Thursday, 4 February 2021

Our Other Bottle of Stout - No Pints or Half Measures...

One thing about the brewing industry in Ireland that I never gave much consideration to was the sizes of bottles used by Irish breweries and bottling companies in the past. Nowadays we have 330ml and 500ml for most bottling apart from the odd pint bottle used by some of the bigger companies plus the 375ml or 750ml bottle used occasionally for those who want a corked-and-caged product. This size issue came up in a previous post when wondering what exactly a 'snipe' bottle meant to a publican, so it got me looking into the beer bottles sizes of the past, which I assumed were just pint and half pint bottles, as that was all I ever heard about or saw until those newer metric sizes came on the scene.

My usual starting point for these questions are the newspaper archives and an early mention I found was regarding a bottling dispute between Cade & Sons, Ltd. and John Daly & Co. Ltd. in Cork, reported in the Dublin Daily Express on the 29th April 1910, which was about minimum pricing agreements - but what grabbed my attention was a discussion about bottle sizes. Part of the hearing was with regard to 'Mr. Beamish', where he discusses putting a new stout he is brewing which is '10 degrees stronger than Guinness' and how he wanted the bottlers to put it in 'the ordinary bottles'. The witness was surprised by this idea as Beamish & Crawford's ale was in '16 to the gallon bottles' and always had been so he suggested it would be wise to bottle his stout in the same bottles. Mr. Beamish then asked the bottler would 'the man on the street object to that sized bottle, [He] thought not as the usual consumer who looked for a long drink asked for a pint of stout.'

A '16 to the gallon bottle' is of course a half pint (284ml or 10 fl oz), so what did Mr. Beamish mean by the 'normal bottle'?

Clarification is given later in the article where it is stated that 'Lager beer and Bass's strong ale were always bottled in 16 to the gallon bottles, also Beamish and Crawford's ale. The other stouts had previously been bottled in 14 to the gallon bottles.' That '14 to the gallon' calculation works out at 325 ml (11.4 fl oz) approximately which to me is pretty close to our 'modern' 330ml (11.6 fl oz) bottle. So can we take from this that Cork bottles stouts were sold in 330ml bottles in 1910? I believe so, which is a half century (or more) before the point where I thought that this bottles size had appeared on our shores.

So where were these odd sized bottles coming from? These could in fact be 12 fl. oz. bottles, which would make sense as a rounder figure but the article goes on to discuss bottle shipments and errors in sizes and states that the bottles came from a German firm, which makes me think that these 330ml bottles came form Germany too, or at least the continent, which would also make perfect sense as I assume (somebody please correct me if I'm wrong) that this was a common size over there? With that in mind and for the purpose of this article I will refer to them as '330'ml bottles.

Next we jump forward to 1923 and a report in the Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal on the 9th of June regarding a food commission inquiry into the price of a standard bottle of stout, where we see a mention incidentally a that a 'barrel' contains 128 pints or 16 gallons, not a proper 'Barrel' size but an Irish-sized Kilderkin I believe - a warning as to how we need to be careful about what is communicated through newspaper articles. More importantly for this discussion we see this comment:

In Drogheda the licensed traders deal exclusively with the same companies the Ringsend Bottle Co, and for glasses with the Irish Glass Co. "The trade" gives 14 bottles to the gallon, or 38 doz bot[tle]s to the barrel. It did happen, however, that in Drogheda some bottles came in from other parts of Ireland - they were smaller bottles, and ran 16 to the gallon. He explained that if there were small bottles used they would get greater number of bottles of stout. The trade put down as the nearest average about 39 dozen to the barrel.

There are a couple of errors here by my maths, firstly they are now talking about proper Irish barrel sizes at 32 gallons and secondly the maths for the smaller half pint bottles is a little off, I make it 42 doz to the barrel - maybe a little less allowing for head space if the bottles themselves held a half pint to the top. Aside from the quoted maths and the implications for pricing that it may imply it is clear here that Ringsend were making '330'ml bottles for beer for stout and that this seems to be the standard with the half pint perhaps common in other parts of the country. One question it raises is to whether Ringsend were making a 330ml bottle from moulds imported from the continent, whether the had created their own, or if these were indeed 12 fl.oz bottles.

We also have this passage:

President [of the committee] - Isn't it a fact that in 1914 the bottles were larger than at present? 

Mr Tallan [Solicitor for the bottlers] - Well I believe there were twelve bottles to the gallon twenty years ago. 

President - Well, there must have been a demand for these small bottles. How did they creep into the trade? 

Mr Tallan - Oh, there must have been a demand for them somewhere. In England there is smaller bottle used in the trade. These bottles may be made for export purposes. They may be made for use in some districts, but you take it from me that there are none purchased by by the traders that I represent except the 'standard bottle.'

There are a few points to digest here, firstly we see that a '12 to the gallon bottle' - 379ml or 13.33fl.oz. -  was in use (Close to the 375ml bottle used today, another continental import?). That perhaps, the half pint bottles were used for export, which was later denied by one eminent bottler, Mr. Blood. The fact that Guinness was being sold cheaper in the UK and up north was explained away by export rebates.

That '12 to the Gallon" bottle appears to be the quasi-official 'Reputed Pint' as an advertisement in the Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier on the 19th April 1865 with regard to a discussion on tariffs - admittedly reverencing an Australian newspaper - states:

Ale; porter, spruce, and other beer, cider, and perry, per gallon, in wood, for six reputed quart bottles, or for 12 reputed pint bottles, 6d.

From this I infer that these were all the same volume so a reputed pint is one twelfth of an Imperial gallon.  The use of the reputed pint - and the reputed quart - in this country needs a separate article at some point, I also wonder if there is a connection between it and the 'Meejum', as I've seen mention of reputed pint glasses.

Then in a report in the Freeman's Journal published on the 10th Jan 1924 with regard to alleged profiteering by publicans in Dublin, where a bottle of stout went from 2d to 8d in ten years or so. This opinion piece goes on to say of the publicans

 Not content with charging the higher price, they changed the size of the bottles which gave 12, 13 and 14 fills to the gallon, reducing their capacity so as to measure out sixteen. And this state of affairs has continued since 1920, during a period when general costs, including wages, were on the downward grade.

So more confirmation of the sizes and the size change it appears. They also published the maths as to the extra profit that was being made by publicans, which I won't show here, and they go on to state that 'It is well known that in many, if not most, [public] houses sixteen bottles are measured to the gallon.' The writer references a report by the Commission on Prices where they had bought bottled stout from eight different licenced houses in Dublin and the contents of each measured. The contents were reputed to be between 16 and 17½ bottles per gallon, with just below the 14 bottles per gallon - averaging 15½ bottles per gallon - close to a half pint. That commission also rejected a statement by the publicans that 'the stout bottles mostly in use in Dublin were "14" bottles.'

The commission goes on to recommend that 'The use of a standard bottle should be made compulsory' and went on to recommend a maximum price of 6d a bottle for stout - although it does not actually state what size bottle they think should be used for the bottling of said stout, but it can be inferred from their comments that the half pint bottle now seems to be the new standard.

Next we have a piece from the Freeman's Journal on the 7th November 1924 regarding The Free State government's new Intoxicating Liquor Bills. In one debate over new legislation it is reported that Mr. O' Higgins - the Minister in charge - wished to make a statement with regard to Section 7 of the Bill, which dealt with intoxicating liquor in bottles and was regarding the  acceptance of a standard size for bottles, and that he had mentioned the adoption of the the '14 to the gallon bottles size' - our '330'ml again - but had been told that 90% of the bottles being currently used were the half pint size and that his off-hand remark about using the larger size had caused consternation amongst bottlers, publicans and manufacturers.

It is of interest that Richard Beamish weighs in with a remark that it would take 'five years to clear the present stocks' of '14 to the gallon' but that 'the trade generally would accept a standard of 16 bottles to the gallon' - the half pint bottles, so Beamish & Crawford and other brewers and bottlers seem to be using this smaller size predominantly at this point. The article goes on to state that there needs to be more discussion regarding bottle sizes.

Another newspaper report a week later shows that the the bottle question was still being debated and a Dr. Sir James Craig states that 'before the war the standard was 12 bottles to the gallon and that the commission held last year the case put forward on the behalf of the vintners was 14 to the gallon. Since then they had raised it to 16 to the gallon.' This ties in a little with what I've reported above although I don't think the 12 to the gallon was as popular as he states, although he could be speaking from a local perspective, but personally I think he was in error or misinformed. In the same article Mr Hughes from Dundalk is of the opinion that the Minister should 'now state that the standard bottle would be 16 to the gallon' but Mr. O'Higgins said that he would need to consult other departments before deciding.

That leads us nicely to the published Intoxicating Liquor (General) Act, 1924, which states the following:

9.—(1) The Minister for Justice may by order prescribe the sizes of the bottles in which any specified intoxicating liquor may be sold, and where any such order is in force it shall not be lawful to sell or supply the intoxicating liquor specified in the order in bottles of any size other than one of the sizes prescribed by the order.

And finally in 1925 the following appears in STATUTORY RULES AND ORDERS. 1925. No. 56. - INTOXICATING LIQUOR (STANDARDIDATION OF BOTTLES) No. 1 ORDER, 1925..

AND WHEREAS it has been deemed expedient to prescribe the sizes of the bottles in which ale, beer, porter and stout may be sold:

NOW I, CAOIMHGHÍN Ó hUIGÍN, Minister for Justice, by virtue of the powers conferred upon me by Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor (General) Act, 1924 , and of all other powers enabling me in that behalf, do hereby order and prescribe as follows:—

On and from the 1st day of October, 1925, all ale, beer, porter or stout sold in bottles containing less than one standard quart shall be sold in quarter-pint, half-pint, or pint bottles as hereinafter defined:

(a) The quarter-pint bottle shall be one which when filled with liquid up to one and three-quarter inches from the top will contain not less than forty-nine two hundredths (49/200), nor more than fifty-three two-hundredths (53/200) of one standard pint.

(b) the half-pint bottle shall be one which when filled with liquid up to one and three-quarter inches from the top will contain not less than ninety-nine two hundredths (99/200), nor more than one hundred and three two-hundredths (103/200) of one standard pint.

(c) The pint bottle shall be one which when filled with liquid up to one and three-quarter inches from the top will contain not less than one hundred and ninety-nine two-hundredths (199/200), nor more than two hundred and three two-hundredths (203/200) of one standard pint.

Given under my hand and seal, this 31st day of March, 1925.

(Signed) C. Ó hUIGÍN 

BUT then on the 30th of December this was changed to read the following

(2) On and from the 1st day of January, 1926, all ale, beer, porter or stout sold in bottles containing less than one standard quart shall be sold in bottles containing one-third of a pint [my emphasis], one-half pint, or one pint.

Indeed an advertisement in the Evening Herald on 17th of December of the same year for 'New Bottles' lists 'Porters (16 to Gallon) (Standard Size) confirms that this is indeed the new norm.

(And it seems that is how it remained until this was all revoked from 1st January 1984 by Michael Noonan.)

It would appear that my larger '330'ml bottle has been superseded by the half pint, the pint and the one-third of a pint (189ml - 6.66 Fl. Oz.) bottle at this time, and perhaps I've finally found out what a snipe bottle of beer was in Ireland - a third of a pint?

So it seems that up until 1925 (and from a date I don't know) we had a number of sizes for bottles of beer and that we were possibly close to taking that '330'ml bottle as our standard, if not perhaps for the wish of bottlers or publicans to make a few more pennies on their porter. In any case the bottle sizes pre 1925 is not anything that I expected, as there seems to have been a free-for-all on sizes and not just the pint and half pint bottle that I had expected to find.

I wonder was this the norm elsewhere at the time?

Ending on another note -  I find it strange that the Imperial pint bottle (as distinct from the 'Reputed Pint' bottle mentioned above), a size that was to become ubiquitous in Irish pubs a few decades later gets no mention in any of the articles referenced until we get to the legislation itself. It features on occasion elsewhere with regard to court reports and advertisements but it seems to me that 'The Large Bottle' has a much shorter history that what we think? (I'm not saying it didn't exist in every pub or location, it's just that it's absent from any mention in the places I looked, which means only that...)

But that's a subject for another day...


(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

Newspaper image © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( from whom I have received permission to display here). 

No comments: