We’ve all been there – staring blankly at a menu or store shelf trying to decipher the meaning behind various beer sizes like “tallboy” and “smokestack”. With so many new craft beers and specialty releases hitting the market in ever-changing vessels, it can be downright baffling trying to pick the perfect pour. Whether you’re a seasoned beer enthusiast or just looking to make sure you don’t show up to the party with too little or too much brew, having a grasp on standard beer sizes takes the guesswork out of choosing the ideal beverage for any occasion. In this guide, we’ll walk through the evolution of beer containers, demystify the most common sizes, how many ounces in a can of beer, and equip you with tips to select your perfect pour every time.
A Basic History of Beer Containerss
A Historical Journey Through Beer Containerss have been brewing and storing beer for thousands of years, with archaeological evidence dating back to 3400 BCE in Ancient Egypt. Over the centuries, civilizations experimented with vessels made from various materials including ceramic jugs and amphorae. By the Middle Ages, wooden barrels emerged as a popular storage method, enabling brewers to transport their product over distances.
Fast forward to the 19th century, and glass bottles enabled beer to be sold in smaller quantities directly to consumers. Regional preferences shaped bottle design, with signature stubby brown bottles becoming associated with German pilsners. Here in the U.S., Prohibition brought a halt to commercial brewing from 1920 to 1933 but also resulted in illegal speakeasies serving beer in nondescript containers to avoid detection. By the 1950s, the standardized 12-ounce can of beer emerged as an affordable and portable option, later joined by aluminum cans which kept beer colder and prevented light damage.
Today, craft brewers are getting creative and releasing small-batch beers across a spectrum of vessels from cans and bottles to market-fresh growlers. The variety can be thrilling for enthusiasts, but also a tad overwhelming for casual imbibers just looking to pick the perfect size for their needs.
Cans vs. Bottles: A Never-Ending Debate
The battle between canned and bottled beer has sparked many a heated debate between friends, colleagues, and fellow bar patrons. So what’s the verdict? Each container has its pros and cons.
Team Can touts benefits like:
- Portability – Easier to toss in a cooler or backpack without breakage
- Affordability – Generally cheaper than bottles
- Sustainability – Recyclable aluminum has less environmental impact
- Freshness – Better UV light and oxygen protection to avoid “skunking”
Team Bottle counters with factors like:
- Tradition – More classic appearance and feel
- Sensory experience – Allows you to see, smell and pour beer
- Versatility – Wider variety of bottle sizes and shapes
- Shareability – Easy to split a bottle versus a can
There’s merit to both arguments. At the end of the day, your decision may come down to personal preferences around taste, drinking ritual and environmental impact. The good news is brewers today offer quality options in both cans and bottles. Focus on the beer inside rather than the vessel, and you really can’t go wrong.
Demystifying The Most Common Beer Sizes
Once you’ve settled the can vs. bottle debate, it’s time to navigate the ever-growing array of available sizes. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common options you’ll see from craft and mainstream brewers alike:
The Standard 12 oz Can / Bottle
The 12-ounce container has been a ubiquitous American staple since Prohibition, offering the perfect single-serving portion. Advantages include:
- Convenience – Easy to find almost anywhere from gas stations to supermarkets
- Affordability – Typically the cheapest per-ounce cost for beer
- Portability – Compact and easy to transport
- Versatility – Suitable for everyday casual drinking or stocking a party fridge
With nearly endless variety, it’s no wonder the 12 oz size remains a go-to for many beer lovers today.
The “Nip” (8.4 oz)
Usually sold in packs of 4 or 6, 8.4 oz “nip” cans offer increased portability and portion control. Benefits include:
- Variety – Ability to sample multiple styles in one pack
- Less alcohol – Lower ABV% helps avoid overindulging
- Portion control – Good for managing intake at events or games
- Snack pairing – Slim cans pair well with appetizers or small plates
Nips provide flexibility to enjoy a nice beer when you don’t want a full 12 ounces.
The Tallboy (16 oz)
Tallboy cans contain a full 16 oz for increased value. Highlights include:
- Bigger serving – More beer for your buck
- Premium appearance – Often used for specialty, craft or high ABV beers
- Single serving – One can equals two 12 oz beers
- Sharing option – Big enough to split between two people
When looking for a hearty beer experience in personal or shareable format, you can’t go wrong with a tallboy.
The Smokestack / Pounder (19.2-24 oz)
These extra-large cans signal a serious beer offering, with 19.2-24 oz of liquid. Consider them when:
- Celebrating or relaxing – Big enough for a personal nightcap
- Sharing with a group – Good for 3-4 people to sample
- Drinking specialty beers – Often used for higher ABV or limited releases
- Making a statement – Grabbing attention at bars, parties or tailgates
Smokestack cans make it clear you mean business with your brew.
Price Per Ounce Comparison
|Typical Price Range
|Price Per Ounze
|$1.00 – $2.00
|$0.08 – $0.17
|16 oz Tallboy
|$2.00 – $3.00
|$0.13 – $0.19
|19.2 oz Smokestack
|$4.00 – $6.00
|$0.21 – $0.31
As shown above, smaller sizes generally offer better per-ounce value, with incrementally higher costs for larger formats.
Factors Beyond the Fluid Ounces
Size doesn’t just determine the liquid volume you get. It can also impact:
- Flavor – Increased surface area in smaller cans means faster temperature change. Drink nips and 12 oz beers cool for optimal taste.
- Temperature – Lower liquid volume in compact cans chills faster while smokestacks stay colder longer.
- Environment – Recyclable cans have a sustainability edge but some brewers are using lightweight bottles.
- Price – Unique packaging costs more so specialty beers often come in larger or unconventional sizes.
- Occasion – Tailor size to the setting, choosing smaller pours for casual drinking or larger cans for dedicated beer sessions.
Once you factor in all elements beyond the fluid ounces, it becomes easier to dial in an ideal beer size for the moment. A final tip: pay attention to ABV. Higher alcohol beers often come in larger sizes with the volume to maintain flavor integrity.
Beyond the Basics: Innovations Expanding Beer Sizes
The craft beer renaissance has sparked no shortage of innovation in packaging and sizes. Today you’ll see:
- Crowlers – 32 or 64 oz fresh beer filled from a tap into a large can. Perfect for transporting draft beers from a brewery.
- Growlers – Reusable 64 oz jugs filled with fresh draft beer for takeaway consumption. Regional taprooms often use custom growler designs.
- Collectible Cans – Limited edition specialty beers in unique can shapes, colors and graphics. These often command a collector’s premium.
- Mini Kegs – 5 liter and other small kegs designed for home and micro-tap use. Offer fresh draft beer without the waste of growlers and crowlers.
As consumers seek ever-more convenience, brewers respond with clever portable tap solutions in larger takeaway sizes. Sustainability is also driving momentum around reusable growlers and mini kegs. Expect even more innovations as technology enables smaller batch canning runs.
Choosing Your Perfect Pour
With so many factors and options to weigh, choosing the optimal beer size can seem daunting. Here are some tips to guide your decision:
- Consider availability – Search out specialty formats like crowlers at local taprooms. Otherwise stick to widely available cans and bottles.
- Factor in portability if you’ll be traveling or on the go. Compact cans or nips simplify transport.
- Mind your budget and aim for the best per-ounce value. Free your inner beer economist.
- Buy singles or variety packs to sample different sizes before committing to a full 6-pack.
- Think about storage space if stocking up. Larger sizes take up more fridge real estate.
- Focus on flavor and make sure the size matches the beer type and your desired drinking tempo.
- Enjoy experimenting – Trying new sizes is part of the craft beer experience.
The most important size choice comes down to your personal preferences and taste. Luckily, today’s beer landscape offers more delicious variety in sizes than ever before. Trust your instincts, try new formats, and relish finding that perfect pour. After all, not knowing what you’ll get is part of the adventure.
Conclusion: How many ounces in a can of beer
With this crash course on modern beer sizes under your belt, you can now stare down those cooler doors or craft beer menus with clarity instead of confusion. While the variety may seem endless, just remember that each container offers its own compelling benefits. Whether you’re a devotée of dainty nips for portion control or adore the bold foreshadowing of a smokestack can, voice your preference. The brewers have your back. And if the mood strikes, don’t be afraid to switch up sizes and keep exploring. The beer world today offers more delicious diversity than ever before. Now it’s your turn. What’s your go-to beer size and why? Share your thoughts below.
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.