Now that you've chosen to use bottles for your craft brew, how do you choose the right one?
Beer bottles come in a wide assortment.
With so much attention on canning as a beer packaging trend, it’s easy to overlook the nuance that beer bottles provide. Not only do they come in many sizes, but the shape of the vessel itself can be crucial to pouring, drinking, or storing the beer, depending on the style. The decision to use bottles over cans is influenced by the all those options.
Karlos Knott, co-founder of Bayou Teche Brewing in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, also says there are three reasons to choose bottles over cans: public perception, brewery and brewing logistics, and tactile preference.
“When we started seven years ago,” Knott says, “there were many fine dining places that refused to put cans on the table in New Orleans and Lafayette. Even now there are still a few - and we want to be in those places.”
Regarding the logistics of bottling vs. canning, Knott notes, “we are a brewery that does nineteen different one-offs a year, very small batch stuff. If you want to do that in cans, with the minimum orders for printed cans, you'd have to be able to store something like 19 truckloads of cans. If we only had four or five brands, and not the continuous stream of one-offs it would be an option - I can buy a few pallets of bottles and label them anyway I want or need.”
“I still think beer tastes better out of a bottle,” he adds. “That tacit feeling of glass on the lips...it's like the difference between reading a book, and reading one on a Kindle - they're both reading, just one feels more enjoyable than the other. ”
After making the decision to bottle rather than can packaged beer, the most important aspects to consider are size, shape, and quality of both materials and service.
Size and Shape
There is a wide array of beer bottle sizes. The traditional standard six pack size is twelve ounces, and the larger bottles sold individually known as “bombers” are 22 ounces. The metric system and wine industry influence comes into play as well, with some beers packaged in 750 ml bottles, the same size as a standard bottle of champagne, as well as smaller 375 ml bottles and much larger magnum size of 1.5 liters.
The subtle shape differences go hand in hand with the desired size. Whether the bottle shoulders are tapered or not, the body of the bottle is wider or longer; even the shape of the opening, or if cork and cage or traditional bottle caps are used. These choices all influence the flavor and branding of the beer.
As to size, Knott notes, “Bombers are a great way to release one offs without the cost of the six pack carriers. Plus, 22's just look special, bigger bottles like wine calling out for you to buy because the beer inside is special.”
The Bruery in Southern California releases its beer exclusively in 750 ml bottles. Distribution marketing manager Cambria Griffith explains the reasons behind that aesthetic choice.
“We selected this bottle type for a couple reasons. One of the best parts of being an independent craft brewer is getting to share the fruits of your labor, so choosing a larger format bottle made sense. Our beer is often enjoyed during special occasions too, so we wanted to select an iconic bottle that would present beautifully at something like a celebratory dinner. The champagne-style 750 is also a shape often associated with some of the Belgo-French brewers who have inspired an informed many of our creations, so there's a bit of a nod to them incorporated into this choice.”
Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina uses several different sizes of bottles for its beers: 500ml bottles for our sour and wild ales, 12oz bottles for American style ales, 11.2oz (330ml) for Belgian style ales and 12.7oz bottles for barrel-aged beers.
Alanna Nappi, Marketing Operations and Event Director for Wicked Weed, says the brewers think bottle shape matters a great deal and that people drink with their eyes first. The variety of shapes and sizes correlate to specific beer styles.
“We wanted uniquely shaped bottles that make sense for the style of beer that's in them. For example, it makes sense to have sour and wild ales in 500ml bottles since they are at a higher price point and they are great to share. Also, we wanted to go with a classic European-style 330ml for our Belgians. All of our bottles shapes are unique while maintaining functionality.”
Where To Source and Why?
Jessica Mellem, The Bruery’s packaging manager says her brewery is supplied by Saxco International. The bottles are manufactured in China and shipped to a warehouse in Fairfield. As needed, truckloads of glass are shipped to their facility.
“The decision to choose a glass supplier is quality driven. We want to make sure the glass is of high quality and defect free. Glass breakage and potential glass inclusion is a concern that breweries all over the world take very seriously. We also have to make sure the selected supplier can meet our production needs and can provide this high quality glass at a price that makes sense to our business.”
Wicked Weed sources its custom designed and manufactured 12oz, 11.2oz and 12.7oz bottles from an American company, and the 500ml bottles are sourced from Unitedout of Quebec. “We use vendors that help us make the best possible product we can,” Nappi adds.
Bayou Teche’s 12oz bottles come from Gamer Packaging, and the 22oz bombers come from BOB - a division of Ardagh Group, a large glass manufacturer. “We use BOB (Buy Our Bottles) because they make a nice Belgian style bomber that better suits our aesthetic.”
Other vendors can be found by soliciting quotes on craft beverage portals such as Kinnek, and BOB/the Ardagh Group has also recently unveiled two new 500 ml bottles inspired by European beer culture but produced in the U.S.
Choosing a vendor, Bayou Teche’s Knott says, was a trial and error process. “We poked around, tried out several bottle and six -pack carrier suppliers until we found the ones that gave tremendous customer service. We are a very small company and everyone here works too many busy hours. Screwing around with bad service is something we've determined not to do.”
The quality of customer service and ease of transaction even beats out price as a factor in choosing a supplier for Bayou Teche’s bottles.
“We've often been asked by salespeople to switch based on price, something that we hardly ever consider,” Knott says. “But promise us better and quicker service...well, let’s talk!”
If you liked reading this article, you may also like: How to Choose the Right Beer Packaging.