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Beer: A sad farewell to 'stubby'

Canadians love their beer. And from the time Canada's first brewery opened in the 1600s, the history of our beer industry has been an intoxicating one. Mergers and acquisitions, questions over suitable advertising, debates about the shape of our bottles, and the emergence of microbreweries — these are just a few fascinating topics in Canadian brewing history. So sit back, raise a glass and enjoy as the CBC Archives looks at Canada's beer industry.

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"This is another example, to us, of Canadians feeling inferior," says Phelan Scanlon of the William Lyon Mackenzie Appreciation Society. He's talking about the Canadian brewing industry's recent decision to abandon the short, brown, uniquely Canadian "stubby" bottles in favour of the taller, slimmer "American-style" bottles. His group, which is dedicated to preserving all things Canadian, is staging a beer boycott in protest. In this 1983 As It Happens interview, Scanlon laments the loss of the stubby.
• The stubby was the industry standard across the board from 1962 to 1983. Because of its uniform size, different breweries could easily interchange and recycle bottles. Small but strong, the stubby could be washed and reused an average of 20 times. By comparison, the modern longneck can only be reused an average of 16 times.

• When Canadian breweries made the switch from stubby to longneck in 1983, each company had its own distinctive bottle. The decision to switch was made for marketing reasons. Sales were flat, and the major brewers thought a new bottle shape could give sales the boost they needed.

• Molson shelled out a whopping $18 million to convert its bottling machines.
• Reaction to the longneck was mixed. Some beer drinkers liked the new bottle for its style and feel. Others, however, resisted the Americanization of the beer bottle and lamented the loss of the little stubby.

• In a Food in Canada article titled "Bring back the stubby!" writer David Menzies reveals that the stubby was almost resurrected in 1992 when Canadian brewing companies met to re-set the standard dimensions of the longneck. The stubby was passed over, however, when focus groups showed that women preferred the longneck to the stubby.

• The "longneck" is also known as the industry standard bottle (ISB). As of 1992, all longnecks became uniform in height, weight and width dimensions and could thus be interchanged between breweries. For example, Molson's can now receive a Labatt bottle and wash, fill and re-label it for market.

• In a 1998 Globe and Mail column titled "Lament for the short and stubby," P.T. Jensen eulogized the compact beer bottle. He wrote, "Stubby was unpretentious. No glamour, all function. Stubby was egalitarian. Millionaire or mooch, you got your brew in a stubby."
• In May 2002, the Brick Brewing Company re-introduced the stubby to the Canadian market. Jim Brickman, president of The Brick Brewing Co., brought back the stubby as a nostalgia novelty gimmick to be distributed throughout Ontario.
Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: May 30, 1983
Guest(s): Phelan Scanlon
Host: Elizabeth Gray, Alan Maitland
Duration: 5:37

Last updated: May 16, 2014

Page consulted on May 16, 2014

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