Whiskey has changed a lot since it was first invented in the 15th Century.
Distillers have introduced many different ingredients to obtain new flavours, including corn, wheat, rye and other grains.
There have also continually experimented with new ways of distilling and ageing their spirits, which is why we have so many types of whiskey today.
One of the most interesting changes in the world of whiskey is how it has been bottled. There have been dozens of differently-shaped whiskey bottle produced over the years, in many sizes.
From miniature 50ml bottles that you might find on an aeroplane through to the huge 3 litres “Texas Mickey” bottles which come with their own pump as it is too heavy to pour directly from the bottle with accuracy! A lot of bottles have been used over the years.
In this post, I’m going to share some information on some of the different whiskey bottle sizes that have been used. I’ll also explain why some countries use 750 ml bottles while others use 700 ml.
A (Short) History Of Whiskey Containers
Although the art of distillation has been around for over two thousand years, whisky was only developed about 600 years ago.
We know this because of historical record describing the death of a chieftain from “taking a surfeit of aqua vitae” — which was the name for whiskey at the time.
The earliest whiskeys were extremely strong spirits that were typically single-distilled. They didn’t get to spend much time ageing before being consumed, which made them fairly rough on the palate.
These early whiskies were usually transported in casks, barrels, carboys, clay pots, ceramic jugs, stoneware jugs, metal flasks, or leather flasks.
These containers came in a wide range of sizes. Although glass was used in Ireland and Scotland around this time, it was rarely used to hold whisky.
The Move To Whiskey Bottles
By the late 18th Century, whisky was being produced in commercial quantities and mostly sold in salt-glazed stoneware bottles. It was rarely sold in glass bottles because glass was so expensive at the time.
The shape of these early glass whisky bottles varied greatly. Whisky was sometimes sold in ‘chestnut flasks’ which had a bulbous body and slender neck.
In the United States, they began to use squat, cylindrical bottles, which were less likely to fall over or break. Many early glass flasks were flat-sided, pear-shaped or oval.
The invention of automatic glass bottle blowing machines in 1880 made glass much more affordable and made it easy to create glass bottles of a standardised size. Manufacturers could then produce bottles identical in size at a low cost.
Most bottles produced in the later 19th Century and early 20th Century look like current bottles. They were usually cylindrical in shape, like a bottle of Glenlivet.
Jack Daniels made their famous square bottle was first made in 1895, with a few other whisky makers following suit.
Prohibition in the United States made flat, wide, “hip flask” style bottles more popular as they were easier to hide on the body.
Miniature whiskey bottles became much more popular around this time. Gradually, the kinds of bottles used became standardised.
What Size Whiskey Bottles Are Common?
The most common whiskey bottle sizes in the 20th Century have included:
Miniature (1.5 oz/44 ml then 1.7 fl oz/50 mL)
Miniature whiskey bottles were very popular in prohibition-era United States. The original U.S. miniature bottles were the same size as the jigger (1.5 oz/44 mL), which was used to measure spirits.
They were also commonly available in the U.S. as ⅛ Pint (2 oz. or 59 mL). The size of miniature bottles was changed to 50 ml after metrification.
This bottle is well-known because it is still used on most commercial flights.
Half Pint (6.8 U.S. fl oz/200 mL)
Called a naggin in Ireland or a media pinta in Spain, this is a small bottle that contains about 2 drinks worth of whiskey.
Demi/Shoulder (11.8 U.S. fl oz/350 mL)
A Demi is half the size of a standard EU T2L Liquor Bottle. It is considered a pint in Europe metric measurements.
A Shoulder holds the same amount of whiskey but has a flask-like design. Shoulder bottles are called a double naggin in Ireland.
Tenth (12.8 U.S. fl oz/378 mL) — Outdated
This is an outdated bottle size that was replaced by the 375mL bottle. It was known as a ‘Commercial Pint’. The ‘Pinta’ is a similar bottle size, which halfway between the U.S. and European pints at 12.7 U.S. fl oz/365 mL.
Half Litre (500 mL)
This bottle size is considered a standardised metric ‘pint’ in Europe. However, it is not used in the United States.
European Spirit Bottle (23.7 U.S. fl oz/700 ml)
This is the standard spirit bottle size currently used by countries in the European Union. It is known as a European metric ‘quart’.
Not used in the United States. Before moving to this size, whisky bottles in the UK were typically 26 ⅔ fluid ounces bottles.
Fifth (25.4 U.S. fl oz/750 ml)
The non-EU standard liquor bottle, which is a U.S. metric ‘quart’. This is the most common spirit bottle size in the United States. Originally, a Fifth was 25.6 U.S. fl oz/757 mL but was replaced by the 750 mL metric quart bottle.
Litre (33.8 U.S. fl oz/1000 mL)
A standardised metric ‘quart’ bottle. Often found in duty-free shops in airports!
Imperial Quart (38.5 U.S. fl oz/1.14 L) – Outdated
Called a ’40’ in Canada. This bottle size is outdated and no longer used.
Half Gallon (59.2 U.S. fl oz/1.75 L)
This bottle is known as a Handle in Europe because it usually has a handle on the side. Called a 60 pounder in Canada because it is almost 60 fluid ounces.
In the United States, the outdated half-gallon bottle was 64 U.S. fl oz/1.89 L.
Texas Mickey (101.4 U.S. fl oz/3 L)
This is a huge bottle that usually comes with a pump for dispensing the whiskey.
Why Are Standard Whiskey Bottle Sizes Different Between Countries?
Government regulators have attempted to standardise bottle sizes between countries because it is easier for trade.
It also gives consumers some certainty about what they are receiving when purchasing a bottle of spirits and makes it easier to compare value.
In the UK, the standard whiskey bottle size was 26 ⅔ fluid ounces up until 1980, when they changed to 750ml. In 1992, the EEC (or EU as they call it now) changed the standard spirit bottle size from 750ml to 700ml.
In the United States, the size of spirit bottles was regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (ATTTB).
In the late 1970s there was a huge push for the United States to move to the metric system, so the ATTTB adjusted bottle sizes.
They made the standard sprit bottle size 750 mL because it was close to a standard ‘fifth’ of a gallon.
Concerned that imported 700 mL bottles would confuse consumers, the ATTTV banned them. That’s why Americans have 750 mL whiskey bottles and Europe has 700 mL.
So there you have it, a short rundown on common whiskey bottle sizes. For more whiskey related articles, subscribe to the blog!