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Canadian beer bottles: Do you know your history?

By: Troy Burtch

Image courtesy stubby.ca Author: Canadian Living Credits: Image courtesy stubby.ca

Menus & Entertaining

Canadian beer bottles: Do you know your history?

By: Troy Burtch
Canadian beer producers have always fought for supremacy, offering consumers different styles, different options and creative advertisements, which have in turn etched themselves into our psyche. The evolution of Canadian beer bottles has played a big role in the marketing strategies behind large Canadian breweries since being introduced to glass.

Canada's first beer bottle: The growler
Before Canada became an industrialized nation, beer could only be consumed in taverns, hotel drinking rooms, saloons and pubs. In those times it was not uncommon for saloon owners to brew their own beer, thus creating what we know today as the brewpub. These owners introduced the growler, a 1.89 litre bottle (also referred to as a jug) that holds about 5-3/4 beers (based on a standard 341ml bottle) and was/is best consumed immediately. Breweries today continue to take advantage of growlers, offering customers the opportunity to take home some of their freshest products.

Bombers and Quart bottles
Bombers (650ml) and Quart bottles (750ml) followed the growler once large breweries installed bottling lines to capture more sales through distribution. Beer could still be drank in pubs and saloons, or taken home in growlers, but the Canadian public gladly accepted these new bottles into their homes.

These bottles would eventually give way to a short, thick bottle that would go on to symbolize Canadian beer worldwide. Today, when you get hands on a bomber or quart bottle, chances are it came from a craft brewery or brewpub. These bottles offer up more than a standard 20 oz pint and are ideal for sharing with a group of friends.

The beloved Canadian stubby
The stubby bottle was introduced to the Canadian beer drinker in 1961 and became an instant hit. The stubby, which received its famous name due to its small and fat stature, was easier to ship, stack and store as the thickness of the bottle meant less breakage, making stubbies instantly popular with breweries. 

Stubbies were also popular with drinkers as its small shape helped the beer chill quickly. The stubby actually held 341ml, which is the standard for present mainstream long neck bottles. As popular as they were, stubbies did not survive the ever-changing market for a number of reasons.

One of those reasons at the time was to appease female drinkers (who for some reason where not happy holding the stubby), so big companies started incorporating American-style long neck bottles. Today there are a number of Ontario craft breweries offering their products in stubbies: Brick Brewery in Waterloo and Heritage Brewery in Carleton Place, to name a few.

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn more about craft brewers in Canada on page 2
Stubby's skinny replacement: The long neck
Between 1982 and 1986, the large national breweries (having already creating partnerships with some U.S. breweries) introduced Canadians to the long neck bottle in different shapes and colours, with brown still being the standard colour. 

Green or clear bottles, which were typical colours when beer was first bottled, were being re-marketed as the new wave in beer. Carling O’Keefe (now under the Molson-Coors tree) started selling Miller in its clear long neck bottle and other breweries noticed the public’s response and they were soon following. 

It should also be noted that in Ontario, the Beer Store (owned by Labatt Breweries of Canada and Molson Breweries Ltd and later Sleeman) agreed to regulate the use of long necks, causing everyone in the industry to comply should they sell beer through the stores; thus cementing the fate of the stubby, bomber and quarts (though they were still popular in Quebec).

Canadian beer bottles today

Today the Canadian brewing industry is experimenting with bottles of all shapes, sizes and colours; essentially reverting back to the types used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The bomber, the growler, quarts and the stubby are making comebacks thanks in large part to Canada’s flourishing craft brewers.

Remember stubbies? Take a tour through our slideshow of Canada's stubby beers from the '70s and '80s

Beer is part of our national past time, sewn into the fabric of who we are as Canadians and where we’ve come from. Author/photographer Douglas Coupland even used a picture of a beer bottle for the cover of his Souvenir of Canada (2002, Douglas & McIntyre) book and Canadians coast to coast would have no problem identifying it as a stubby.  Beer has been by our side through the birth of a country, survived the tough times of prohibition and is currently witnessing a rebirth in the craft brewing renaissance.  Everything you need to know about the evolution of Canada can be obtained through a brief history lesson on the subject of beer.


Troy Burtch grew up in a small town and was an avid beer bottle collector during his youth.  He currently writes for TAPS: Canada’s Beer Magazine

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Canadian beer bottles: Do you know your history?

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