Just when you feel like you have a handle on all the beer styles out there, the beer aficionado at your bottle share casually mentions a packaging term you’ve never heard before, and now you feel like there’s a whole new world of things to learn about your favorite adult beverage. But don’t worry. Beer is about as old as civilization, and throughout its history, it has been packaged, transported, and dispensed in countless different ways – it’d be nearly impossible to keep track of every one. But we’re here to help you begin making sense of it all.
You may be wondering about some of the simpler questions, like ‘How many beers are in a barrel?’ and ‘What size keg do I actually need?’ But even if you consider yourself the aforementioned beer aficionado, we think there might be a thing or two for you to learn about beer packaging. Read on and discover!
Barrels & Casks
The cask is one of the oldest and most traditional forms of liquid storage. A series of wooden staves held together by metal rings, casks have historic value not only in beer, but in most alcohol storage and aging processes. Casks vary in size for different purposes and industries, but by far the most important cask used in the beer industry is the barrel.
A barrel in the United States is 31 gallons of beer. This unit is used to analyze brewing output; for example, craft breweries are generally defined as having an annual production under 6 million barrels.
In the United Kingdom, where Firestone Walker’s co-founder David Walker hails from, a barrel is 36 imperial gallons, or 43 US gallons.
The keg is the primary dispensing vessel used in the beer industry. If you’ve ever had a draft beer at a bar, you’ve drunk from a keg. These metal (or sometimes plastic) containers have a tube running to the bottom and typically a ball-lock mechanism used to seal them. When engaged with a tap coupler, gas is pushed into the keg, pushing beer through the tube and out of the ball-lock fitting. In short, gas goes in, beer comes out.
1/2 Barrel Kegs
The most common size of a keg in the US, the half-barrel is 15.5 gallons, and it works out to 124 pints or 165 12-ounce pours.
1/4 Barrel Kegs
Less common than they once were, the 1/4 barrel keg, or pony keg, holds 7.75 gallons and can be found in two formats: short and wide or tall and skinny. A 1/4 barrel keg holds 62 pints or 82 12-ounce pours.
1/6 Barrel Kegs
The 1/6 barrel keg, or sixth keg, has mostly replaced the pony keg in common usage. Equating to 41 pints or 55 12-ounce pours, the 1/6 barrel is one of the two main keg sizes we use here at Firestone Walker.
50 Liter Kegs
The 50L keg is the other of two main keg sizes we use at Firestone Walker. Mostly found in European and UK breweries, this is the standard in those countries as much as the 1/2 barrel is in the United States. Typically, these kegs use a slightly different coupler than their American 1/2 barrel cousin. The 50L keg holds 105 pints or 140 12-ounce pours.
The Cornelius keg, or corny keg, is most commonly used by homebrewers. This keg type features a latching top that makes it easier to fill and clean. A corny keg roughly equates to 40 pints or 53 12-ounce pours.
Mini Keg (5L)
The 5 liter mini keg is meant for home consumption. They are mostly used by European breweries, but some American breweries also offer them. Using a manual spigot, these kegs mimic draft beer. But because they utilize air intake and not CO2/beer gas injection, these kegs do not maintain quality over time like traditional draft systems. The 5L mini keg roughly equates to 10 pints or 14 12-ounce pours.
In 1935, Gottfried Krueger Brewing Co. made history by canning their Krueger Cream Ale. Since then, can technology has experienced many changes and advancements on its way to becoming one of the most popular drink packaging units in the world. Cans tend to be a favored packaging style among brewers and beer consumers alike because they limit light and oxygen exposure, are cheaper to transport, and are easily recyclable. But among cans, there are a variety of sizes and styles.
The nip is a small can most famously used now by one particular energy drink company. There are few examples of this can size used in beer today, but these skinny cans – and their shorter cousin, the stubby – are still used by European breweries. This size is also the standard for cans in India.
Popular in both beer and soft drinks, the 12-ounce can is the most common can size in the United States. These cans are commonly bundled in packages of six, 12, 18, 24, or 30.
The 16-ounce can, or tallboy, has become the preferred choice by many small craft breweries. Enter any craft bottle shop, and you’ll see a wall of 16-ounce cans, most commonly bundled in packs of four. Firestone Walker’s Propagator R&D Brewhouse cans all of its limited releases in this format.
Becoming increasingly popular in the American beer market, the 19.2-ounce stovepipe can is a tall can that shares the same diameter as the 12-ounce and 16-ounce cans. This seemingly odd volume comes from the British Imperial Pint. In the UK, the imperial pint equals 20 imperial ounces or 568mL, which is roughly equivalent in US fluid ounces to to 19.2oz.
The 24-ounce can was the preferred single can size in the US before the recent introduction of the 19.2-ounce can. This can size is commonly sold as singles in gas stations, drug stores, and sports venues.
330mL and 440mL
330mL cans are the most common can size found in Europe. In the UK, 440mL is the standard for beer, but the 330mL cans can still be found and are commonly used for soft drinks.
The crowler comes from the growler tradition (see below). A combination of ‘can’ and ‘growler,’ these 32-ounce cans are manually filled and sealed at breweries. Due to their airtight seal, this technology has quickly eclipsed growlers as a method of bringing home more draft-only options. Despite this seal, the process of filling a crowler introduces air to the beer, making it less effective than machine-filled cans and limits peak freshness to 2-3 days after filling.
For many beer drinkers, the bottle will always be the preferred packaging unit for beer. Dating back to ancient Mesopotamia, the glass bottle has been used to package liquids for millennia. Whether corked or capped, the bottle is still used to package beer worldwide, and it can be found in many sizes and styles.
The pony bottle is a 7oz bottle that replicates the original bottle size for early cola brands. The ‘pony’ terminology is similar to that describing a pony keg or pony glass.
Much like cans, the 12-ounce bottle is the standard bottle size in the United States. 12-ounce bottles come in numerous styles, some of which are the longneck (tall and skinny), the heritage (medium height and neck length), and the less common stubby or steinie (short and stout).
Belgian beers like lambics or trappist ales are commonly found in 375mL or 750mL formats, and they’re often corked rather than capped. These corked bottles are better for long term storage and bottle conditioning as many Belgian beers are cellared.
British & European
British and European (excluding Belgian) bottles are commonly found in 330mL and 500mL formats. The Vichy bottle is a long-necked version of the 500mL bottle that’s commonly found in Europe.
The bomber holds a special place in the hearts of craft beer aficionados, as it was once the preferred size for rare craft offerings. Although they’ve recently fallen out of vogue, the 22-ounce bottle format is great for sharing, and they’re still preferred by many for high-ABV and barrel-aged beers.
The swing top bottle refers not to the size or shape, but to the style of closure. In a swing top bottle, the cap (typically plastic with a rubber gasket), is attached to the top of the bottle with a metal hinge. This allows the bottle to be opened and closed while maintaining an airtight seal. Although rare, this bottle type can still be found occasionally.
Also referred to as a Caguama (turtle) or Ballena (whale), this 32-ounce bottle is fairly common. Recently, 805 Beer introduced 32-ounce bottles as a new packaging size for both 805 and 805 Cerveza.
The 40-ounce bottle, or forty, has become synonymous with cheap, malt liquor beverages. These large format bottles were created with sharing as an intent, but they soon became associated with solo experiences for those looking to consumer high quantities of alcohol quickly and efficiently. In recent years, some craft breweries have reclaimed the forty for its original purpose.
Similar to a crowler, the howler is a 32-ounce jug, or a ‘half growler.’ Perhaps not as popular as a growler nor crowler, howlers do pop up at breweries occasionally.
The growler is a 64-ounce half-gallon jug that you’ll typically seen being lugged between a person’s home and a brewery, where it’s filled with draft beer. Growlers aren’t as common as they once were, as they’ve been eclipsed by the crowler in recent years, but they still make regular appearances in most taprooms.
The most common growler is glass with a metal cap. We recommend consuming the contents of this type of growler within 24 hours of being filled. However there are more and more advanced growlers on the market. Growlers featuring airtight gasket seals and double-wall insulation can stay sealed for several days before consuming without much loss in freshness. Other even more advanced growlers include their own regulators and dispensing systems. These take advantage of whipped cream CO2 canisters to pressurize the growler, allowing for the closest imitation of a classic draft system.
In wine, the term magnum refers to a 1.5L bottle, twice the size of a regular bottle. Bottle sizes continue to increase exponentially in size, with specific names for each. Ones you might find at bottle shops include Magnum (1.5L), Double Magnum (3L), Methuselah (6L), Salmanazar (9L), Balthazar (12L), and Nebuchadnezzar (15L0. The larger of these formats are typically for show and rarely appear in the wild. For our purposes in the beer world you will not typically find bottles larger than 3L. Usually, the term magnum is applied to any bottle larger than a 750mL.