Friday, 3 April 2020

Small isn’t beautiful

The current lockdown means that we’re reduced to drinking at home, if at all. The closest equivalent to the pub pint, at least in terms of volume, is the familiar 500ml Premium Bottled Ale, which fits comfortably into a brim-measure pint glass. OK, it isn’t an Imperial pint, but you can’t really get pint bottles of ale (lager, for some reason, is often sold in pint cans), and even if you could they would actually come right up to the brim. In fact, the typical pub pint, at least in the North, is probably closer to 500ml than 568ml. The Samuel Smith’s bottled beers, which are 550ml, certainly give you more beer than you would normally get in the pub.

However, in recent years 500ml bottles have steadily been losing ground to the smaller 330ml bottles and cans. Just three weeks ago (although it seems more like three years) we had a presentation at our local CAMRA branch meetings from representatives of Robinson’s brewery, who confirmed that the smaller size was where the growth was, while the 500ml bottles were in decline.

In particular, these have been taken up enthusiastically by the burgeoning craft sector. You won’t really find anything presented as “craft” in a 500ml bottle. Part of the motivation is to differentiate themselves from what are perceived as old-fashioned “boring brown bitters”. Plus it can’t have escaped their notice that they can get away with charging virtually the same price for a third less beer.

One argument advanced for smaller bottles is that they give the beer less chance to warm up, which is perhaps valid for chilled lagers, but hardly applies to ales and stouts. And they also allow you to try more different beers for the same given volume. However, if all you want is *one beer* while you’re sitting back to watch yet another rerun of Inspector Morse, and are happy with something familiar and trusted, that’s irrelevant.

I can see the point of smaller bottles for especially strong beers, although where the cut-off point should be set is a moot point, and maybe for specialities that you wouldn’t want to drink in quantity. But, speaking personally, for normal quaffing beers they just aren’t enough, so I end up wanting two to feel that I’ve had a decent drink, which obviously means at the end of the day I have drunk more and spent a lot more. Obviously everyone’s free to choose whatever bottle size they prefer, but I really fail to see the attraction of the smaller ones. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of choice available in the larger and more pub-like size.


  1. Professor Pie-Tin3 April 2020 at 15:31

    We started our Irish lockdown three weeks ago and while the first couple of days of hitting the G&Ts instead of going to the pub were a nice change we were soon looking for something different - not least because a litre bottle of Gordons goes for 30 yoyos.
    Step forward the lads at the excellent Somerset-based Tricky Cider company.
    I came across their fantastic range on a cider barge in Bristol last summer and unusually this small farm outfit were happy to send some over to Ireland.
    Their bag in a box ciders come in 5,10 and 20 litre offerings and there's a big range.
    The Dry is rocket fuel, the Medium and Wizard are wonderful,orange-hued farmhouse ciders and the Porter's Perfection, at 6.5% is nectar.They also do an elderflower and rhubard cider.
    It works out at around £2 a pint with a little extra on top for delivery.
    Their local business has been hit hard by the pub closures so,as the new buzzword goes, they're ramping up the online side of it.
    Sat here in a deathly quiet Ireland with staff laid off from our business, a €40k immediate loss in trade, the cancellation of the sale of a second property we own along with huge doubts about the planned sale of our businss and main home this summer pending a move back to Blighty this summer the one thing I look forward to every day is getting quietly zozzled on Zummerzet Zider every afternoon.

  2. At first glance, you appear to be right and it was something that bothered me...then I hit upon the solution!

    Pour the first 330ml bottle/can into your pint glass, take a moment to admire your handiwork, then take a sizeable glug (>100ml) to slake your thirst, pour in (carefully) the second 330ml bottle/can, resume watching TV/porn or reading or whatever you do for enjoyment in these strange times. Repeat at regular intervals until suitably numb! (4 x 330ml cans of Thornbridge Jaipur will certainly do that!)

  3. Obviously a marketing ploy as you mention, driven by the supermarkets,(and brewers?) To make you ultimately drink more and spend more.

  4. I'm right now drinking 330ml cans, following my Sunday night regime: a couple of pints (or 500ml bottles as I'm at home of late) followed by a couple of 330ml cans, because of work tomorrow. OK, I don't have a commute, for a change, but I still need to be passably clear-headed.

  5. When I was working in Munich many moons ago, I had the good fortune to be be working on the street behind the Augustiner Brewery, and next to an off-licence (getraenkemarkt).
    After a tiring day at work we used to go next door and get a crate of beer (or three). Over there, you still got your deposit money on the bottle back after returning it.
    It gave me a life long admiration of Munich beers, as well as a habit of seeing anything other than the usual 500ml bottles as being lesser things. I would consider 330ml bottles as suitable only for girly girls.


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