beers, we will be releasing far more frequently small batches of special one off 750’s. We have commissioned a generic, screen printed 750ml bottle (the mocks look amazing!) which we will add a label too to differentiate the beer. In doing so we vastly lower the time cost of bottling as each 750ml bottle takes 2.5 times the liquid of our 330ml’s, and as we can buy a very large batch of generic Left Handed Giant labelled bottles that we can now screen print, taking away the issue of labelling both from a time perspective and a quality perspective.
In the coming week’s we’ll be releasing photos of the new bottles and also details of the first special editions. In the meantime our last batch of 330ml stubbies for a while are just coming out of conditioning. Get them while you can!!