Have you seen the birth announcement? A few weeks ago the standard 750ml alcohol bottle was blessed with a little brother! The new bottle looks like its older sibling, but is 6.667% smaller, containing 50 milliliters less.
And as younger brothers sometimes will, the little scraper may well protrude and displace its older brother in the years to come, with the 700ml bottles gradually replacing those containing 750ml.
In theory, switching to the smaller bottle will mean the price of alcohol will be six percent lower. Yay! But if history is a guide, the price break won’t actually happen. This means that you will likely pay the same for less. Boo!
Here’s how the newcomer got there and why.
The federal government has regulated the size of your liquor bottles since the 1930s when the ban was repealed. The United States Congress gave the agency that would become the Office of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade (TTB) the power to regulate bottle sizes for two main reasons: to prevent sellers from deceiving consumers into bypassing them. And more importantly, the standard sizes made it easier to keep track of the federal taxes owed by companies on the alcohol they sold.
Regulations put in place in 1934 and 1936 designated a list of Imperial units that could be used to sell alcohol. This included the familiar quart, pint, and fifth (one-fifth being one-fifth of a gallon), but also odd scoops, including a 1/16 of a pint (i.e. one ounce), which didn’t was only available for brandy. The federal government has authorized 38 different bottle sizes.
This set of measurements lasted for several decades until President Gerald Ford signed the Metric Conversion Act in 1975, which made decimal metric units “the preferred system of weights and measures for trade and commerce in the United States. “. The TTB followed a year later, forcing a change from imperial to metric; producers had four years to phase out the old and introduce the new. Bottle sizes allowed were limited to six, ranging from 50ml (the “pinch” or “mini”) to the 1.75 liter “handle”. (Two more metric sizes were added in later years.) The newspaper ads featured helpful metric conversion charts to help consumers step into the bewildering new European era.
So why was the 700ml bottle added to the metric family last month? Blame a global coalition. In this case, the distillers, distributors and exporters all insisted on allowing new sizes. It was not a new attempt – Washington state, for example, pushed for change in 1987, arguing that size restrictions stifled price competition. The feds did not agree at the time.
This time around, those pushing for change again argued that the United States had become an isolated island of 750ml bottles amid a sea of 700ml bottles – the most standard size anywhere else in the world. world. (India is another major 750ml island.) So those who wanted to export alcohol – from the United States to Europe or vice versa – had to order two sets of bottles and calibrate their equipment for two. separate bottling cycles. It was nobody’s idea of a frictionless trade.
The TTB was now so receptive to change that it actually proposed to eliminate all size restrictions a few years ago – if a distiller wanted to bottle their devil’s liquor in a 666ml bottle, they would be welcome to do so. Regulators noted that one of the original reasons for setting fixed sizes – to monitor alcohol taxes – no longer applied. “It is no longer necessary to limit the filling standards to ensure an accurate calculation of tax obligations or to protect income”, noted the TTB in 2019, noting that it “now verifies the tax obligation on the basis of production and removal records of a producer… ”
For the most part, distillers cared little for the prospect of an anarchic world of outdoor bottles – during the public comment period, 110 wrote in favor of removing size restrictions, while 1,141 were opposed. “We were convinced by the arguments of commentators that a proliferation of sizes would cause consumer confusion, different state container size requirements and market disruption,” said Thomas Hogue, Chief Business Officer and Congress at the TTB.
“The TTB seems to have taken a kind of happy medium,” says Jarrett Dieterle, author of Give me freedom and give me a drink!, a guide to cocktails and “extravagant” alcohol laws, published last year. “Don’t eliminate all size standards, but add new options as well.”
Distillers who switch to 700ml bottles for domestic sales will now have the ability to export with less hassle and hassle. (Although they will still be required to use labels that meet the labeling standards of their export markets, which can vary widely.) The cost of maintaining separate bottling cycles for two markets could be easily absorbed. by large traditional producers, but for artisans. rationalization reduces a significant headache and lowers a barrier to export markets. (There are still new and expensive tariffs in the European Union, but that’s another story.)
Maggie Campbell, president and chief distiller of Privateer Rum in Massachusetts, favors the 700ml bottles, as Privateer has started to explore overseas markets. And she thinks the smaller bottles will be popular with bartenders because they’re slightly easier to handle. She recommends artisanal distillers to switch to smaller bottles, as Privateer thinks. “When we run out of 750ml in stock, we’ll probably only go 700ml,” she said.
Will slightly smaller bottles be followed by slightly smaller price tags? It’s too early to predict, but if history is any guide, you might not want to bank your savings just yet.
“You might be surprised to learn that the half gallon has shrunk by almost 5 ounces to 1.75 liters,” New York Times reported in 1976, when metric bottles first arrived. “But do not worry. There should also be a similar price drop. “
Was here? I went back and looked at the newspaper ads for the same liquor store a year apart. At Chris’s Liquor store in Austin, Texas, a half-gallon of Jim Beam sold for $ 9.29 in 1977. A year later, the same store sold the smaller 1.75-liter handful of Jim Beam for. $ 9.27. Henry McKenna’s bourbon sold for $ 10.99 in 1977, with the price unchanged in 1978, when the bottle was almost eight percent less. Don’t be distracted by the low price of a half gallon of whiskey. The point is, the liquor producers or liquor stores pocketed the bonus.
“I think that’s one less dram we get per bottle for which they’ll charge us the same amount,” a commenter recently wrote on Reddit.
If that’s any consolation, reducing the size while maintaining the price is common practice among food products at all levels. It even has a name – “shrinkflation” – and it can affect everything from coffee (bags dropping from 16 oz to 12 oz) to laundry detergent formats to tea – a box that once held 20 bags will remain there. same size and same price, but now only contains 12 bags. It’s a simple way to increase profits without raising prices.
Sad, I know. But because you endured so much last year, I’ll save the good news for last: the 700ml bottle size surely means rarer goods from overseas will find their way to American shelves. If a scotch producer or a European importer of rare rums has only one or two barrels of a refined spirit, it is not worth having two bottling cycles for two markets. But that’s a different story if a 700ml bottle can be sold as easily in America as it is in Europe, then expect to see a wider selection of interesting spirits.
This all means more work for alcohol lovers – sifting through shelves, paying attention to bottle sizes, and researching new additions. And it will surely be more expensive, but it is always the case with a growing family.
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