I tried drying bottles in my dish rack the first few times I prepared to bottle homebrew. A bottle tree very quickly jumped to the top of my “to buy” list. You need about fifty bottles sanitized for every five gallon batch of beer you brew and without specialized equipment to dry them, you are in for a hassle you can’t understand until you’ve experienced it.
A bottle tree is the most common solution. It consists of a wide base with circles of “branches” that each hold a bottle stacked up on top. There are different sizes available, some are even expandable by purchasing more layers of branches to screw on top. Mine has five levels that each hold nine bottles, for a total of forty five. Almost as if whoever designed it decided to make it just barely too small for a full batch of beer on purpose as a joke.
Other than the size, the main problem with the bottle tree is that it’s a pain to clean. The pegs that the bottles fit on go inside and have spaces for just the nasties you’re trying to keep out of the bottles.
If you keep it clean and just realize the limits of it’s size, though, the bottle tree is very effective. It holds not only standard twelve ounce beer bottles, but bigger beer bottles, wine bottles and I’ve even used it for plastic soda bottles. It holds them all at a good diagonal angle that is effective for dripping excess water both out of the bottles and out of concave bottoms that most bottles have. It has a handle which makes it easy to move, although you are sure to spill water all over the place as you move it. It is important to be able to move it because it is a big awkward thing. I wash bottles at the sink with the bottle tree on a stool, once it’s full, I move it to a distant corner of the kitchen, out of the way. Bottle trees take up a lot of space and that is one thing that is a big problem for some people.
Bottle trees have been the go to tool for homebrewers since long before I got into the hobby. In the last couple years, though, there has been a shift to a new bottle drying tool. Fast Rack is a plastic tray roughly the same dimensions as a case of beer. There are two pieces, the bottom is just basin to catch water, the top piece is the important part. It is molded to hold twenty four bottles upside down. This part is stackable and the standard seems to be to get two at a time, to match your standard five gallon batch. As long as you’re using all the same size bottles, you can stack them much higher, though. It will also hold a smaller number of larger bottles.
I recently got a two tier Fast Rack. It is indeed faster and easier to load than the bottle tree. It seems like it will be easier to keep clean, too. Unfortunately, I don’t have all standard bottles (though I’m working in that direction) so I would be nervous to stack too much higher without being very careful to arrange the bottles. That isn’t a big problem. I do have one issue with the Fast Rack, though.
It holds the bottles straight up and down, dripping the water inside bottles out well, but pooling water in the bottom of the bottles. It’s even worse for the lower level bottles, which collect all the drippings the top tier as all the bottles are neatly lined up. Now this isn’t a deal breaker or anything, but I was disappointed as I went into my first use of the system expecting to save lots of time. Instead, the bottles in the Fast Rack were still wet long after the bottle tree dried up. Since I normally store my cleaned bottles in cardboard beer cases, all that water is not welcome. The inside is what you need dry to keep the bottle sanitary for storage, but the outside needs to be dry to keep from ruining my boxes.
That said, this is still a nice addition to my collection. It won’t be replacing my bottle tree, in fact I will probably continue to use both to give myself the ability to wash more bottles at a time. Both of these systems have advantages and disadvantages. If you’re looking for ease of use and trying to save space, Fast Rack may be what you need. If you are concerned with getting your bottles dry quickly, a bottle tree may be a better choice. One last thing that I will mention is that you should definitely shop around if you decide to get a Fast Rack. Considering that they are all from the same manufacturer, I was really surprised to see how much the price varied from different sources.