Monday 16 March 2009

Top shop

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.


  1. Do you use the coin trick to stop them bending?

  2. I don’t want them pristine, I like the idea that they look like they’ve seen a bit of combat.

  3. I've never really thought about it till now, but I do like to see a little bit of art on the top of a bottle. It's the little details that make it look like the brewer cares :)

    I don't collect them though. My wife collects the labels for me (she's a natural collector of all sorts fo things) as I keep the empties for homebrew. I think it's bad enough I take a photo of most new beers I try :D

  4. I remember talking to Tom and Jasper from the Oxford Bottled Beer Database. They have a huge box with all the bottletops they've ever drunk in it (or something of that magnitude). I imagine it's like a giant ball pool, only a lot more painful to thrash around in.

    And sorry to be dull, but the beer has three units of alcohol in it, and thus would have to cost at least £1.50 under the minimum pricing legislation. If you know where to buy them for that, let me know.