300 words on bottle tops, or crown corks as they are properly known. How on earth can one manage that? Well if James Joyce can produce a whole novel based on a day in Dublin (beery fact: Bass’ No 1 is mentioned in one of the later chapters), then I’m sure I can deal with a much less demanding need for words. First of all, start thinking about those folk who collect them. What do they do with them? What does it mean to their lives? How much fun do they have when they visit conventions of fellow collectors? Is much beer drunk? What’s the rarest bottle top in the world.
I have an admission: I collect them and attach them to the wall in my beer cellar, just behind the bottles standing on the shelves. But what does it do for my life? Obviously it will not help to stop the caving in of the pub industry or bolster up the fragile sense of ego that beer seems to have in modern times, but it does give me a sense of continuity; a sense of calm; a sense of belonging — tops for the beers most enjoyed take one back to the time it was drunk. Bottle tops as time machines!
To my right as I write there is a pale blue-coloured top for a Watou beer. It was one I drank the other night — a gorgeously rich and unctuous beer that would be beyond the reach of those with modest incomes if the minimum pricing lobby had any success (the Watou I drank was 9% and very good it was too). The outline of a monk is etched against the background, and the words Prior and Watou top and tail the object. But what does it mean? It’s an identity for the brewery, a sense of who they are, a small add-on to the more visible and expected branding of paper labels. Then I wonder if bottle-top art is necessary? What does a bare bottle top denote? It could be an amateurish ignorance of the necessity for a full and complete branding image (you’ve got the label, why not complete the full set with a decorated bottle top?), or is it small brewery shortness of cash? For me, a bare bottle top connects with memories of my dismal attempts at home brewing; brown bottles full of yeasty yucky liquid and topped with bare dulled bottle tops. So there you are: we need bottle top art.
I’ll be honest, I like bottle top art, there, that wasn’t too difficult was it?
For a complete understanding of bottle top collecting and other forms of beery madness, Martyn Cornell’s beer Memorabilia is essential.