A Guide To the Most Popular Beer Sizes

09/04/2019 Beers are served in different vessels like glasses, cans, and bottles based on the type of beer and quantity of serving.

In bars and restaurants, there is often very little consistency in beer serving sizes. In some bars, you might be offered a beer in a 16-ounce pint glass, but at a high-end restaurant, you might be offered that same beer in a specialty snifter or tulip glass. And the same type of inconsistency is also found in the retail trade, where beers now come in many more varieties than just your standard 12-ounce bottle or can. With that in mind, here’s a brief guide to popular beer sizes.

Beer by the glass

Beer Glass

At bars and restaurants, there are three primary types of glass sizes that are used to serve beer: the 4-ounce glass, the 8-ounce glass, and the 16-ounce glass. Each of these glasses is best used for a specific purpose, which is why you might find yourself getting served the same beer in a different glass when you go to two different bars and restaurants.

For example, the 4-ounce glass is almost only used for beer flights. For any tasting, 3-4 ounces is the industry norm, and so the 4-ounce glass can be used for tasting a variety of beers. Importantly, 4 ounces is exactly one-quarter of a pint, the most common size on a bar menu. Thus, it’s easy to see why many beer flight tastings are optimally organized for sets of four people at one time.

The 8-ounce beer glass is the preferred size for high ABV beers. Most 8-ounce beer glasses will have a slight curvature to them, as in snifter glasses and tulip glasses. This curvature is not accidental – it is the shape that has been optimized to catch and concentrate all the flavors and aromas of a specific beer. The higher the alcohol content of the beer, the more likely there will be nutty, cocoa or chocolate overtones that are best captured with a beer snifter glass – much as a Scotch aficionado would also request a special snifter glass in order to fully experience the whiskey he or she was drinking.

The 16-ounce beer glass is generally acknowledged to be the universal standard for ordering the beer. If you walk into a pub in the UK or a bar in the United States, ordering a pint is pretty much par for the course. That being said, there are two different types of pint glasses. The most common are flat-sided, standard glasses. Slightly more unique are the nonic pint glasses, which have a small ridge halfway up the glass in order to help capture the beer’s aroma. Nonic glasses are far more common in the UK than in the United States.

And, putting a whole wrinkle on the standard 16-ounce pint glass is something known as the “imperial pint” glass, which holds 20 ounces of beer, and not 16. The imperial pint is far more common in Europe and the UK than in the United States.

Beer by the can

Beer Can

At one time, aluminum cans for beer were considered to be inferior, at least by small craft brewers trying to differentiate their specialty beers from the mass-market macro lagers. That consensus appears to be changing, however, as craft brewers have now concluded that aluminum cans can provide much superior protection against light and oxidation than bottles.

There are four popular types of beer can sizes:

  • 8.4-ounce can: This is also known as the “nip can,” and is designed to be compact and transportable.
  • 12-ounce can: This is the standard serving size for a beer. Beer makers typically offer 12-ounce cans in pack sizes of 6, 12, 15, 18, 24 and 30.
  • 16-ounce can: This is the same size as the standard pint and has experienced a surge in popularity as craft brewers have embraced this size can as the best size to showcase their most interesting creations.
  • 19.2-ounce can: Also known as the “stove pipe can,” this size has experienced the fastest growth in packaged retail sales over the past few years.

Beer by the bottle

Beer Bottles

At one time, the bottle was the predominant way that beer was sold at retail locations. And, of course, if you order a beer at a bar or restaurant, you would hardly expect someone to bring out a can – instead, you would expect to have your beer served in a bottle. In terms of color, brown is the preferred color; however, some brands have embraced the green bottle color as part of their overall marketing and promotion (Heineken is one example).  There are four primary bottle sizes for beers:

  • 12-ounce bottle: This is the standard beer bottle size, and beer makers usually provide the option to buy these bottles in packs of 6, 12 or 24.
  • 22-ounce bottle: Once known as “bombers,” these larger bottles were formerly quite popular with small craft brewers, especially for limited-release beers. However, these same craft brewers are now transitioning to 4-packs of 16-ounce cans. New England IPAs led the way, and now it looks like the rest of the industry is following.
  • 750 ml bottles – These beer bottles are the same size as a standard wine bottle and have become quite popular as a way to showcase specialty beers, especially wild and sour beers. These 750 ml beer bottles are sometimes caged and corked, giving them even more individuality and elegance.
  • 64-ounce growler – How do you transport beer from a brewery or local craft brewer? The answer is the growler, which is specifically sized and configured to transport draft beer. A growler looks a lot like a glass jug with a small handle by the mouth of the container. In addition to glass, growlers can also be made of stainless steel and ceramic. A variant of the growler is the “Crowler,” which is a canned growler.

Of course, these are not the only sizes for beer. If you go to a brewery or pub, you will see kegs, for example. The most popular keg size is the half-barrel, which holds 15.5 gallons of beer, or the equivalent of 124 pints of beer (which is the same as 165 12-ounce bottles).

As can be seen above, the choice of beer size might seem arbitrary at first but is actually based on the changing structure of the beer industry brought on by craft brewers. If the goal of the big macro lagers was to maximize serving size to sell as much beer as possible, the goal of the small craft brewers is to find just the right size to maximize the taste and presentation of their beers.

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