Package Goods

From the time I was old enough to read, I would
notice, right next to the Ballantine or Hensler neon
tubes in tavern windows, signs advertising “package
goods”. I thought this meant that in the dark interior
adults could procure the “goods” necessary to obtain a
“package”, as in hearing my mother say ”Eddie
McGillicuddy slept in the hallway again last night” and
my father replying  “Yeah, he must have had a pretty
good package on”. I thought, and rightfully so, that
“packages”could be obtained without ever carrying
anything out of the saloon. Only later did I realize that
“package goods” were also intended for off premises
consumption and that the “goods” referred to were
sold in a package,rather than on tap.

Beer has always been an on tap beverage, although
from it’s earliest days different forms of packaging
were available. We all remember reading about Robin
Hood and his Merry Men quaffing “good October
brewing”out of goatskins, an early precursor to the
growler. Gourds were also an early form of package
and I read somewhere that one tribe of early warriors
even drank beer out of the skulls of their conquered
enemies. Come to think of it, it’s not a bad idea. I
imagine that sipping a few old ales out of the scotch-
soaked cranium of Ted Kennedy would offer a taste
similar to that achieved by aging the beer in old
bourbon casks,as a few breweries proudly do today!


One of the earliest forms of packaging is still heavily in
use today. Beer barrels were originally wooden casks
and most breweries employed coopers whose craft
was barrel making. At least one brewery, Samuel Smith’
s, still does. Later steel, stainless steel and aluminum
barrels came into existence. Today’s barrels come in all
sizes, usually with handles to make lifting them easier,
although I’ve never heard of a crowd of thirsty party
goers who were deterred from drinking because they
couldn’t lift the barrels. Where there’s a will, there’s a
way!

Beer bottles first appeared in the 16th century and
were marketed mostly to rich folks because of the
expense of glass. This class distinction lasted right up
until New Jersey ’s first sales tax became law. Sales
tax was only charged on “packaged” beer. Draught
beer for off premises consumption was considered a
drink for the masses and received a tax exemption.
Therefore it was always more economical to run home
with gourd or skull , or even a barrel full of beer,
handles or not.

In the United States during the 19th century over
1500 methods of keeping the beer in the bottle were
tried, all of which employed the use of a stopper, such
as a cork or rubber grommet, and most of which were
unsuccessful at keeping the beer fresh and drinkable.
But in 1892, William Painter invented the crown cap,
which, except for the substitution of a rubberized seal
for cork, is still in use today. The crown cap ensured a
longer shelf life and gave marketers another way to
get the brewery’s name before the public. Early
bottles, both “blob” top and cap sealed were
embossed with the brewery’s name and required a
deposit which enabled them to be used over and over.
The drawback was that taverns or retailers had to
spend time sorting out which bottles had to be
returned to which bottler. ( Early laws prohibited
brewers from packaging their beer at the location
where it was brewed. A separate bottling company was
required to get the beer to market). The standardized
12oz “export” bottle with a paper label eliminated this
problem, and the throw away bottles of the 1950s
eliminated the need to return them at all. Some
breweries, mostly regionals, still use the deposit
bottles. A few, like Straub’s and Stegmaier, still use
deposit pints and I will argue anytime that beer tastes
better out of them.


In addition to the “export” bottle, beer has also been
packaged into half-gallon “picnic” bottles, quarts, 22oz
“bomber” bottles, and 7oz “nips”, especially popular in
New York City and Philadelphia. A relatively recent
addition to beer packaging is the “forty”, shunned by
beer enthusiasts, and loved by folks in search of an
economical drunk. Only high gravity malt liquors are
offered in the “forty” which delivers the alcohol
equivalent of almost seven cans of beer at a fraction of
the cost.

Still available are painted label bottles, used mostly by
West Coast breweries such as Rogue or Stone, but
Pennsylvania ’s Rolling Rock used this packaging as
well.Label collectors hate ‘em!

Today some breweries are experimenting with plastic
and aluminum bottles. These are used mostly at
ballparks so the players don’t get injured when rowdy
fans throw their empties onto the field.

Brown Bottles protect the beer from sunlight which
“skunks” it, but green, clear and even blue (Samuel
Adams Triple Bock) bottles have been used. The most
prolific user of clear bottles is Miller. Their “High Life”
brand has always been sold in clear bottles, but they
use a special hop extract which prevents “skunking”.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with “skunking”, stop by
your local store and pick up some Corona which has
been exposed to sunlight. You’ll become familiar very
quickly!

Specialty bottles have periodically been used.
“Mississippi Mud”, which tastes exactly like it sounds, is
available in squat ceramic bottles that look like jugs of
moonshine. If you’re a bottle collector, buy one, pour
out the beer, and keep the bottle. Don’t buy any
more. An equally nauseating drink, Coor’s Light, was
sold in a bottle resembling a baseball bat. This one I
kept without opening it, since I’d never want anyone
to think I’d actually drunk it. In the 1960s, Rheingold
introduced the “Chug-a-mug”, a squat 12oz bottle
with a wide mouth, especially suited to chugging.At the
time of it’s introduction I worked for American Flange,
inventors and manufacturers of the “Rip Cap”,
designed to keep the Rheingold in the “Chug-a-mug”.
This was a cap that needed no church key. The cap
was removed by grasping a small ring and pulling
upward which caused the scored cap to rip off.
Unfortunately, if not careful, one could also rip off one’
s fingernail. In addition to Rheingold, we also made
caps for Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Iroquois, American and
Hatuey beers. This last was a Puerto Rican brew. I
believe it’s name was derived from the sound one
made after tasting it: “Haaccht…..Ptooey”.


In 1935 Newark ’s Krueger Brewing Company
marketed the first beer in cans made by the American
Can Company which had invented a special enamel
lining (Keglined) that eliminated the off tastes
generated when beer touched metal. Nine months later
the Continental Can Company and Crown Cork and
Seal introduced the spout top can that could be sealed
by a conventional crown cap. These cans were popular
with smaller breweries that couldn’t afford a separate
canning line, since this type of can could be processed
on the existing bottling line. Spout tops, which were
last produced in 1950, looked exactly like brake fluid
cans. I wonder how many sips of Castrol were
accidentally ingested while attempting to achieve a
“package”, and for that matter, how many cans of Old
Dutch were accidentally poured into the master
cylinder by motorists who already had a package on.


In 1962 Alcoa Aluminum and Iron City Beer introduced
“pop top” cans which became so popular that by 1965,
70% of cans were self opening, which included “tab
tops”, “pull ring tops”, and “punch hole tops”. Canned
beer outsold bottles for the first time in 1969.  

Modern day packaged beer has been sold in 30 packs,
cases, 12 packs and 6 packs. Some expensive micros
are sold in 4 packs. The 6 pack became the primary
package because housewives, who bought most of the
beer along with the groceries, found that the 6 pack
was not too heavy to include in the grocery cart. The
best example of 6 pack marketing  I’ve ever seen was
a strong plastic drawstring bag containing six bottles
of Straub’s Beer from St. Mary’s Pa. One could just
open the bag, throw in some ice, grab the drawstring
and Voila: Instant cooler!


Although the 6 pack offers convenience, beer itself
accounts for only about 20% of it’s cost. Packaging is
a significant part of the remainder and seems an
unnecessary expense. What a shame breweries didn’t
jump on the bandwagon with the public utilities. Just
think of it! In addition to water, gas, electricity,
telephone and cable service, fresh draught, piped fresh
from the brewery directly into your kitchen. Only
kidding , of course. Such a service wouldn’t allow for
different styles, so I guess we’ll have to stick with
“package goods” for now. Not a bad way to get a
package on!



Cheers!

Dan
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