I absolutely hate using bottle brushes. They suck to get inside of bottles, they always deform quickly, and they spray water as the bristles exit the bottle. They also just don’t work well to get the little bits of yeast stuck in the bottom of the bottles. Fancy and expensive machines built to blast water inside your bottles and clean them quickly do exist.
Following the procedure I outline below, you should be able to get your beer bottles clean with relative ease, and minimal (almost no) use of terrible bottle brushes.
The very first thing you must do and not skip, is rinse your bottles as soon as possible right after pouring. This is an easy step, and makes the rest of the process go easier.
If it’s a commercial craft brew without yeast in the bottle, just run some warm water through the bottle a few times. That’s it. Easy.
For bottle conditioned beers, such as homebrews, rinsing is a little more arduous of a process, but even more important. Your goal is to get all of the yeast rinsed out from the bottom of the bottle. Fill it up with about an inch of water and give the bottle a few shakes. Dump out the water in the bottle. Repeat this a few times until you can’t see any more yeast in the bottle. Give it one more quick rinse.
Place your rinsed bottles off to the side somewhere. I keep them in a 6-pack container next to the microwave in our kitchen. Once you’ve gathered a few of them, then it’s time to give them a good soaking.
This step is super important, and is also the time to remove any labels from your beer bottles.
Start by filling your kitchen sink with a solution of hot water and some sort of Oxygen based cleanser. I personally use OneStep because it seems to work best for me and is supposedly “Environmentally Friendly.” Yes, I sometimes buy into marketing tactics easily. For a good overview of available cleaners, check out The Mad Fermentationist’s Article on the subject.
You’ll have to play around a little bit to find the concentration that works best for you. For me, especially when I’m removing labels from bottles, to scoops of OneStep with a standard kitchen teaspoon in a sink full of hot water works the best without wasting cleaner.
Try and get as much of the cleaner solution inside the bottles, and top them off with hot water so they don’t float. Let the bottles just sit and soak in the sink for at least ten minutes. At this point, I’ll usually walk away, get distracted by something and remember an hour later that I have bottles soaking.
After the bottles have been soaking for a good amount of time, now is when it’s easiest to remove any labels that are on them. The amount of effort required varies greatly by brewery. I find with New Belgium’s labels, they just float right off the bottle leaving almost no glue residue behind. Anchor Steam labels, on the other hand, peel off fairly easily, but still leave behind quite a bit of glue. Others, like Tommy Knockers’ labels, are a real pain in the ass, even after a long time soaking.
Take a scouring pad (I like the cheap green ones available at the grocery store), or the scouring side of a sponge, and scrub off any glue residue. It should be very soft at this point and almost wipes right off.
After the bottles have been soaking and the labels have been removed, you should be able to just give them a rinse with warm water and place them upside down in a dish rack to dry. If, however, you forgot to rinse yeast-containing bottles (or a friend returned them without rinsing), you still have more work to do.
You may be able to rinse the bottles a few times with hot tap water and get any remaining yeast bits off the bottle. You also probably won’t be able to. Now’s when you break out your dread bottle brush. Shove the brush as far into the bottle as you can, and brush the inside of the bottle as vigorously and thouroughly as possible. Give it a rinse with your hot tap water, and make sure the bottle looks clean.
Place your clean bottles upside down in a dish rack until they’re completely dry. I just leave them overnight. Now you can box them up, put ’em on a shelf and they’ll be ready for your next bottling day.