If you're just starting out, want to see how it's done or any other reason then hopefully we'll be able to help. Most of the people we link to we've done business with and can recommend them.
There are some things that you'll absolutely need to know. It can take a huge amount of time to find, and just knowing the right terms to search helps. We've put some stuff together which should help you out. All links open a new window/tab.
While we do some NPD and consultancy work here you may decide that you'd be best served by someone who is entirely divorced from the bottling aspect of the work. If so then we heartily recommend Alex Marr. Alex (pronounced "Alec"), has spent a vast chunk of his working life in the industry (and has some global number one sellers to his name), and now consults on all areas of New Product Development from flavour sourcing to bottle design etc. From concept to bottling Alex can help, or for any individual part in between. He's also a thoroughly 'good egg' . Alex can be contacted by requesting his information through our contact page (this is at his request, so he knows where you've found him).
Ok, with a rare niche case exception, you'll be having to use glass bottles. This is because they're easily available, relatively cheap, have a quality look and feel and vastly more flexible than specialist plastic bottles.
To use plastic bottles like the 'big boys' is a very complicated procedure. On a small scale you'd need to use 'hot fill' plastic bottles which unfortunately are not made or imported officially in to the UK. If you want more details, please ask about them.
In general you'll need to buy 'flint' coloured bottles with a 28mm neck in screw-cap or a 26mm neckcrown cap variant. Flint is the colour that the rest of the world knows as see-through. Beer makers use brown and apple juice makers use green.
People we recommend:
Each has a minimum order of 1 pallet (circa 1,800 330ml bottles), and can supply a large range of different types. Expect delivery to be circa £50 for a single pallet. Of course you can always arrange for your own collection or a courier which may be cheaper.
If getting them delivered to your own house or storage you MUST remember to ask them to deliver with a tail lift and a pallet truck or they will expect you to take them off with a forklift which you likely won't have.
Closures (caps etc)
In general there are two main types of cap - screw cap and crown cap. A screw-cap is our own preferred closure as it allows for sales to stockists who serve the takeaway market - delis, sandwich shops, farm shops etc.
A screw cap comes in two forms, an aluminium cap that you'll be familiar with called a ROPP cap (Roll On Pilfer Proof) and a plastic screw cap. ROPP caps are not pre-threaded - they come as a blank aluminium thimble which a machine then rolls on to the threads of the bottle with great force. This machine is expensive and a full-time job for the bench top versions. The pros are that they look great and are consistently tightened with the same force.
A pastic screw cap is hand applied and has a pilfer-proof ring too. It doesn't look as nice, you can't get your company name printed on them and they're not particularly cheap. However, if you're a small producer then this is your ONLY option for a screw-cap.
A crown cap is applied using a machine that can be bought from any home-brew shop or website and the caps are very inexpensive. However they are really best suited for the 'on trade', i.e. an establishment that will bring you a bottle, open it, and you leave the bottle there. This limits your sales opportunities unless you bottle in to both screw and crown caps whcih could get complicated. We believe in the KISS principle - Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Where to buy closures from:
for all the MCA plastic screw caps. Buy as little as 1,000 (although their website states otherwise). Also crown caps. If you're looking for smaller amounts then we always stock black, gold and green MCA screw caps.
Any homebrew website for crown caps and cappers. We recommend Hops and Vines - they have online ordering and are really lovely. They're a small family business and we support that.
Bottling Equipment - Home Scale
Bottling at home is really a very simple thing to do. Up-scaling to a more commercial throughput is a little more expensive, so that's where we aim to help.
We've all got to start somewhere though. One of our current customers started making colas and ginger beers at home, then started selling a few bottles. For small scale production this is very possible to do in a home kitchen environment, and you'll need to look at the following:
For still drinks: a simple funnel available from any homewares shop or supermarket. A home-brew place would be a great place to get some inspiration too.
For carbonated products - we'll assume you've carbonated the product and now just need to bottle it. For the small scale producer or the large you need a method of stopping the carbonation coming out of the liquid. There are two ways to do this at home: a Bilchmann Beer Gun or a home-made Counter Pressure Filler. You can google the latter for lots of designs - mostly from the States.
Above - Blichmann Beer Gun
The Blichmann gun isn't as good at preventing foaming (and therefore losing carbonation) and oxygen pick-up as a counter pressure filler, but it is less fiddly and can be bought off-the-shelf. Both options will be slow and you will definately get 'claw hand' eventually, but that's one of the many compromises you'll have to make.
Where to buy:
BrewUK supply the Blichmann Beer Gun.
There are two ways generally of carbonating at home, plus one cheat. The two proper ways are fermentation (you can ferment without generating alcohol supposedly - a process called partial fermentation, I've never tried it) or force carbonation. The third way is to make your flavour base, or syrup, and add shop bought fizzy water!
For force carbonation you have two methods. The simple method is to use a Soda Stream. You don't get to do much at a time, and the gas gets expensive, but it's the easiest method to have a play. The better way to do it, and certainly for making in bulk is to force carbonate in a keg.
You'll need to buy something called a 'Cornelius Keg', AKA a Corny Keg. You'll also need a CO2 bottle (food grade only is recommended), a CO2 regulator and some 'disconnects' for the keg. In essence you force CO2 in to the keg, shake the keg (or roll it back and forth) for 10 minutes and then yet let it sit under pressure for a few days. This will force the CO2 in to the liquid giving you a fizzy drink.
Corny kegs are available in 5 litre, 10 litre and 19 litre variants. The 5 and 10 litre versions are really hard to find. They can be bought new from Italy for about £120 (19 litre), but we recommend buying second hand. They're stainless steel, and almost impossible to damage. They'll take a pressure up to 100psi.
Buying: We recommend eBay for second hand versions.
If you want certainty of quality then Brew UK offer Corny Kegs for the £90ish mark.
Click here for direct link to Brew UK's Corny Kegs
Co2 tanks can be bought or hired from welding supply shops, along with Co2 regulators, although we'd try eBay for the regulators first as they are rather expensive.
If you're going to buy a recon Corny Keg, new disconnects and a used regulator you should expect to spend about £100 or so. Buy it all new and it will be more like £250.
The disconnects allow you to access the product inside the keg. There is no tap on a Corny Keg, you make one by using a disconnect and buying a tap. The Co2 needs a disconnect to be able to pump the Co2 in to the tank.
One thing that you absolutely must be aware of is that if you don't preserve your product it will almost certainly naturally ferment. Yeast requires sugar and warmth to correctly start fermenting. Your product will likely not be stored in a fridge when it's bottled, and it will certainly have enough sugar in it to keep the yeast happy. Yeast is naturally found in the environment and can be very dangerous. You may end up with a very fizzy and slightly alcoholic product. More likely you will end up with a bottle shaped grenade that will explode. Unlike a plastic bottle glass does not deform and then fail, it simply explodes in to shards of glass that can penetrate deep in to plasterboard. I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous an unpreserved product can be.
There are two main methods of preservation that you'll be able to consider initially - additives or heat. For other preservation methods please see our handy diagram on the How To Make Soft Drinks page.
By adding something like Potassium Metabisulphite (among other chemicals) you can kill the yeasts. We don't like adding preservatives, so we use the second method - heating. It is worth noting that heat-preservation only works with an acidic product. Pasteurisation requires heat and acidity to work effectively.
Get yourself down to a home-brew store, or from eBay, and buy some litmus test papers. You need to get the pH to be 4.0 or lower - ideally in the pH 3 range. Remember, acidity is measured from 7 to 0. 7 being pH neutraland 1 being extremely (possibly dangerously!) acidic. You need to have the pH in the 2-4 area, not the 4-7 area.
There are many on-line resources if you search hard enough, but here's one that helps to explain the pH values. And here's one to help with pasteurisation times.
By heating the contents of the bottle to the correct temperature you will denature (or kill) the yeast and any nasties in the product, and all will be well. This can be done in a saucepan, or an electric preserving pan. At a larger scale a pasteuriser to take 120 bottles will cost £5,500 from somewhere like Vigo. Gulp! If you're after a home-scale pasteuriser then Vigo do a couple of models, starting at £170 or so, rising to £200. They will take circa 24 x330ml bottles and will use 1.5kW of electricity. In essence you need to immerse the bottles in water up to the fill line of the product in the bottle, heat the water to 72 degrees then leave in the water for 20 mins. Remove and cool.
If you'd like a pasteuriser then we also manufacture them for large scale (200+ bottles) for less than half the price of what you would pay elsewhere, and we can also supply the small preserving pans for much less too.
The wonderful world of labelling… what do I need to put on my drinks bottle?
In Dec 2014, and again in Dec 2016 the regulations regarding food labelling will be changing. For the 2014 changes, then there isn’t really a great deal of changes to be made. In 2016 the law will make it mandatory to have nutritional information on the label of your food and drink products. This may well put new producers off of entering the market as there will likely be a fair few £ being required to be spent on this.
The Dec 2014 changes are far simpler. Simply put they require that any of the 14 allergens identified & listed in the EU FIR 1169/2011 document are required to be highlighted in the list of ingredients, and not as previously allowed in a separate allergens advice statement such as “contains milk & nuts”. The one exception to this rule is for alcoholic products where ingredients are not required, in which case a statement such as “contains sulphites” is acceptable.
The list consists of cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, fish, peanuts, nuts, soybeans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin and sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg, or 10 mg/litre, expressed as SO2.
From the Food & Drink Federation’s Labelling Toolkit:
“Fourteen major food allergens must be emphasised in the ingredients list. These are: cereals containing gluten, crustaceans (e.g. prawnsor crab), molluscs (e.g. clams or mussels), eggs, fish, peanuts, nuts, soybeans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin and sulphur dioxide. Where the allergen is not obvious from the name of the ingredient, there will be a clear reference to the name of the allergen next to the ingredient e.g. ‘casein’ (milk) or ‘tofu’ (soya). Food businesses can choose the method of emphasis that they would like to use, for example, bold, italics, highlighting, contrasting colours, CAPITALISING TEXT and underlining. An allergy advice statement may also be used to direct consumers to the ingredients list for allergen information.
No more references to gluten! Consumers will instead need to look for the cereals containing gluten, such as wheat, rye and barley, which will be emphasised in the ingredients list.”
There are many standard requirements that any pre-packed food or drink product must adhere to. As always there are exceptions, additional requirements under certain circumstances or ingredients, but to get you started, and for probably 99% of those looking to bottle a drinks product, these should suffice. As always, if in doubt do your own research or speak to an expert. Much of the information found below can be found on various government websites, but we've pulled it all together in one place and tweaked it a little to be more suited to what you really need to know.
To sell food and drink products, the label must be:
- clear and easy to read
- easy to understand
- easily visible
- not misleading
For food sold pre-packed, you must be able to see all this information when you look at the front of the product, or at least easily findable (you can't hide it in size 6 font on the bottom of the bottle):
- the name of the food
- a ‘best before’ (or where to find it)
- any necessary warnings
You must also put these on the label, but they can be on the back or side of the product:
- a list of ingredients (if there are more than 2)
- the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or seller – that’s you.
- any special storage conditions
- What you might have to show
You must also show these if they apply to your product:
- a warning for drinks with an alcohol content above 1.2%
- a warning if the product contains GM ingredients, unless their presence is accidental and 0.9% or less
- a warning if the product has been radiated
- the words ‘packaged in a protective atmosphere’ if the food is packaged using a packaging gas
If your food or drink product has 2 or more ingredients (including any additives), you must list them all. Ingredients must be listed in order of weight, with the main ingredient first.
You also have to show the percentage of an ingredient if it is:
- highlighted by the labelling or a picture on a package - eg ‘fresh lemon juice’
- mentioned in the name of the product - eg ‘Blackcurrant & Apple Squash’
- normally connected with the name by the consumer - eg Lemonade
Food and drink warnings
You must show an appropriate warning on the label if your food contains certain ingredients. This list is not exhaustive, but contains those which we believe are most suited to the drinks industry.
Ingredient Wording you must use
Allura red (E129) ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’
Aspartame ‘Contains a source of phenylalanine’
Caffeine over 150 mg/l ‘Not suitable for children, pregnant women and persons sensitive to caffeine’
Carmoisine (E122) ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’
Liquorice ‘Contains liquorice’ (you may need extra wording for alcohol containing liquorice)
Polyols ‘Excessive consumption may cause a laxative effect’
Ponceau 4R (E124) ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’
Quinoline yellow (E104) ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’
Sulphur dioxide over 10mg/l ‘Contains sulphur dioxide (or sulphites/sulfites)’
Sunset yellow (E110) ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’
Sweeteners ‘With sweetener(s)’
Sweeteners and sugar ‘With sugar and sweetener(s)’
Tartrazine (E102) ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’
You must follow the European Union (EU) rules for nutrition labelling if you want to show nutrition information on pre-packed products.
You must have nutrition labelling if:
- you make a nutrition or health claim
- you’ve added vitamins or minerals to the food
We're really happy to give as much information away as we can. Recently people have been asking if they can donate something to say 'Thanks', so you can now do that using the button here - but you don't have to! We're glad we can help! Your donation can be as much as you'd like - just enter the amount after clicking the 'Buy Now' button.