A Whole new bag? Yes and no.
I mentioned recently that in the 1930s, a fecund time for beer container development, a rumour coursed through the American industry that a paper bottle was next, to rival the new tin can and stubby bottle.
None issued, as far as I know, even a prototype, but it seems likely industrial research divisions were working on it.
In fact, as early as 1887 scores of American newspapers, including the Belmont Chronicle in Ohio, carried this item:
Thinking further, I recalled that Carlsberg Brewery announced prototypes for a paper beer bottle a couple of years ago. Its website states in part:
We are working on developing the world’s first ‘paper’ beer bottle made from sustainably-sourced wood fibers that is both 100% bio-based and fully recyclable.
We now have two new research prototypes of the Green Fiber beer Bottle, which are the first ‘paper bottles’ that are able to contain beer.
Both prototypes are made from sustainably-sourced wood fibre, are fully recyclable and have an inner barrier to allow the bottles to contain beer. Right now, they use a thin plastic film for the inner barrier – with one containing recycled PET and the other a 100% bio-based PEF. These prototypes will be used to test the barrier technology as we work towards a solution without plastic.
Journalist Phoebe French explored the background in an article for The Drinks Business in 2019. She included this image of a cream-coloured, paper Carlsberg bottle:
To my mind the appearance and form are somewhat minimalist, recalling a milk bottle. For some reason I think too of the admittedly iconic Volkswagen auto, or the current decor of the bar in the United Nations in New York – something typically “European”.
If commercialized, probably a more stylish, consumer-friendly result will emerge, at least for export markets. (After all too it is just a prototype).
Certain problems need still to be worked through to ensure complete bio-degradability. This is particularly so in nature without mechanically separating the wood fibre body from the interior coating that shields the beer from the frame.
Carlsberg is famously an innovative brewer, reaching back to its early work on yeast and fermentation. No surprise it is showing creativity in this area, but as for many scientific advances, the roots of new ideas go deep.
Often the earlier work is little more than inspired thinking, but once a seed is planted it can bear fruit generations later.
French reported that testing of the Carlsberg prototype was to start last year in selected markets. I am not aware this occurred, readers who know differently might comment.
Earlier, I raised the possibility that the strain on the forests would be a limiting factor, but likely this can be alleviated by ensuring near-100% recycling. For example in Ontario almost all beer bottles are recycled through a government-backed industry accord.
While it seems unlikely glass or metal will disappear in the near future, it would be Pollyanna to think the vision of earlier and contemporary thinkers won’t be validated, sooner rather than later.
Cost will be an important factor, as well as government policy. Paper is already making gains for packaging materials, e.g. to replace plastic shrink-wraps for six-packs. I think it is only a question of time before your India Pale Ale comes in a paper bottle.
How labels are designed and attached will be another interesting question. The Carlsberg prototype has paper on paper so to speak. Newer ways to identify the product are likely to emerge, to maximize the impact of name and label.
Maybe a type of embossing or engraving, for example.
The paper bottle is likely to be a paper tiger but quite literally, not in the sense of the original Chinese idiom.
Note: source of image above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.