Strange Brew: When the Bottle Matters More Than the Beer Inside

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If the biggest selling point for a new beer is the bottle that it comes in, what does that say about the beer itself?

There’s no doubt that the labels on beer, wine, and liquor influence our buying decisions. Vodka is supposedly tasteless, so the main justification for buying a top-shelf brand would appear to be that then you can show off the top-shelf label. If many drinkers were honest, they’d admit that they often pick out wines for no other reason than the bottles feature cute animals or a funny name. Studies have even shown that wine drinkers are willing to pay more for wines that feature fancy, hard-to-pronounce names. As for beer, some brewers are resorting to crude, offensive names like Raging Bitch and Dirty Bastard to help them stand out from the pack.

Lately, beers are taking the superficial approach to the next level. It’s not enough to come up with a clever name or an eye-grabbing label. To attract drinkers to a beer nowadays, the beverage must come in a bottle that’s unique, even iconic, the thinking goes.

(MORE: Why You Should Judge a Wine Strictly by the Label)

Bud Light Platinum was introduced a year ago to much hype as a smoother, higher-alcohol version of regular Bud Light. But many say that much of Platinum’s success in the marketplace can be attributed to its unique cobalt-blue bottle, rather than just its taste or how much of a wallop it packs. Likewise, Coors Light has boosted sales by being offered in various aluminum beer bottle forms for the past couple of years.

The latest example of a beer putting the emphasis on the bottle is Beck’s Sapphire. The new brew, which is “encased it in an exclusive, sleek black bottle,” according to a company press release, will be featured in a Super Bowl ad that’s pretty much all about the bottle:

Beck’s Sapphire is being introduced to Super Bowl viewers with a 30-second spot titled “Serenade” featuring a surprise admirer – a black goldfish – who is fascinated by Beck’s Sapphire’s one-of-a-kind black bottle. The goldfish circles the bottle, mesmerized, to the thumping rhythms of Chet Faker’s remix of Blackstreet’s legendary 1996 song, “No Diggity.”

(MORE: Budweiser Tries to Get All Sophisticated By Putting on a New ‘Black Crown’)

It reportedly took more than two years for engineers to develop the fancy black glass bottle, which requires two trips through the furnace before it’s ready to hold beer. “This bottle not only protects our beer from light better than common brown bottles, it also provides a distinguishing image for Beck’s Sapphire,” the Sapphire site states. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch summed up this sentiment more bluntly:

The distinctive look is meant to help the beer stand out in upscale nightclubs, bars and restaurants.

In other words, insecure drinkers concerned about what others think about them can hold their special Bud Light Platinum or Beck’s Sapphire bottles up proudly with the knowledge that no one will think they’re drinking (God forbid) regular Bud Light or Beck’s. These bottles are meant to stand out, and they’re meant to attract drinkers who want to stand out as well.

(MORE: Trouble Brewing? The Craft Beer Vs. ‘Crafty’ Beer Catfight)

Heineken, meanwhile, has been testing a new bottle that stands out even more than Platinum’s blue or Sapphire’s black. It’s not really a bottle at all, but a glass “boxed beer” concept that was introduced over the summer. The bottles (or glass boxes) are cube-shaped rather than rounded. If you didn’t see the Heineken label, you might guess there was cologne or maybe olive oil inside, not beer. So it’s at least successful in that no one would ever confuse it for another beer. As a bonus, the boxy beers can be stacked, making cases easier (and cheaper) to ship than standard bottles.