Bottling Your Business: Are Bottles Right for Your Brewery?
Once you’ve perfected your brew, you’ll need the perfect packaging to deliver it to the consumer. Careful consideration of your bottles can help ensure your beer is easy to store, pour, and drink while helping to distinguish your brand in the marketplace.
Choosing Between Bottles & Cans
If you’re a new brewery evaluating your packaging options, there are three factors to consider when deciding between bottles or cans: logistics, brand perception, and tactile preference.
For smaller brewers, bottles are often easier to work with because they leave more room for experimentation and error. They’re easier to label, with changes being fairly quick if a mistake is made. Additionally, some brewing techniques actually require glass bottles.
“Many brewers may actually need to utilize glass when employing traditional brewing techniques that require a second fermentation or addition of ingredients,” Bobbi Stebbins, Marketing & Project Coordinator at Waterloo Container Company in Waterloo, New York, said. “Cans simply cannot accommodate this. Also, any beers that tout aging or cellaring may not have the desired results if this is attempted in a can.”
In terms of public perception, bottles are often equated with a higher quality product since glass does not add any scent or taste to the liquid it holds. Bottles also offer the flexibility of producing custom labels, which can be used to enhance perception of your brand.
“Bottles allow you to display much more marketing on the outside of the four or six pack bottle holder,” Keith Wolcott, Director of Sales at Atlantic Custom Solutions, said. “You also have the flexibility of doing limited release products in 22 oz. bottles, 750 ml. bottles, and larger bottles that you don’t have the option of doing in a can. Even when those cans become available, the larger beer bottles are a more elegant presentation for a great BA Stout, big hoppy TIPA, BA Sours, or limited collaboration. You are able to separate yourself on the shelf with a large bottle and present your beer as an elegant and quality product.”
Finally, glass bottles have a devoted following in terms of tactile preference. Think of this as the debate between reading a hardcover book and the e-book version. Both options offer the same end product, but the physical experience is vastly different. For a craft beer connoisseur, nothing compares to the feel of glass on the lips.
“This, as with many things, is open to personal preference, but we are admittedly biased towards glass bottles,” Lisa Roberts Roman, Sales Manager at ARTon Products in Lively, Virginia said. “Our opinion is that your customers can taste the difference.”
After you’ve decided that bottles are the right choice for your brewery, you’ll find a dizzying array of options to choose from. Considering color, size, and shape will help you make the right choice.
Amber bottles are the standard option in the craft brew industry, since brown glass lets in the least amount of ultraviolet light. However, clear bottles can be used to show off the color and texture of the beer. Green bottles, which peaked in popularity after the World War II shortage of brown glass, add vintage flair to your beer’s overall presentation.
The standard six-pack size is 12 ounces, but that’s far from the only options available for a craft brewery. Individually sold “bombers” are 22 ounces and can be a great way to release special one-offs without investing in six pack carriers. If you want to promote your beer as a social experience made for sharing with friends, bottles modeled after those used in the wine industry are also growing in popularity.
The standard bottle shape is still the North American long neck design, but shorter and more generously proportioned heritage bottles are gaining a larger share of the market in recent years. The sleek and sophisticated champagne bottle design is an option for brewers who are aiming to target an upscale market.
“At Waterloo Container, we are constantly updating our inventory, trying new styles, and introducing new colors and services,” Stebbins said. “We now stock many amber and clear glass bottles with both classic and unique shapes designed to highlight craft beverages. We also offer eight color state-of-the-art UV ink glass printing which can create wrap around design at costs rivaling those of one or two color options. Printed glass arrives ready to fill and is perfectly suited to the growlers often used in tasting rooms.”
According to Stebbins, choosing the best bottle for your brewery’s needs is going to be a bit of a balancing act. All of the different elements need to suit your brewing method, while working to convey the desired brand message to the end consumer.
“Certainly, amber glass is preferable to lighter colors due to its ability to block the light wavelengths that can damage craft brews,” she said. “Bottles must also be pressure rated to handle the contents. State and federal laws pertaining to capacity and labeling can also have an impact on whether or not a bottled brew is sellable and should be understood prior to bottle selection. Decoration options will also play a role in bottle choice. Glass printing or shrink sleeving a bottle offer more marketing real estate than a traditional front panel label, as they allow up to 360 degrees of design freedom. Brewers must carefully consider bottle shape and style. The desired bottle will have the versatility to suit the brewing method, while allowing for label creativity and personalization—all while maintaining brand consistency. It’s a tricky balancing act for sure!”
Coordinating Bottles with
If on-premise sales are a significant part of your business model, choosing a vendor who can provide pint glasses, growlers, and other branded items in addition to your bottles may be the most convenient choice.
“ARTon Products is a family owned and operated screen printing facility that has been serving the beer and wine industries since 1986,” Roman said. “We direct print up to five colors on many different types of drinkware: from bottles to growlers, glass to ceramics, plastic to stainless steel.”
Roman agrees with Stebbins that color, size, shape, and finish are all elements that must work together to complement your beer. “Darker colored bottles offer more protection to your beer, but there are still many questions to ask,” she said. “Do you want your beer to be single serve or sharable? Do you want a more traditional or unique style? Do you want a twist off or pry off finish?”
“At Atlantic Custom Solutions, you can create custom, personalized, and decorated drinkware/bottles and other items to meet your business’ needs,” Wolcott said. “From pint glasses to coffee mugs to growlers, shot glasses, Belgians, fine edge wine glasses, coasters, plastic cups, and anything else you may think of. We provide the highest quality customer service and products for the best price and fastest turn around. We provide any help needed in finding that perfect item to help make your brewery, bar, restaurant, winery, distillery or special event unique and exciting. We screen print on any beer bottle, we can source it or you can ship the beer bottles to us to be printed on.”
When you’re choosing an all-in-one vendor for your bottles and drinkware, Wolcott recommends focusing on customer service to distinguish between companies with similar product lines. “Give us a try, you won’t be disappointed,” he said. “We only need to do one order with you before you realize we are the premier decorator in the USA. Atlantic Custom Solutions offers a price match plus guarantee with every quote given. If our quote isn’t the best, provide a written quote that beats our quote and we will offer you a price match plus a 5 percent discount.”
Going Green with Bottle Washing
For many craft brewers, reducing their carbon footprint and creating the most eco-friendly production process possible are considered top priorities. If environmental sustainability is important to you, choosing to work with a vendor who can assist with bottle washing may be the right choice.
“Some of the specific services we offer to craft brewers include bottle distribution with a large inventory of original and custom design bottles, bottle design, serigraphy, packaging, and delivery,” Marc Olivier Mottet, Organizational Development Manager at United Bottles & Packaging, said. “We also provide bottle washing services to those who are interested. For most of our beer bottles, we can wash customer’s bottles with competitive pricing compared to buying new. This service is tailor made for every customer’s bottle.”
Owning a bottle washing systems can be very expensive due to equipment cost and the added labor involved. “For a unique craft brewery, to own such a large piece of equipment is overkill,” Mottet said. “To fill the production schedule, running at two shifts you’ll have to regroup 42 large craft breweries in a typical 21 working days month. This is probably why there are only a few bottle washing systems and most are owned by large non-craft breweries. In most cases, with the combined efforts of many breweries, we can pick up, clean, and deliver to your door bottles at a lower cost than a bottle washing system.”
The bottle washing process used at United Bottles & Packaging is designed with multiple checks and balances to make sure that the finished result meets stringent quality standards. Bottles that don’t measure up are crushed and recycled and the cleaning chemicals used are chosen to minimize the effects on the environment.
“Hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide make up 95% of the chemical used and are balanced to sanitize the bottles,” Mottett said. “Heated and pressurized water serves mainly to empty the bottles and as a cleaner. Water is heated well above 100°C (212°F) to sanitize and dissolve any residue.”
If you’re interested bottle washing, Mottet stresses that it’s important to choose a bottle type that’s compatible with the process. The bottle needs to be stable on a flat surface, so it won’t be prone to falling on the conveyor belt and the glass needs to be thick enough to handle the machine’s water pressure. Color can also make a difference. “ When the bottle is clear, it’s easier to see imperfections for the naked eye, but it’s harder for machines due to lower contrasts,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a barrier, but it’s sure easier to wash colored bottles like amber ones.”