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Why I Love Stubbies

I, it seems, have developed a reputation among Edmonton beer people as “the stubby guy”. And, no, it is not a reference to my diminutive height (or other things). It is because I am rather obsessive about stubby beer bottles.

You see, I adore stubbies. I believe they are the perfectly designed beer bottle, especially for homebrew (which I explain below). Plus I just like them. Always have. I have dozens of them and they serve as the anchor bottles to store my homebrew. I just really, really like them.

And I want to explain why.

First a short history. The stubby (see photo for those of you too young to know what a stubby is) was introduced in 1961 by the Dominion Brewers’ Association (now Brewers’ Association of Canada). That association was (and still is) the industry group for the big corporate brewers in Canada. They concocted a plan to replace the myriad of bottle shapes and sizes that scattered the Canadian beer landscape at the time, which was costly, ineffective and wasteful, with a single, industry-standard bottle that they would all use. The squat, rounded design of the bottle was chosen because it was both lighter and sturdier and was easily stack-able. It was introduced among all the breweries on a single day – March 1, 1962 – and for more than twenty years is was the only way to purchased bottled beer.

The stubby met its demise in 1984, when, under pressure from growing import sales from the U.S., the big brewers adopted a long neck bottle (which most U.S. beer was bottled in). After a few variations it turned into the industry standard bottle we see today. The stubby, without its institutional support, quickly disappeared. It lingered for a few years among small brewers, such as the original Drummond Brewing in Red Deer, but eventually became extinct. Today it is only found  – in an adulterated, screw top form – holding a couple of beer. All I have seen is Brick’s re-creation of Red Cap and Red Stripe.

Most of the stubbies I own were last packaged as Drummond products (probably an Alberta anomaly). I have removed the labels but keep many of them in their original “Drummond Lager” and “Beer Beer” cases. The boxes remain useful because modern boxes don’t fit stubbies. For the record, I refuse the new screw-top stubbies, as that just feels wrong.

So, why do I think this archaic, obsolete bottle is so amazing? Let me give you five reasons:

  1.  It is the perfect homebrew pour. Really. I have tested it out. The angle on the curve leading to the neck is ideal for capturing the sediment from a bottle-conditioned beer while maximizing the volume of sediment-free beer reaching the glass. The longneck allows too much sediment too early. To be clear, I am not anti-sediment, but I want to present my beer in the best possible fashion, which means leaving the sediment behind. I often swirl and drink the sediment later – for the B vitamins.
  2. It was the first environmental beer bottle. Most Canadians don’t realize we are unique among countries for having a sophisticated system of beer bottle re-use. The main advantage of the industry standard bottle is that rather than crush it and make something new, you can simply wash it, re-sanitize it and put more beer in it. Canadian beer bottles are used, on average, 15-20 times (according to the Brewers’ Association of Canada). In the U.S. most bottles are crushed, melted and re-formed into new products, a much more energy-intensive and wasteful process. The stubby had the same advantage. I love thinking as I package my latest batch that the bottle I am using has probably seen 40-70 beer in its lifetime (counting the 10-20 times I have used the bottle). I also get a kick knowing that the bottle might have been produced in the early sixties and is still doing its job.
  3. It is a symbol of Canada. The stubby is a Canadian creation. I don’t need to expand on this – as most of you already know it. But there is something cool about drinking beer from a bottle created, produced and used in Canada exclusively. No other nation adopted the stubby, so it is uniquely ours.
  4. It really is stronger and easier to store. The 1960s designers were right. It is more durable and resilient than the long neck. I occasionally break a long neck during the bottling process, as stress on the neck causes cracks. I have never, not once, broken a stubby during bottling. The damned things can even take a fall from a counter top. The compact design provides strength, while its short, stocky shape makes it easy to stack on a shelf.
  5. They are a great conversation piece. I love taking stubbies to parties. Canadians are nostalgic about stubbies. They see it as a representation of an age lost. I realize stubbies aren’t that (they are a corporate creation, just like the current industry standard), but I always get into an interesting conversation about the bottle. If I were single, I suspect it might even get me a date or two.

Be careful not to over-simplify my point. I appreciate a number of beer bottles. For example, I am a big fan of swing-top bottles, especially the 1-litre size (thank you Howe Sound and, formerly, Yukon) for my homebrew. And the glass can be more important, since that is what you actually drink the beer from.

However, I think I have good reason to love the stubby. And hopefully this article has led you to feel more kindly towards it than before.

But if that is not the case, I will happily relieve you of any excess stubbies you happen to have lying around.

 

25 comments to Why I Love Stubbies

  • Red Stripe is one of my favorite stubbies.

  • old coyote

    Just a couple of bits of information, Alberta never got the stubby until 1964 and BC never introduced it until 1965. I have no idea why, the first brewery in Alberta to use it was Labatt, Edmonton which helped introduce their brands to the Alberta market. It was an amazingly efficient container and I believe it was removed from the market simply as a way to change the image of beer brands rather than the product. Sadly little has changed for the big guys as witnessed my Molson’s big move this year – the wide mouthed bottle/can!

    • beerguy

      Old Coyote,

      Thanks for the regional history. I did not know that.

      And, indeed, the switch was to make Canadian beer “look” more like those damned US beer seen on the television.

  • And they were oh so much more efficient on the bottling line! Less breakage, more stable on a moving chain conveyor, easier to handle, safer pallet loads… the stubby (or compact bottle) was great. The subsequent wave of PMB (private mold bottles) was a logistical nightmare on the production line.

    The only downside? Well, rail was king then. You try unloading a boxcar full of new glass one case at a time in -40C weather! I don’t miss that!

    • beerguy

      Thanks for the insights from someone who actually worked with them.

      The -40 degree unloading is not the fault of the stubby. I remember my father complaining bitterly after a day working team track at the railyard in that kind of weather.

      Cheers.

  • Shane

    Not sure if this is an old wives tale or not, but I heard the stubby was removed after a series of female only focus groups. Stubby vs. Long Neck phallic innuendo and subconscious sexual psychology must have played a role.

    As well, didn’t South Africa (Castle Lager) and Australia/New Zealand (Coopers) use the stubby as well?

  • Walter Leipurts

    I am not arguing with the strengths of the stubby. Another one you might mention is the greater amount of bottles you could fit into a fridge in a bar. I was a designer at Carling O’Keefe and then art director at Molson post merger and every focus group had some wise drinker say “Bring back the stubby.” Well, I was doing the graphic design fort Brick Brewery when we put all the brands into the stubby, we were advertised as “The Home Of The Stubby” and no one gave a damn.

  • eric

    These were great bottles. Any idea where someone could pick up a few for bottling homebrew?

  • robcj

    A friend and I picked up about 600 stubby bottles from a guy in Sherwod Park two years ago. I bottled all of my beer in stubbies until I recently moved to kegging. People really liked the stubbies. I should have given them to another home brewer but I just left them out by my garbage and made some bottle pickers day.

  • Ray

    Hey, I could have written this article! I have been collecting & using stubbies for 20 years of homebrewing.

  • Lorne

    I love stubbies, too! In fact I recently worked one into a graphic design project for a great package design event in Vancouver. Check it! http://unicyclecreative.com/wordpress/2014/01/the-iconic-stubby-beer-bottle-brings-package-design-issues-to-a-head/

  • […] The stubby was introduced in 1961 by the Dominion Brewers’ Association (now Brewers’ Association… […]

  • […] The stubby was introduced in 1961 by the Dominion Brewers’ Association (now Brewers’ Association… […]

  • Ruth

    I have 2 stubbies still full of beer it has pildnerlabels and one lid is green with red stripe and pilsner write across it the other is green lid with red flag across it with pil written across it, is this because of different times they came out?.

  • Phillip

    I’m curious about the facts listed in the article above… It states that the stubby was introduced in 1961… introduced from where? If you google 1936 Coors waterfall flat top beer can, you will find that the litho on the back of the can shows Coors beers bottled in stubbies… Now I don’t know when they truly came about, but the idea that they came about in 1961 Canada is humorous at best…

    • beerguy

      Phillip,

      The particular version of the stubby famous in Canada was adopted as the industry standard bottle in 1961. There were versions of “stubby” beer bottles before that, no question. The exact dimensions of this bottle were a creation of the brewers’ industry association at that time. The more important point is that they made it the industry standard – creating a universal beer bottle for every brewery regardless of brand. This is something that still hasn’t happened in the U.S. to this day.

      I hope this helps.

  • McMurray Beer Man

    I have just loaded my wife’s Acura to the rafters with 60 dozen stubbies for the trip from Vancouver to Fort McMurray for our growing group of homebrewers! I love the Stubby!

  • Vern

    The stubby is making a comeback,I saw them in the liquor store the other day.

  • Vern

    The stubby has made a comeback,I saw some in the B.C. liquor store the other day with Coors light beer inside them.

  • fortmcmurraybeerman

    I have a correction from my above comment – I actually returned from the west coast with 85 dozen stubbies collected from a brewing mate. This will bring my own personal stock to 110 dozen AND providing 50 doz to two other brewing buddies. Plus, another picked up the remaining 85 doz to start his own brewing experience. Long Live the Stubby!

  • Brian

    Where is the best place to buy 1960’s era stubby bottles? Molson Canadian or Labatt’s for example.

  • Stubbies were introduced in Ontario and Quebec in 1961. We here go t them mid 1962. Phillips in Victoria sells one brand in a stubby. Beerybear.

  • Robin Tremblay

    I found an old stubby in the woods near Oka Qc and i wonder what year this bottle was created Code is BV 6 an a kind of a logo and a 6

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