BY REBECCA COCKING
FRIENDS OF GLASS
Although beer has always been a very British tradition, recently it has evolved into a whole new trend that is incredibly dynamic and exciting. The unstoppable rise of craft beers and premium ales means that artisan brewing here in Britain is now so popular that there are more breweries per capita than any other country. With this in mind, never before has it been so important to differentiate your beer brand from competitors and stand out from the crowd. The good news is that the answer is already at hand with the humble glass beer bottle.
Today, a glass bottle not only communicates premium quality, along with 100% recyclability and perfect taste preservation, but with the latest technologies, it also comes in different shapes, sizes, colours and designs to suit the individual marketing needs of each brewer.
Jane Peyton, leading beer sommelier and author, explains the versatility of bottles when it comes to branding and communication: “Bottles offer so much variety. They can be customised with designs to reflect the brewer… the shape of the bottle can be used to convey a brand image, with some brewers adopting such distinctive shapes that they really stand out from the crowd.
“What’s more, as we are seeing beer and dining becoming more popular…a glass bottle on a table looks much more elegant than a can of beer. Some brands use champagne shaped bottles and champagne corks to seal them, which look fabulous. The cork can also be sealed in wax for added distinction and an air-tight seal.”
Sharon Crayton, head of marketing at Ardagh Group, Glass, Europe, agrees with Peyton that craft breweries are becoming more conscious and savvy in their choice of bottles. She says: “No longer is it a case of finding any old bottle and label. Like the well established craft beers from the larger brewers, the smaller companies now recognise that success depends on creating a distinctive brand, and one of the most effective ways of telling the brand’s story is through its packaging.”
Charlotte Taylor, marketing manager at Beatson Clark Ltd explains how this can be done: “With the wide variety of shapes and sizes available from stock, even the smallest craft brewer can differentiate their brand from the competition. There are so many ways to decorate a standard bottle, such as screen printing which is proving very popular with younger craft beer brands such as Bedlam Brewery who are moving away from the more traditional look. We even have an embossed beer bottle available from stock, so a brewery can buy a 330ml beer bottle with ‘Craft Beer’ embossed on the shoulder from as little as one pallet.”
And it’s not just the range of designs that glass offers brewers which makes it so appealing – the very nature of glass also draws in craft beer marketeers. Crayton adds: “Glass has superior aesthetic quality and visual appeal. Of course we face competition from other materials but we are still finding that when we present the full benefits of glass as a natural, totally recyclable, visually attractive presentation, craft brewers appreciate the quality parallels that connect with the values of their own product.”
Fiacre O’Donnell, head of strategic development at Encirc, agrees: “Glass will always have much more of a premium feel to it than say a can. Craft beer brands rely on their products standing out and having that quality feel, which only glass bottles can provide.”
The latest technological advances also offer added benefits for breweries when it comes to the production of beer bottles. In an age where many organisations are working hard to adopt more sustainable practices, light-weight glass beer bottles are proving a popular choice for many brewers. These lighter bottles save on raw materials while reducing carbon emissions. Paul McLavin, marketing and business development manager at O-I confirms this trend. He says: “We are constantly working on projects that include light-weighting as standard now. Glass is 100% infinitely recyclable and natural but light-weighting makes it an even more sustainable choice.”
Fiacre O’Donnell adds: “Most of the major glass container manufacturers will use a process called narrow neck press and blow to produce beer bottles. It is used to manufacture containers with narrow finish diameters. The process has enabled glass manufacturers to increase overall productivity and reduce weight and variations in the thickness distribution of beer and beverage bottles.”
As well as light-weighting technology, today’s bottle manufacturers are also employing the latest techniques to offer an increasing range of sizes, shapes and colours, as well as innovative bespoke containers incorporating premium decoration. Sharon Crayton says: “Embossing, an established decorative technique for centuries in the glass industry, is coming back into vogue and has been given the added emphasis as a result of new design software and production technology. We can reproduce very complex embossing to almost pinpoint accuracy using freeform software, ensuring that the design is replicated accurately in the cutting of the moulds, and so achieving better quality and consistency. We can also apply many other decorative techniques using special inks and substrates, designing the bottle to suit whatever finish is required.”
Charlotte Taylor at Beatson Clark adds: “Smaller breweries can even have customised embossing without the high volumes associated with bespoke packaging. You can add bespoke embossing to a standard bottle from as little as 150,000 units and with tooling costing less than that of a fully bespoke container.”
Whilst the case for the look, feel and design of a beer bottle is an important one in helping a craft beer stand out as premium, perhaps one of the most important aspects of the beer bottle is what it offers brewers from a technical perspective. Although Jane Peyton understands that for some brewers, other materials are preferable, she stipulates that there can be technical issues for brewers who choose not to use beer bottles. She says that glass bottles are much more effective when it comes to extracting oxygen, which if not removed from the vessel can adversely affect the taste of the beer. The oxygen is extracted from the bottle before the bottle is filled.
Rob Lovatt, head brewer at Thornbridge Brewery, confirms the risks presented by oxygen when other packaging such as cans are chosen instead of bottles. He says that when bottles are not used, overcoming this problem can be very expensive. He says that his brewery has invested in a high quality bottling line to make sure that “the beer is packaged in a format that gives the freshest tasting beer possible”.
And finally, Jane also explains that beer bottles are a good choice for a process called bottle conditioning whereby the brewer puts beer with live yeast into the bottle and that means the beer is in its natural state – not filtered or pasteurised. She argues that glass bottles are currently the best option for this process.
So it seems that the beer bottle is not humble after all but is instead a key part of the craft brewing story with a lot to offer. It provides today’s brewers with a lightweight, adaptable, customisable, sustainable and taste preserving vessel for storing and selling beer. The latest beer bottle designs are dynamic and innovative, helping individual beer makers find a point of difference for their premium ales and this in turn is helping to take the category forward. As craft brewing continues to reach new heights in Britain, it appears that bottling it really does make perfect sense.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020