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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pimp Your Stout (A Survey of Cool Bottles)

When American craft breweries first started putting their beer in bottles, they opted for a couple standard varieties--the longneck or the squat, ugly "legacy" bottle. Over time, breweries collected little piles of coins and decided to invest in more interesting bottles--as exemplified by Redhook's cool new examples. Even more than labels, bottles can offer a distinctive touch to a packaged product. Who among us hasn't picked up a St. Peter's just to admire the flask shape?

There's another element to this, too. Homebrewers are constantly on the prowl for a great bottle. Qualifications include attractive shape, embossing, and the absence of distinguishing marks. Deschutes' bottles are a great example: tall and patrician with clean lines and broad shoulders adorned with epaulets of hop vines. Put your stout in this bottle and you can borrow some pride from Bend.

For today's post, I thought it would be fun to have a gander at classic bottles, some good for homebrew, some good--but not for homebrew. I envision a time when many American breweries have their own bottles. They could take notes from some of these. Trappists are out in front:

Westmalle has a classic form and the iconic neck embossing that so beguiled the folks at New Belgium that they followed course. Not perfect for homebrew because of the name, but nevertheless a great bottle.

Chimay's smaller bottles are unique in form, and include the embossed name of the Abbey. Tres classy--though again, too specific for the homebrew.

Moving along, we come to the swing-top offerings, which are always fun for amateur bottlers. They're fun for everyone, actually--who doesn't like a cool swing-top? So far, the only local brewery to go for this style is Captured By Porches--and you pay through the nose for the privilege.

Far cheaper are the many German breweries that use swingtops, like this Hirschbrau. You can pick these up for three or four dollars--full of tasty lager.

Of course, the Grolsch is a classic. Not great for labels, and you have to keep it out of the sun, but it has the old-timey feel homebrewers prize.

The best of all are the stoneware swingtops of St. Sebastiaan. A few Belgian breweries use faux-stoneware, but St. Sebastiaan is the real deal. Not a cheap way to go, but you can slowly build up your collection.

Now we come to some of my fave standards, including one or two that may stump you. These sleek fellas are sans label, and I will offer a gold star to the person who can identify them all in comments. Sadly, a gold star is likely all you'll get, but it's something. I have a couple bottles of (C) floating around, but I could only locate one from my bottle collection for the photo. The rest are from my regular rotation.






  1. Jeff, you might want to rename the bottle pictures to make it more challenging...I knew B was Orval and figured out C based on the embossed bottle. Would not have got A or D (thought D might be Session or Red Stripe).

  2. lol Yea the file names give it away. Good for search engines, bad for contests ; )

    Fun post Jeff.

  3. D'oh! Well, a gold star to Harry for identifying me as the eejit. Well done, H.

  4. I guessed Orval, but was stumped on the others until the naming comment. :) Pacifico? Ok, but aren't the labels hard to get off? Deschutes are easy to peel, but they have the hops embossed.

    I've never heard of Beamish, I like that one. I'll have to check it out.

    I have quite a collection of unusual bottle shapes going, and I always like to throw in one or two for personal consumption when I bottle. I can never wait the full tree weeks to sneak a sample, so I'll use one of my 10 or 11 oz bottles for that.

  5. I had the first 2 figured out. I also have an Orval in the fridge, so that's what I'll be drinking tonight (in honor of guessing the bottle correct). Great post.

  6. Where did the Beamish bottle come from? I've never seen one like that, in fact I haven't seen bottled Beamish in about ten years.

    IIRC The Gunmakers in London uses the Orval ones as candlesticks. They're lovely.

  7. I totally disagree – custom bottles are a blight on the beer landscape. Bottles should be standardised to facilitate re-use.

  8. I was so sure A was Leinenkugels...

  9. Beer Nut, that's an old bottle. Probably dates to about 1996 or so. Beamish always had very spotty distribution to Oregon, and I snatched up whatever I could find (pints, cans, bottles). I loved this bottle, and I think I have two of them. Sounds like I better handle them with care.

    One thing you can't see is that it's a pretty big bottle; proportioned like a stubby, but the hefty version.

  10. D is peace Tree in Iowa?
    B is Two Brothers barleywine
    A is a Standard

    C - Belgian?

  11. These were my first thoughts. Now I know I was wrong on two. I love Texas long kneck bottles for some reason. If I was willing to buy it, and had the urge to de-label, my bottles for homebrew would mostly be Anchor, Pacifico, and Deschute's

    a. Pacifico
    b. Orval
    c. Samual Smith's
    d. Bundaberg Ginger Beer

  12. Don't forget the folks at New Glarus! While the bottle isn't original, they do go the extra step of dipping it in wax! I know its definitely not something that benefits the home brewer, but it's a cool effect none-the-less. You know that beer means business! Pics here.