Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Little and large

The current poll on bottle sizes was prompted by this post on The Bottled Beer Year complaining about the 4.5% Meantime London Lager being sold in a 330ml bottle:

The children's-sized bottle, however, quickly becomes a right old pain in the proverbial, especially when you realise that the happy event is pretty much over after around three average mouthfuls. If this were an act of love making, it would trigger a very awkward argument. No question about it.
Obviously, in general, there’s a broad correlation between strength and bottle size, with the stronger the beer, the more likely it is to appear in the smaller bottle. However, there’s a wide overlap with, for example, the 4.9% Hoegaarden coming in a 330ml, whereas 500ml is standard for all the 5%-ish British premium bottled ales.

The cut-off point may also vary depending on the beer type. Beers like Leffe and Innis & Gunn, which are both around 6.6%, seem right in a 330ml bottle, whereas Pedigree VSOP, which has a similar strength, is more of a traditional British ale and seems more suited to 500ml.

BrewDog, wanting to be different, put all of their beers in 330ml bottles, even down to the 4.1% Trashy Blonde. And Tesco are stocking 330ml bottles of many of the well-known PBAs such as Old Speckled Hen and London Pride, usually at well over two-thirds the price of the 500ml equivalents. I’m not sure how many they sell, though, and the other major supermarkets don’t seem to have followed suit.

The bigger the measure, the more time it will take to drink it, thus giving it more time to warm up. This isn’t likely to matter much with ales, but it has been advanced as a reason for preferring lagers in small bottles (and even in 250ml “stubbies”) rather than 500ml.

It’s interesting how at this early stage there’s such a wide spread in responses to the poll – clearly, some people prefer 330ml bottles across the strength range, and others actively dislike them except for very strong beers.


  1. i think with Brewdog it was a savvy move. Because they new they wanted to charge a premium (and rightly so in my opinion as their beers are very high quality) but charging over £2 for a 500ml bottle would never sell that well. But at £1.49 for a 330ml people are willing to give the beers a go. Then, like me, they're hooked!

    Hardcore IPA at £2.05 in sainsburys (and 9.5% ABV) is extremely good value in my opinion.

    On the flipside the 750ml bottles of beers are always an inflated price especially those with a champagne cork closier (such as the excellent meantime IPA). But they look so goood....

  2. I'm afraid your poll didn't have my prefered answer: never!

  3. I did consider adding options of "Always" and "Never" but decided those were covered by "5.0% or below" and "8.5% or above". I look forward to the sight of you downing 500ml of "Sink the Bismarck" ;-)

  4. I'm always a bit surprised at how many people have opinions different from the correct one, i.e. mine, but the spread of answers to this one *really* surprised me - you could get pretty much the same thing by rolling a dice.

    Followup suggestion: at what strength do you start wishing breweries wouldn't mess about with those nice-looking but ridiculously large and annoyingly expensive champagne bottles? (I'll be on '5% or lower'.)

  5. Well, if you're offering to buy it...:)

  6. Also at Sainsburys 5AM Saint £1.10 and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at £1.34. Both good value.Though I agree with Tyson with regards to the poll


  7. I've been used to drinking Belgian beers in 330ml bottles for many years. This means that when I see a 500ml bottle it looks a bit strange. That isn't an opinion of right or wrong, just how it is for me.

  8. It's an interesting one. We looked at this issue a couple of months back and decided to stick with 500ml, even for our strong beers. I am sensitive to the accusation of less beer for more money in the smaller sizes, but from a production point of view there is a unit cost per bottle which can make the bottling cost more than the beer that goes into it for small bottles.

    Additionally there are reasons why changing bottle sizes is also a production cost. Change parts and machine set-up time when changing bottle sizes can be much more than the simple wash-out between beers.

    I'm watching this one with great interest as I have a customer who wishes us to start putting our beer in 300ml or smaller. If I can find enough reason to change sizes I will. Business is business after all.

  9. @Birkonian - most of the well-known Belgian beers are pretty strong anyway, although I accept you do get the likes of Hoegaarden and DeKonick in 330mls as well. It's a case of what is the norm in a particular market. Likewise most US imports come in 355ml bottles.

    However, you'll often find German beers of 7% or over in 500mls.

    I suppose in posing the question I'm really thinking of British-brewed ales and lagers.

  10. Children's bottles? How odd. If you ever go abroad you realise how many beers are available in 33cl and even smaller measures, both canned and bottled. There is no outcry. There is no reaction. People don't even care.

    You can even have a drink in a public park and no-one bats an eyelid.

  11. Dave - I can honestly say I'd find it easier to pay £3.30 for 330 ml of a strong beer than £5 for 500 ml. (Hint, hint.) Partly it's just the size of the figures, partly it's because I don't like drinking as much as 500 ml of anything over 6% anyway. But that may be just me.

  12. I've never had any problem drinking 500ml of Andechser Bergbock Hell at 6.9% :-) Lovely stuff.

  13. "Less is more."

    A slogan dreamt-up by savvy media types in order to gain bigger profits for the businesses paying their fees.

    The age old problem is - slogans work.

    I simply cannot believe the level of support that smaller bottle sizes (and therefore more expensive products millilitre for millilitre) are getting here in the beer blogosphere.

    The number of beer lovers apparently championing smaller drink sizes is morbidly depressing to me.

    Where and when the heck did this yearning for small portions so rapidly evolve?

    I feel like the last man on Earth.

  14. I think 330ml is an ideal bottle size - certainly for anything at 6% and above. Having said that I also rather like the 37.5cl bottles that are commonly used for traditional lambics. 50cl just seems wrong somehow - too much beer which implies it's for quick necking rather then leisured appreciation.

  15. i'd guess it's also more economical for Brewdog to only use one size of bottle for all their beers - same bottling, labelling, packaging, etc


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