In this endless series on bright bottled beer we’ve finally got to the bottles themselves. And I must admit that the first paragraph here surprises me. I’ll let you read it first before I tell you why.
It would be of enormous advantage to all concerned with the bottled beer trade if it were possible to adopt a standardized bottle. This perfect bottle would be universal in regard to quality, size and shape and it would have an agreed design of neck and opening. Such a state of affairs would obviate the present unsightly collection of bottles of every description which may now be seen in bottling stores. Considerable labour costs are involved in sorting out the bottles, as well as expenses connected with the various bottle exchanges if a firm desires to use only its own bottles. In order to make sure of so doing it is necessary to have some means of identifying a bottle; at present, this is done by having the firm's name and address embossed In the glass. This embossing holds dirt, and adds to the difficulty of washing the bottle. The standardization suggested above would put an end to all these troubles.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 347.
My surprise is that the bottles weren’t standardised. Because my memories from the 1960’s and 1970’s is of total standardisation in beer bottles. You had the sloping imperial pint bottle, the round-shouldered half pint and the occasional nip. And even more rarely, quart bottles. Hang on. I can think of one exception. Newcastle Breweries had their own design of clear bottle.
I’d assumed – and this is the sort of assumption I get angry when others make, namely that present practice stretches far back into the past – that bottles had been standardised around the time of WW II. It seems to have been later than that.
Wondering what a bottle exchange was? It was a way of getting bottles returned through the retail trade back to brewers. Remember that these were all returnable bottles. There were no single use bottles at all back then. A mechanism was needed to get bottles back to where they belonged. Especially non-standard ones.
The bottle I remember from my youth were something called London Brewers’ standard. Which is what I believe Jeffery is discussing here:
“This uniformity in bottle design has been brought about to a considerable extent especially in the London area. Fewer firms have their names embossed on their bottles and hence the difficulties arising in sorting out the different kinds do not often arise. Although there are still differences in shape, the heights of the bottles are more standardized. Whatever the type of bottle preferred one thing is quite definite, that it must be of good quality and of a shape which renders it easy to clean. A beer bottle has to stand a great amount of knocking about and on that account it should be made of a material which will not chip readily. It should also be so designed that, if used in connection with crown cork, a chipped bottle is incapable of further employment. The glass must be tough and not liable to crack easily. For cleaning purposes a sloping neck is far to be preferred to a square shoulder, which is difficult to get at either with a brush or by liquor under pressure. A cushion of air forms in the shoulder and prevents contact with brush or liquid.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 347 - 348.
If a shouldered bottle was harder to clean, it seems odd that that design was chosen for the standard half pint. He says: “if used in connection with crown cork” because there were still beer bottles with rubber stoppers and an internal screw thread. In fact those bottles were still around in the 1970’s. Bizarrely, national brewer Whitbread still used such bottles in their Kirkstall brewery in Leeds.
Next we’ll be looking at stoppers and crown corks in more detail.