Bespoke Beer Bottles

March 5, 2012

In the Netherlands, all the major breweries use the same 300ml bottle to sell their beer in supermarkets and off-licences. These are deposit bottles, so when returned there is a small credit given towards the next purchase – just like deposit bottles in England, when such things existed. As all the breweries use the same bottle, they obviously accept bottles with any labels on, wash and remove whoever’s labels were on the bottles, and reuse the bottles with their own labels. Grosche is the only exception in that they also use their ‘swing top’ bottle design.

In England, there is no such co-operation between breweries. Apart from beer in cans, (which appear to be fairly uniform in size) that I’m not discussing here, every brewery appears to have its own design of bottle. Over the past few years in particular, I have noticed that these bottles are becoming more ‘bespoke’, that is to say, the bottles used are commissioned by the brewery, and has some unique feature, for example the brewery company’s name moulded into the glass (Shepherd Neame, Moreland (albeit as part of Greene King)), or a specific size (Newcastle Brown, which was until recently 1 imperal pint).

Some small breweries seem to have taken this a step further, and, sucker as I am for unusual packaging, this has interested me. I have mentioned the Meantime Brewing Company (Greenwich Brewery) before, due to their Coffee Porter and other varieties. My local supermarket has rung the changes, and currently only stocks a Chocolate Porter and a Raspberry Wheat in a 330ml size. But the unusual feature is the shape of the bottle, which is said to be a scaled version of a Champagne bottle (although in brown glass). Champagne bottles were originally made in England, as that was where the skill in making such bottles that could withstand the internal pressure could be made, but I doubt that any of these are the reason the shape is used here. Greenwich also use a more conventional cylindrical bottle for some of their brews as well as a huge 750ml wired-cork enclosed bottle – again, Champagne bottle shaped-ish.

Adnams of Southwold went for a slightly odd design a couple of years or so ago, which was said to cut down the weight of glass used, and therefore a ‘green’ design; however, it appears to have changed again recently – I guess too many got broken in transit.

St Peter’s Brewery, Suffolk. When their bottle first came to my attemtion, it was because it was of oval (ellipsoidal) cross-section. A short time later, it had changed, being less ellipsoidal in shape, and instead of the original beautiful pea-green, a rather dull looks-recycled-brownish-green. The brewery maintained that these bottle designs were based upon an original 18th century example from America (American colonies, I imagine) which they had.

Three eras of St Peter's Bottles: 2000 (front), 2008 (middle, dull coloured) and 2012 (back). These are the 'best before' dates on the bottles, not date of introduction.

The 2000 and 2008 bottles, showing the change in the shape - the cross-section of the bottles.

I wrote to them about this, arguing that while the two were obviously similar, the moulding around the bottom rim for example, they could not both be based on the same bottle shape, one had to be a change to the original design. I also commented upon the colour of the glass, preferring the older, but if the colour was to help keep the beer… Well, they answered, rather ducking those questions, although the change in shape was needed because of the filling machine. They did comment that I was the first person to raise the issue of the bottle!

Much more recently, I note that their ellipsoidal bottles have changed colour again, to a rather more agreeable green. Not so notible in the photos is that there is a ‘St Peter’s Brewery’ in a roundal moulded into the front face of the bottle. In this most recent incarnation of the bottle, that roundal is much more ellipsoidal.

St Peter’s also use more conventional cylindrical bottles for some of their ranges.

Newly available Beers

August 10, 2008

On Saturday, Waitrose in Richmond, and I came across their expanded range of Meantime Brewery’s range – in this case 750ml bottles of London Porter and India Pale Ale. These are in larger versions of their 330ml bottles, and wired cork enclosured.

But my real shopping is Waitrose, Beaconsfield, on Sunday. They have a larger range of Beers here, although not Meantime as they are not “local”. This branch even stocked Grolsch Weizen beer, in reused (standard) swingtop bottles and Dutch labels (sadly no longer).

However, to my surprise, there was Marston’s Oyster Stout (which I used to buy in Sainsburys about a decade ago, and then disappeared), and Black Sheep Brewery’s Yorkshire Square Ale.

If that was not enough, there were 750ml wired corked bottles of Duvel.

(I might try and post a picture of these in the next few days…)

Naturally I had to purchase a few samples for evaluation…