The Stubby Beer Bottle. Part III.

In this last Part, I wish simply to summarize information gleaned mainly from Toronto Star and Toronto Globe & Mail archives. As these are behind a paywall or available with a Toronto library subscription, I can’t link them anyway.

The main story of use was a Globe & Mail account of September 23, 1961, “Amber Bottle Here for Beer, Ale Next Year”. The Dominion Brewers Association announced the day before that in Quebec and Ontario – so my remarks here are limited to those Provinces – the amber “stubby bottle” would replace bottles currently in use.

The current 12-oz, tall bottles, returnable as the stubby would be, would disappear with the adoption of the stubby. Also: the stubby was three inches shorter than existing bottles, and a case of 24 stubbies was five pounds lighter than the existing case.

The new bottles were a single, uniform brown colour, to minimize penetration by light, whereas existing bottles were green for ale and clear for lager. Certainly this was so in Ontario then, but whether in the rest of Canada I cannot certify.

Business stories stressed that the new bottle was a boon for bottle and carton manufacturing companies. Presumably bottle-filling equipment was affected too.

The stories in Ontario’s main daily newspapers were rather clinical. I found none with a human interest angle. In part this probably reflected the conservative environment in Ontario then. The Toronto Evening Telegram possibly added further in this regard, but its archives are not easily available.

Stories in the “provincial” press of Ontario, outside Toronto, may have accounts of interest, especially in London where Labatt Brewery was headquartered. Those community papers I did survey had nothing.

The press in the rest of Canada likely had more resources for this aspect, but my searches have been limited, given online archival searches are often behind paywalls and intermittent at best. Still I was able to search numerous archival collections.

Sme accounts chart the switch to the stubby from 1961, not 1962. The reason is, pilot programs testing the new bottle were run in 1961 in Abitibi, Quebec, and Peterborough, Ontario. This ad was placed in the Val d’Or Star in May 1961 in Val d’Or, Quebec:

 

 

Val d’Or is in south-west Quebec adjacent to the Abitibi mining region, about 300 miles from Montreal, north of Ottawa.

Noteworthy is the description of the bottle as “The Brewmaster’s”, yet the advantages described are clearly consumed-focused. This is generic advertising, sponsored by the “Brewers of Quebec”.

Montreal’s Gazette, one of the main Montreal newspapers, then and still, had press story very similar to the clinical one in Toronto’s Globe & Mail.

The Provinces-wide roll out, in Quebec and Ontario certainly, took place the following year according to these sources.

I find the changes between 1983 and 1992 less of interest, perhaps because I lived through that time. Eg. John Labatt Classic premium lager came out in 1983 in a taller, green bottle. But the beer did not shine, in my opinion, and the rest, well, is not as important.

Ditto the Miller High Life slope-shouldered, medium-size bottle released in Canada once brewers started to bottle in new formats again: less interesting withal than the 1962 change.

The stubby lingers in popular memory as a Canadian icon. Despite its American origins, both in design and commercially in the market, the stubby did acquire a special aura in this country.

 

 

People still remember it with a certain affection, like many things from the past that don’t really repeat. Molson-Coors bottled some Molson Canadian Lager in the old stubby bottle in 2017, but it did not take the beer world by storm.

For a few people, it had a nice nostalgia value, but nothing more really.

Such are the ways of the world, well-summed up in the phrase “That was then, this is now”. Or, “You can’t go home again”.

In an odd kind of way, the stubby met a similar, ignominious end during its first U.S. career, 1935-1942. As I mentioned earlier, it did not make a splash then, never holding more than a few percentage points of the bottle market.

The multi-author study I linked in Part I stated that war standardization measures ended any chance of revival until after the war, since the bottle was not among the authorized styles.

Its relation the steinie did better before the war, holding about one-third of the bottle market at one point. See again the article mentioned, and for the fate of the “packie”, the third short bottle type issued by Owens-Illinois before World War II.

All would be utilized after the war in some places, indeed the stubby did acquire finally extended use especially in the Pacific Northwest. But until the stubby’s striking success in Canada from 1962-1983, the designers’ vision for that type was not fully realized, at least on national scale.

By 1942 in America, as this news report in Michigan had it, the stubby had cachet around Seattle, Washington, not because of beer, but fishing! Fishermen used it as a float, because cork floats were unobtainable due to the war.

The necks would not break off as when tall bottles were used – a stubby didn’t “stick its neck out”, as the story had it. Finally the bottle did make a splash.

Another anticlimactic end, at least to the stubby’s first American arc.

N.B. The next post serves as a footnote to the stubby bottle affair: it explains the fate of the bottles replaced by the Canadian stubby in 1962.

Note re images: second image depicts the famous Doug and Bob McKenzie, fictional characters who satirized a certain Canadian ethos. Source is National Post. Source of both images is linked in the text. All intellectual property source belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

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