I remember back in college when I’d be going to hang out at a friend’s house, we’d typically all bring a six-pack that we’d take down ourselves. There wasn’t a whole lot of sharing. Breaking up six-packs to buy single bottles wasn’t an option, and the number of 22oz or 750ml bottles of beer on the market back then was pretty limited. If you wanted a good beer for at home it meant you were usually grabbing a sixer.
Flash forward to the present day, and the retail landscape is drastically different. If you walk into a local bottle shop you’ll find coolers full of single 12oz beers, as well as beers in larger sizes. 22oz bottles are the most popular, but wine bottle-sized 750ml corked bottles are also common. Six-pack sales are still a large driver of volume for grocery stores and larger retailers. But, single bottle sales are driving the current day craft beer revolution at local bottle shops. In our fridge at home, it is rare that you’ll find a six-pack of anything. It is likely that you’ll find more single bottles of craft beer than my wife would like to admit.
There are a lot of factors that have driven the switch to single bottle sales, but one driver is that many beer drinkers like to try a variety of beers. Rather than invest in a six-pack of something you have never tried, it is ideal to be able to pick up a single bottle, large or small. Breweries also often release special beers in larger single bottle sizes, as well as high alcohol offerings and beers that are more expensive to brew. To put beer in six-packs, breweries need to be able to commit to having it regularly available in large volumes. With single bottle releases, breweries can change their offerings more frequently. Lucky for us in Washington state, even if a beer does come in a six-pack most retailers will allow you to just buy a single bottle of it.
According to Tiffany Adamowski of 99 Bottles in Federal Way, WA, “We see more singles & pairs of 12-ounce bottles going out than entire six-packs packaged from the brewery. Most folks are mixing cross-brewery, cross-states, cross-countries… people like the freedom to take their taste buds on beer journeys.” While single bottle sales are more popular than six-pack sales, the smaller 12oz bottle is still more in-demand than larger sizes. Of 99 Bottles’ top 100 selling beers in 2011, 64 were 12oz bottles, 9 of them were 22oz bottles (6 of those were WA brewed beers), and there were no 750ml bottles. The other 27 beers were in other sizes, such as 11.2oz or 16.9oz.
One dilemma of buying the 22oz and 750ml bottles is that it can be a lot to finish off on your own, especially if it is a strong beer. Many of these beers are perfect for sharing, and that is often what consumers have in mind when going for the bigger bottles. But, there are plenty of times when I’m searching through the fridge and want to break open a 22oz beer when no else is around. Erika Tedin of Full Throttle Bottles (SBN sponsor) says it is common for people to come looking for larger bottles, and she estimates that about 40% of her current inventory is in 22oz, 750ml or larger sized bottles. “I see a lot of customers being willing and able to drink an entire 22 on their own. Although this past holiday, there was a plethora of beer tasting parties, where folks bring something rare or a from a particular country, then everyone shares. Unless the ABV is pretty high, most folks can drink a bottle on their own.”
If you do open a larger bottle of beer that you do not end up finishing, it is a great idea to have a bottle stopper or saver around the house. These devices go on top of the bottle and can help save the carbonation for a day or two. That allows you to enjoy those bigger, higher alcohol bottles over a couple of sessions if you prefer. Adamowski notes that they sell a lot of Universal Bottle Stoppers (from The Zanger Company). “For sharing, there certainly is that going on, but we have a lot of folks coming in to buy just for themselves, which is why we see a lot of the stoppers being sold along with the larger format bottles.”
Another factor that comes into play is the cost of beer in different formats. Generally, a six-pack offers the best value by volume, while larger bottle sizes come out a little more expensive on a per-ounce basis. If cost is a primary concern for a consumer, then six-packs are more attractive. But, for many, including myself, it is worth it to pay a little bit extra by volume in order to spend less overall because you are buying just a single bottle and not a six-pack. In recent years, some breweries have also moved to 4-packs as a way to retail some of their more expensive, high end beers. This format is especially useful in states where you can’t break up a six-pack for single bottle sales.
Regardless of what your preference is, I think we’d all agree it is nice to have the array of options when we head out to buy beer these days. With so many different styles from breweries all over the world, the choices are seemingly endless.