The Stubby Beer Bottle. Part II.

In these notes I discuss pre-war ads vaunting the stubby bottle by brewers who adopted the new package, and news articles that show packaging technology was a hot button issue of the period.

An October 1935 article in the Waterbury Evening Democrat in Connecticut set out the advantages of the stubby: 31% shorter than the regular 12-oz bottle but holding the same quantity, three ounces lighter, and “one-trip, no-deposit, non-returnable”:

 

 

The last sentence seems a misprint of some kind unless I misunderstood it. Parenthetically, those interested in food history might note the banana muffin recipe on the same page, a specialty of the Hollywood actress Grace Bradley.

The banana muffin today enjoys North American popularity and beyond. I’d have thought it a 1960s invention, but evidently not.

Another October 1935 ad, in the Evening Star in Washington, D.C., vaunted Piel’s beer in stubbies. The relativeness lightness of the bottle was stressed, and its throw-away quality – all conveniences meant to appeal to housewives.

 

 

This November 1936 ad appeared in The Veterans’ Review in Seattle, Washington:

 

 

Like some other ads of the period it appeals variously to tradition and modernity. Tradition is highlighted by mention of oak casks, age-old in brewing as well as winemaking and distilling.

Yet, the stubby represented modern engineering to the max. One might think the brewery would have vaunted steel barrels, which Krupp of Germany and its licensees were actively marketing in this period, as I discussed earlier.

But Heimlich retained the ancestral oak barrel. If, I might add, cost was a factor, the consumer was not told.

On the contemporary side of the ledger, “glass-lined” equipment is noted, likely lagering tanks – and packaging in “amber light”. In such contexts amber usually denoted the brown glass bottle, favoured then and still by brewers.

These minimize light entering the bottle, which can skunk it. In the Heimlich ad, bottling in “amber light” seemed to mean something else.

There was some application in the period of ultraviolet light as a sterilization aid (see in Wallerstein Communications, 1937 and the Sterilamp). UV light can be purple evidently, or shades of blackish, but I don’t think brown/amber.

Also, one purpose of brown glass is precisely to reduce the UV light entering the bottle. I hesitate in this area before drawing any conclusions, but perhaps the bottle filling room was darkened to reduce the light entering the bottle whatever type of glass was used, as strong light can still enter brown glass.

The reference to two free bottles meant Heimlich was using the “Eastern”, 12 oz. stubby, while many brewers in the West used the 11-oz version.

Despite these seeming advantages offered by Heimlich, not least the asserted quality of its beer, the brewery foundered by the end of the 1930s. Its own story has many twists and turns, a brewery that originated before Prohibition. Perhaps for another day.

November 1939 ad by Olympia Brewery in Washington was similarly didactic in 1930s style:

 

 

Here, the stubby is promoted in part by showing how the crown cap replaced the cork for beer bottles. It is stated the tannin of cork affects the beer. This is true in my experience, except not really noticeable over the period most beer is consumed.

Also, cork can enhance, or at least not harm, some types of beer, porter for example. Of course I do not mean here the (rare) infection in some cork that leads to cork taint, but the normal flavour of cork.

For a light lager like “Oly” though, clearly a metal cap suited the beer better. Cork was pretty much obsolete in American brewing by this time anyway.

Olympia also argued the stubby bested the long-neck 12 oz. bottle since air space in the neck was much reduced.

That is true, yet today bottling generally extracts air in the neck space to minimize the chances of oxidation, premature staling in other words. Crown caps too are lined today with a substance that absorbs residual oxygen.

So this advantage of the stubby is not quite as in the 1930s.

Bag of Beer, Baby

A late-1935 article in the Waterbury Evening Democrat described how cans and stubbies were vying for supremacy in the packaging market.

The article, using a (laboured?) military metaphor, interviewed industry spokesmen for both industries, who disclaimed a war was going on. This reflected the residual decorum characteristic of American business, more than anything else.

The writer ended on a mordant note:

In the meantime your correspondent is trying the contents of both containers … and is finding it increasingly difficult to decide whether he would prefer to complete his assignment under the banner of the old tin can or at the more distant posts where the uniform of Stubby is worn, or whether it wouldn’t be real nice to spend a real long time at both places. And just to liken it a little more to the Mediterranean disturbance [invasion of Ethiopia] word has just come along the grapevine telegraph that the paper industry is soon to enter the fray with a paper wrapper so that soon we may pass the can opener along into the discard with the bottle opener and just send the Pop out for a bag of beer.

No doubt many readers felt similarly – can or short bottle, bring on the beer. Kind of how I feel today.

As to paper, even in the 1930s some were thinking that beer could be packaged this way. The idea is intriguing, and if mentioned in the press I’d think a drawing board or two was devoted to the idea, if not lab testing of prototypes.

The idea would seem well-suited to today, in particular. After all, you can draw soft drinks through a paper straw at some places, e.g. A&W Burgers in Canada. I tried it at an A & W in Toronto yesterday.

The effect was similar to a plastic straw but not quite as good, I thought. The rigidity of the paper version was a factor. Probably that will sort out in time.

Milk and juice cartons are a partial analogy, but usually are not carbonated or meant for rough handling. I have a feeling science could figure out a solution. Perhaps some beer somewhere is already packaged in paper.

The drain on the forests might be an obstacle, but one way or another I think we will see evolution in beer packaging, before long.

See Part III for the final part of this look.

Note: source of each 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.