Wednesday, April 3, 2013

beer column

my notes from yesterday's on the coast beer column
on the subject of bombers:

i have talked a lot about growlers, those lovely 64oz bottles you can fill at a brewery and take home with you to enjoy, but what are all the other types of beer bottles called? and why do we need so many different sizes?
 
growlers are the big boys of beer bottles. weighing in at 64 oz or 1.89 litres
 
next down are what are often called "growlitas" or "growlettes", weighing in at a litre. at places that are willing to fill these bottles, they are treated the same as a growler. Tofino Brewing in Tofino offer growlitas as well as growler fills.
 
also in this category are howe sound's swing-top 1 litre bottles, available for retail sale at Howe Sound Brewery and most liquor stores. the advantage of buying this size of bottle with a reclosable top is being able to pick your serving size of beer and save the rest for later. Also very good for sharing. The bottles can be returned for deposit or used for home brewing or anything else you might have need of a 1 litre recloseable glass bottle for. However I am not aware of any breweries who will refill these bottles for you.
 
750 ml bottles are not really used locally, but check out the import section at your local private beer store and I'll bet you see a few.
 
next size down is the 650 ml "bomber" bottles. i'll get to why more and more local breweries are bottling some of their beers in bombers rather than six packs of the 341 ml bottles in a moment. suffice it to say that bombers are a great size for sharing. Several restaurants that carry these size bottles do label them as share sized.

and finally we have the 341 ml bottles that make up a six pack - in all sorts of styles and colours. like the stubby - remember the stubby? Stubbies were used almost exclusively in Canada from 1962 to 1986 as part of a standardization effort intended to reduce breakage, and the cost of sorting bottles when they were returned by customers. Due to their nostalgic value, stubbies were reintroduced by a number of Canadian craft brewers in the early 2000s. These days Jamaican import Red Stripe beer is probably the only stubby bottle you'll see our West in North America, however, if you're in Ontario you'll find them at craft breweries Brick Brewery in Waterloo and Heritage Brewery in Carleton Place.
The industry standard bottle in North America is the longneck - a type of beer bottle with a long neck. Longnecks have a uniform capacity, height, weight and diameter and can be reused on average 16 times. The long neck offers a long cushion of air to absorb the pressure of carbonation to reduce the risk of exploding. The longneck also provides a handle for drinking directly from the bottle without transferring body heat to the beer from one's hand. The US ISB longneck is 355 ml. In Canada, in 1992, the large breweries agreed to all use a 341 mL longneck bottle of standard design (named AT2), thus replacing the traditional stubby bottle and an assortment of brewery-specific long-necks which had come into use in the mid-1980s.
other beer sizes not offered in the lower mainland are quarts and nips, two pints (1.136 ml) and 7oz respectively.
So why if there is an industry standard bottle do so many craft breweries design their own bottles?
the industry standard was set by the large breweries, via the Beer Store in Ontario, which also happens to be owned by the large breweries. craft brewers stick to the 341 ml standard size, and generally go with long neck brown glass bottles. But they all choose their own finishing touches on the bottle and labeling. Its a competitive market and you want to stand out, both via your stellar product inside the bottle and via the bottle itself. Serious breweries also use brown bottles as they offer the best uv protection for the beer. it takes mere seconds of bright sunlight exposure to skunk the beer, a clear bottle offers no protection at all, and green is really no better. Even fluorescent lights can skunk beer in a matter of days.
As to why craft brewers are leaning towards bottling in bombers - why not?
 
Larger bottles of beer have been around longer than six packs have. There are benefits to all of the different sizes of bottles that beer comes in, and a market for each of them. Many of the bombers are filled with bigger beers, those with a higher alcohol percentage. It makes more sense to buy one large bottle to share between friends or enjoy over a longer period of time than it does to buy a six pack. At a restaurant, why not order a bomber? You can share it like you would a bottle of wine, or you can drink multiple glasses of it over the course of the whole meal. If a brewery has a new beer, what better way to launch it in bottles than a bomber? That way consumers can buy one to try it out without the commitment of a six pack if its not to their liking.
 
It is also an advantage to the breweries - to put beer in six-packs, breweries need to be able to commit to having it regularly available in large volumes. With single bottle releases, breweries can change their offerings more frequently. It also gives them additional presence on the shelf. You can fit three bombers into the same space as one six-pack.

A recent article in The New York Times titled "Craft Beer's Larger Aspirations Cause a Stir" has created a stir in the craft beer community. In the piece, author Clay Risen writes about craft brewers putting their beers in bigger bottles. Risen said, "The trend toward large bottles is part of what is being called the "wine-ification" of beer, the push by many brewers to make their product as respectable to pair with braised short ribs as is a nice Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and at a price to match. Bottles sell for as much as $30 in stores and much more on restaurant menus." He even suggested that people don't like the 650 ml bottles because its too much beer.

Wine-ification? ooooh, them's fighting words. Several big names in beer took issue with the article, including Brooklyn Brewery's Brewmaster Garrett Oliver asked the New York Times to open the article to comments, which it did. Beer writer Jay Brooks also weighed in on the comments and wrote his own piece about it as well. from my scroll through the articles comments, all of them were negative.

Beer is not trying to be wine in general, but particularly not through the increased use of 650 ml bombers. However, there are some complaints in the beer community that bombers cost more than six packs on an ounce for ounce basis. Very few of the beers I drink come in both formats so its not as noticeable, but when they do, yes, you are paying more per ounce for the bomber. Marketing is everything! I will still happily buy bombers though, as the product inside is generally worth the price.

One last note, if you are afraid that you can't finish a bomber of beer on your own, and have no one to share it with, never fear! Use a bottle stopper. These devices go on top of the bottle and can help save the carbonation for a day or two.

 
My beer picks:
some lovely seasonals that are out now:
 
for sour-lovers: Driftwood's Belle Royale
 
for saison lovers: Evil Twin's Ryan and the Beaster Bunny
 
for ipa lovers: Phillips' Cabin Fever black ipa



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