Big Bottles of Beer

“Normal size” bottles seem so dated. The trend towards bigger bottles that started with wine and was later adopted by spirits has finally become worthy of beer.

March 06, 2017
In the 1770s, larger wine bottles began to appear after winemakers discovered the practicality of cork for sealing bottles of wine. Wine, it was soon discovered, aged differently in different sized bottles, as the larger bottles contained less air in relation to the volume of wine inside, allowing these wines to age more slowly. With this discovery, winemakers soon went a bit overboard with the bottle sizes, creating the Magnum (1.5 liters or two standard bottles) and a more than a dozen larger volumes, all the way up to the Melchizedek: a 30L bottle equivalent to 40 standard bottles!

Of course, setting aside the practicality of larger bottles for winemakers, investors, and connoisseurs, big bottles of wine and champagne are, simply put, bad-ass. Let’s face it, there are few drinking experiences more exciting than busting open a six-liter Methuselah at your wedding or birthday party.

While beer has always held a special place in the hearts of imbibers everywhere, outside of the traditional havens of beer culture (e.g. Czech, Germany, and Belgium), beer has long lived in the shadow of wine, never having quite attained the respect of sophisticated tipplers nor a place of honor at a yacht christening—certainly not for packaging within a twelve liter Balthazar bottle. Until now.

There’s no doubt that the quality of beer has been exponentially elevated by brewers of recent decades. Even the blending and aging of beer has moved beyond gimmick as the production techniques and flavor profiles of beer have placed select labels at the same status of not only wine but also whiskey and other fine spirits.

It’s no surprise then that beer has finally attained a status worthy of bottles to match its aggrandized stature. Nor, for the most part, is it surprising which brewers have begun offering their products in oversized packaging, something that, in turn, has added to the perceived value of these beers stored in oversized bottles and sealed with cork and muselet (a wire “cage”).

Of course, Belgian brewers have long-employed such closures, shunning the conversion to crown caps that occurred in the late 19th century. Thus, it’s perfectly reasonable that the first adopters of plus-sized bottles would be brewers of traditional trappist ales of Belgium. Among the many Belgian beers in large bottles, Leffe Blonde now comes in 1.5L Magnum bottles; Duvel Belgian Strong Pale Ale comes in both 1.5L and 3L Double Magnum; St. Bernardus Abt 12 is bottled in six-liter Imperial Magnums; and St. Feuillien Tripel is available in nine liter Salmanazar (available from Wishbeer in Thailand)!

Another brewer utilizing the magnum bottle size is the grandfather of American craft beer, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company, lending credence to the argument that the adoption of wine-inspired bottles isn’t merely a sales gimmick: bottling in larger containers follows the lead of those 17th century winemakers, allowing for longer-term storage of specialty beers, such as Anchor’s annual Special Ale. This is a beer you’ll be as comfortable to present at a holiday dinner or New Year’s Eve party as you are to store it for a year before consuming.

In addition to Anchor and the traditional Belgian brewers, another notable adopter of the magnum is cutting-edge 21st century craft brewer Mikkeller, who recently bottled its own Christmas Ale in a 1.5L Magnum (also available in Thailand and likely still fresh considering the preservative nature of the larger bottle).

As even beer-food pairings have become regular occurrences and top-shelf suds are now gracing the menus of some of the world’s finest restaurants, it seems clear that beer is finally deserving of bottles that suit its new, grown-up stature. Beer geeks rejoice: you no longer need to feel shame for rolling up to a dinner party with a six pack of cans when you can now proudly present a Rehoboam (4.5 Liters) of quality craft beer—that said, even Chang is offering magnum-sized bottles with a new label designed by artist Alex Trochut, available for a limited time so “impress” you friends while you can!

Graphic designer Alex Trochut recently created a Limited Edition of Chang champagne-style packaging.