There are many reasons to want to remove a label from a beer bottle intact. They can add a colorful addition to a beer area, or simply provide a visual log of all the beers one has sampled over the years.
After removing over 500 labels, this is what Iíve learned. There is no "one way" to do this as the many bottlers use different label types and glue for this process. There are basically three types of labels and two types of glue. Of the three types of labels you will find: Peel and stick, regular paper, and metallic. The two types of glue are easy and hard.
First you need a razor blade scraper. Then using your scraper, see if the label peels up easily by slipping the blade under the label. Use the back label if the bottle has one or another bottle of the same brand that has a damaged label if you have more than bottle to experiment with. Peel offs are often shiny and appear to have a plastic laminate or gloss over them. They will be sticky on the back if you work a corner loose. I heat bottles with peel offs in a warm oven (275F) for a few minutes and work the labels onto white paper and then trim them.
If the label isnít a peel off, I check to see how tightly it is glued on. One in a hundred will have brittle, dried up glue and the label will almost pop right off with a little help from the scraper. If itís glued tightly, and itís not a metallic label, I next will fill the bottle with hot water. Some loosen up with some heat. Next, Iíll try placing the bottle full of hot water into a pitcher of hot water. Hot water will loosen many labels but on occasion, it will also destroy one, so if youíve got one thatís irreplaceable, you might want to put that one aside for now.
Start with just half a minute or so. The less time itís in the hot water the better. Increase the time until you get it to loosen. You can return it for a few seconds if it gets tough and then work your way around.
Metallic and other hard-to-remove labels really are a PITA. Water wonít soak through them to soften the glue, and they end up all crinkled up if you work them hard. I try to dry peel these. It might help to give the bottle a good drying out in the oven on a low heat to dry the glue. If that doesnít work, I use the scraper and an eyedropper full of hot water to loosen the glue from the back. Soak, scrape, and repeat. Next, I try an eyedropper full of fingernail tip remover instead of the hot water.
Most German and other European labels are easily removed with a short, lukewarm water soak. The Americans have the industrial strength glues. Some of them are real character builders.
And finally, there are two more methods which some of you will find when searching the Ďnet. Both involve separating the layers of paper in the label. One is to wet the label and then freeze the bottle. Supposedly the water inside the label should expand when it freezes and that will loosen the outer layer containing the printing on the front. When I have tried this, I have gotten mixed results, that is, a partially removed and damaged label.
The second is a clear tape, much like a big roll of scotch tape, which you put over the label and peel back off, taking the front with all of itís printing with it. You would then have a label laminated in plastic. I havenít tried this and I like my labels un-laminated.
If, after all of these methods have failed, there is one last method to use to add that pesky label to your collection, and it is the SASE. It, along with a nice letter to the brewer and maybe a few $$, will usually get you not one, but a complete set of labels from the brewery in question. And if you couldnít get off one of their labels, you probably need the whole set anyway!