Beer has been bottled since the middle ages for convenience sake. It caught on amongst wealthier classes in the 1600s as a useful means of being able to enjoy beer at home whilst avoiding the ‘rabble’ that frequented inns, or whilst taking part in outdoor pursuits such as hunting and fishing.
It is possible to buy any type of beer in bottles, and bottled beer is considered by some to be second only to draught beer in quality and taste, whilst some would even argue that it is superior to many draught beers. Some bottled beers contain yeast, and are therefore ‘live’ when they are poured, meaning that they are still brewing and fermenting right up to their service. This makes for a fresher, and arguably, fuller flavoured drink, being comparable to ‘real ale’ sold in casks. Beers such as these are referred to as ‘bottle conditioned’ ale, rather than ‘cask conditioned’ ales that are left to ferment in casks before being ‘pumped’ for service in a pub or bar.
There are a variety of bottle types, although in recent years these traditional varieties have broken down and bottle types often reflect, stylistically a brand image. However the three main types can be broadly discerned still by their size:
- Long necks: These have a broad barrel, measuring about 6-8 cm across and a thin neck and general hold 400-500ml liquid. Lagers often come in ‘long neck’ bottles, as the thin neck allows the fizz to rise the top, and, if poured correctly will allow a denser head.
- Stubbies have a similar barrel to a long neck, but narrow to a very short neck. A stubby generally contains just 330ml of beer and will also give a good fizzy head if poured correctly. The stubby contains a little over the measure traditionally served in Europe for a single beer (around a half pint), and is ideal, for convenience sake (due to its small size), for a light drink with lunch, or just for gentle leisure.
- Bomber: A bomber is a 650ml bottle ideally suited for sharing amongst friends, or for parties. They are generally wide at the base and narrow slowly towards the top. Many lagers are now sold in ‘bomber’ style bottles, although the exact quantities vary between around 500-750 ml.
Other than these main types, there is the ‘ale’ bottle, which, although not being a specific generic type of bottle has specific characteristics. Bitter or ale is generally served in a bottle measuring 8-12 cm across, with a long barrel and medium sized narrow neck, ideal for conveying the dense and varied aromas of ale. Brands tend to play heavily on customer loyalty and bottles are designed to play up the authenticity of these beers – often brewed to age old recipes. These bottles evoke the bottles of yesteryear, and often incorporate raised and embossed designs and writing.
Bottle varieties reflect the long tradition of brewing and distributing beer. Often a particular bottle design will reflect the unique tastes of the beer it contains, with the size and shape complimenting the unique flavours held within.