Review: Are Better Bottles Better?
Better Bottles are plastic carboys. The bottles are made of a stain proof plastic. They come in three sizes: 6 gallons, 5 gallons, and 3 gallons. The plastic in Better Bottles is different than the plastic you’ll find in a water cooler bottle. The special plastic has negligible O2 (oxygen) permeability, gives off no plastic flavor or smell, and will not absorb flavors or stain. The plastic is easier to carry and will not break into dangerous shards of glass when dropped. With great features like that, why aren’t all homebrewers using Better Bottles?
When I first was looking for Better Bottles at my local homebrew store the manager replied, “I’ve got a better bottle – Glass!” That attitude is quite prevalent. In fact, of the four homebrew stores in my area, only one place will sell the Better Bottle. Two are adamant that Better Bottles are a waste of money and refuse to carry them. Only one store will recommend the Better Bottle. Are the negative attitudes justified?
The usual complaints are: its too expensive, it’s not glass, plastic scratches, the parts and Better Bottle are a pain to clean, or the plastic cracks near the valve. We’ve been using them for over two years, and here are our findings.
Better Bottle Prices
When you first look at the Better Bottle, the price is comparable to glass. At the time of writing, Northern Brewer has the plain 6 gallon Better Bottle for $25.50. The 6 gallon glass carboy is $21.99. However, the glass carboy is exempt from their special shipping prices due to size, weight, and frailty. Since the Better Bottle weighs about 1.5 lbs, the shipping is much cheaper. This makes the Better Bottle a much better buy. So why do people think they are more expensive?
The plain Better Bottle is comparable to a glass bottle, but it is their “no frills” version. Most people buy the ported version of the Better Bottle. This version has a hole in it for a racking outlet and is a dollar more. If you get the ported version, you need to buy their rack adapter and valve. This adds another $30.98, which brings the total up to $57.48. You also need some type of closure for the Better Bottle. You can use a #10 stopper, or you can buy their ported closure. Their ported closure adds another $23.99, and it will not work with your average airlock. You need to buy theirs at $11.99. This brings the total to $93.46 for one system. That is why people think they are more expensive.
You don’t really need all the extra add-ons, just the plain Better Bottle. The add-ons will make the Better Bottle much more expensive than glass, and the benefits do not justify the cost.
Are Better Bottles better than glass?
As the manager at the local homebrew shop pointed out – not so eloquently – the Better Bottles are not glass. Better Bottles are not heavy like glass. If you drop a full Better Bottle on your foot, you will not need sudden trip to the emergency room. The Better Bottles are much easier to move even when full, and according to their website, Better Bottles are unbreakable. We’ve never broken one, but we’ve heard reports from other homebrewers that their Better Bottles cracked when dropped full. Still that is much better than shards of glass everywhere. An empty Better Bottle weighs about 1.5 lbs. An empty glass bottle weighs about 16 lbs. Glass adds an additional 14 lbs to move around.
Since the Better Bottles are plastic, they can give a bit when you pick them up full. If you are using a #10 stopper with a normal airlock, picking them up can cause the solution in your airlock to be sucked back into your brew/wine. We suggest extra vigilance and using some neutral spirit like vodka in the airlock.
Can Better Bottles Scratch?
One negative that must be acknowledged however: You can scratch the inside. This might allow for unwanted infections. In the two years we’ve had the Better Bottles, we’ve never scratched the inside. We are sure it is possible to scratch the inside, but we’ve just been extra careful.
Cleaning Better Bottles
If you buy the plain Better Bottle, there is little difference in cleaning. We have noticed that nothing seems to stick to the inside of a Better Bottle. We usually clean the Better Bottle simply by sticking the sink sprayer into the top, and spraying water inside. Occasionally something will stick to the inside. Filling the bottle with cleaner, like PBW, and soaking overnight seems to do the trick for any stubborn krausen we’ve encountered.
If you buy the ported version, there is more work to cleaning everything. The parts clean easily and do not stain. The problem we have is the assembly and disassembly. All of the parts should be cleaned for each use. While not difficult, it is annoying to reassemble. You need a long PVC tube to hold the racking adapter in place while you attach the outer piece. Some places sell a “tool” to do this, but you can find a thin PVC tube at Home Depot to do the same thing. After using both types of Better Bottles for a long time, we tend to prefer the plain version simply because we don’t have to clean the individual parts.
The website claims that the racking adapter, valve, and other Better Bottle parts will not stain. We’ve exposed the parts to many red wines, raspberry meads, and a Lambic. We can confirm that the parts do not stain, and will wash clean as new with hot water. You do need to disassemble the Better Bottle to completely clean it.
We have sanitized the Better Bottle with Star San, and left it in the Better Bottle for extended periods of time. The acid did not affect the plastic, like it would in a plastic fermenter. The Better Bottle website claims that they have tested the Better Bottle for 24 hours holding Star San, but does not recommend prolonged contact. In most cases, the sanitizer will only be in the Better Bottle for a short time.
Do Better Bottles crack?
In addition to cracking when dropped full, a few homebrewers have reported that the ported version cracks when you over tighten the racking adapter. We’ve never over-tightened the adapter, so we’ve never cracked the Better Bottle. We do see how it could be done though. Be careful to not over-tighten, and your Better Bottle should last a long time.
It would be nice if the Better Bottle did not have ridges inside the bottle. If you look at the picture below, yeast and sediment tends to collect on these ridges. However, a solid tap against the side of the Better Bottle will dislodge any sediment.
For our needs, we found the plain Better Bottles to be easier than the ported Better Bottles. We prefer using the plain Better Bottles with the ported closure add-on. The #10 stoppers work, but if the stopper is wet, it is difficult to keep it in. The ported closure is the only add-on we would recommend, but you can get by fine with the stoppers. The ported closure is good when you want to leave your beer or wine alone for long periods of time. You cannot use the ported closure with a normal plastic airlock. If you do not get the dry airlock, you must use a #10 stopper.
The dry airlock works well, but simple airlocks are cheaper and work just as well. The dry airlock is nice because you won’t pull in liquid when you pick up the Better Bottle. The rack adapter add-on is just too expensive to bother with. A racking cane works for us just as well, and requires less maintenance.
Overall we love the Better Bottles, and we will never go back to glass. The weight and safety of the Better Bottle sold us. It would be nice if the add-ons were cheaper, but you really don’t need them. The Better Bottle has never imparted a plastic flavor to any wine or beer, even with prolonged exposures for lagers, wine, and Lambic. We have never had a problem with oxidation or contamination using the Better Bottles, ported or plain. Once you’ve tried the Better Bottle, we think you will also never look back to glass!
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Credits and Links
I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!