Labelling a Special Brew

Bottling is a labour-intensive activity; made more so if you throw labels onto the damned things. Kegging has allowed me to avoid much of this pain, with “labelling” being nothing more than making a single hockey-card sized label to load into my tap handles.

These days my bottling activities are limited to making a few bottle to give away to friends or to take to my brewclubs meetings.  The only real exception to this is when I brew a long-ageing beer that I wish to cellar for months-to-years. I recently bottled my Gnarly Roots Barley Wine. Seeing as this beer is intended to be aged & enjoyed over years I went whole-hog on the labels – “ageing” the paper, generating a front label as well as four slightly different back labels, and even waxing the caps. While the picture below is not perfect, it gives you an idea of how they turned out.

One friend who I showed these to asked how I aged the paper & waxed the caps. I agreed to do a brief post on this, so here it is – methods below the fold…

Ageing Paper:

Drying paper flat is important – the line is
due to a low-point on the drying pan.

Ageing paper is quite simple – I have no pictures of this, but it is dirt easy:

  1. Print labels on normal copy paper, using a water-proof ink (laser/colour laser, or a waterproof bubblejet ink).
  2. Crinkle paper up into tight balls, then flatten.
  3. Soak for 5 minutes in strong coffee – doing this in the evening with a half-pot of drip coffee that has been “burning” all day on the heater worked well. Others use double-strength instant coffee.
  4. Carefully transfer whetted paper to a cookie sheet & dry (***flat***) in the over at 100C/200F for 5-7 minutes.
  5. If desired, several sheets of dried paper can be stacked, and a knife dragged along the edges to roughen them up.
That’s it – the wrinkles in the paper from when you balled it up take up more colour, providing a more natural look In addition, the wrinkling makes breaks in the ink, making the ink appear aged as well.  Scraping a knife along the edge eliminates the clean-cut look of modern paper.  As you can see in the photo, drying the paper flat is key – here I had part of the label lying on the side of the cookie tray, leaving a perfectly-straight dark line across the label.

Waxing Caps:

This too is quite simple.  Again, no pictures:
  1. Get some candles of the desired colour, ideally made of a food-grade wax (parafin or bees wax).  Even better would be sealing wax – but this is expensive and hard to find.
  2. Cut the candles into short lengths and place into a glass jar or other container you are willing to ruin (empty soup cans work well).
  3. Place candle-fragment filled container into a a pot and fill the pot as full of water as you can without having the candle-container flip, thus making a double-boiler.
  4. Bring the water in the pot to a boil, and keep at a low simmer until the wax is completely molten.
  5. Remove the wax from the pot (keep the pot hot).  Dip bottles 3X in wax and place aside to harden.  Re-heat wax as needed in pot.
  6. If the coat is not thick enough, re-dip the bottles after a minimum 30 minute cool-down.  Dipping sooner can cause the first coats to come off.

2 thoughts on “Labelling a Special Brew

  • November 22, 2016 at 1:56 PM

    I use one of two things:
    1) Skim milk. Cheap and easy, but comes off if the bottle is soaked in water (ie. good for bottles in the fridge and cleaning later, not so good if you want to put the beer in a cooler of ice).

    2) Gelatin, made up at ~4x the normal concentration (e.g. use 1 tbsp gelatin in 1/2 cup of water). Labels come off easily with hot water, but will hold on in a cooler of ice.

    In either case I paint the back of the label with the 'glue' using a cheap paint brush and apply to the bottle.

    I've also heard of people having success using white glue diluted in water, but have never tried it myself.

  • November 22, 2016 at 1:32 PM

    Aging labels worked awesome for me!
    What type of glue did you use to stick them to the bottles?


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