Sorry I didn't get back sooner pumpy. Just read the thread and it did seem a little lonely at first .
I have been interested in the Champagne bottling path for a while now. Here is what I have learned....
A champagne corker is expensive, and a special cork is required. It is thicker than most corks (though made of the same stuff) and needs the corker to squeeze the ends together to fit into the bottle (just as MHB said). It only goes in about half way.
This will only hold so much pressure by itself, so the cage is added. As pressure from beneath builds, it form the mushroom head over months.
A belgian cork is different, and designed for the belgian style bottle. I believe the stuff the cork is made from is more dense than a wine cork. You bottle, as you would champagne corks, then put the wire cage on. The bit of the cork sticking out the top is only slightly wider than the bottle, and still looks just like a regular cork (silly). As the bottle carbs up and the pressure builds it pushes the cork up into the wire cage, and as further pressure builds, and maintains over the months, the bit sticking out the top mushrooms out, and you get that beautiful effect seen on corked belgian beers.
I believe the same thing happens with champagne corks (though they are a different type of cork, and designed for a wider necked bottle).
Using regular wine corks is a possibility. You only need to push them in, and there are plenty of cheap options for doing this. They do not hold much pressure though, and it was my understanding that when the pressure in the bottle goes beyond a certain point, the cork will either shoot out, or allow pressure out around it's edge (slowly). To avoid the cork shooting out you can put a wire cage on, though once the brew is past a certain pressure you will still lose carbonation.
The cheapo (but still "look cool") option, is to use a wine cork, then cap with a crown seal. The crown seal will maintain the pressure, and the cork is for show. When you serve the brew, chill it right down, and take the cap off before presenting it to your guests, and decorking as you would a wine bottle.
(IMHO, this option is a little toolish :icon_cheers: )
Crown seals for champagne bottles are definately the poor mans way to go. Caps aren't much more expensive than regular caps, and the tirage bell, that fits into you bench capper is less than $10 from memory.
These work just as well as regular caps.
The downside is that if you want the beers stored for 10 years of more (as I do with my RIS collection), then there is the fear that the caps may rust or degrade over that time, and allow spoiling of the brew.
Though for going the BYO wine only restaurants, this option rocks, because I can take in a bottle of HB, and drink at the table with waiter being none the wiser
This is why I went with all-plastic champagne corks / bells? with wire cages, for my long term storage beers.
Pumpy, from memory I got 150 corks and wire cages for about $40ish from iBrew, but you have to email them and get a quote for prices.
The one I use is a hard plastic thing, that has the mushroom head already on the top, mostly for show I think.
With a towel beneath the filled bottle, and the mallet, I have corked about 50 champagne bottes this way.
It can be tricky, but with patience they look pretty damn good, and I know the plastic will hold for longer than I am alive.
So these are the options I am aware of for using champagne bottles, and different options for plugging them up.
On the belgian cork note, there was a thread a while ago from a bloke who was having trouble locating them in Oz. From memory he ended up ordering them from the states in bulk, cos there were none to be got from here, and rather than champagne bottles, he wanted that 'real' belgian look.
Also, when I go to my cellar, and peruse the ever growing collection there, it is seeing the champagne bottles, with cork and cage on, that give me the most pride :icon_cheers:
ps - this was written pretty quickly and without looking up references. If I am wrong about something, I don't require dragging through the coals in order to be corrected. I am still pretty new to this form of bottling, and welcome corrections or any more advice.