Singing the praises of Grolsch’s swingtop cap

IF YOU CAN’T judge a book by its cover, can you judge a beer by its bottle?

Grolsch is betting you already do.

In an effort to increase its share of the U.S. import market (currently ranked No. 21 in imports), the Dutch brewery is launching a big-money ad campaign that will focus not on the flavor of its beer, but the bottle it’s served in.

Specifically, that familiar swingtop bottle cap.

In 30-second spots that will air nationwide, Grolsch says the opening of its swingtop is the drinking equivalent of kicking off your loafers and relaxing.

It’s not the first time a brewery sold its bottle first, not its beer (Rolling Rock’s painted long necks and collectible versions of Nude Beer and Three Stooges Beer come to mind.)

But Grolsch’s campaign got me thinking about the wondrous little swingtop.

I confess, I’m not a huge fan of this imported lager (toss it in a bucket with Heineken or even St. Pauli Girl and Beck’s, and I’d have a tough time picking a favorite).

Nonetheless, I’m a sucker for that bottle top.

It’s easy to use.

It doesn’t require a bottle opener.

It’s recyclable, especially for home brewing.

And it impresses chicks (well, at least the ones I hang around with).

Overall, it’s an elegant solution to the age-old problem of getting your beer back home from the deli without spilling it on your pants.

The swingtop is hardly a new concept, of course. It’s been on top of Grolsch bottles since 1897. A quickie Web search shows the original version probably goes back to the 1870s. That was the era when breweries began moving from kegs to bottles and, according to bottle researcher David Tingen, more than 4,000 different bottle closures were patented.

By the early 1900s, the industry had settled on the familiar crown cork. But Grolsch balked at the switch because of the cost of changing its bottling equipment.

“On the short term, it was cheaper to stay with the swingtop,” said Grolsch marketing manager Steve Middelhoff.

It wasn’t till after World War II, as production increased, that the brewery seriously considered switching to crowns. At the time, the swingtops were assembled and closed by hand – an exceptionally labor-intensive process that, at times, required even the brewery’s CEO to join the assembly line.

But by the ’50s, it was too late to switch. “The swingtops had become such a big identity for the brewery,” Middelhoff said.

Over the years, Grolsch expanded its production to include 12-ounce bottles with typical crown tops. (Today, they account for most of Grolsch’s sales.)

But the brewery knew it would be suicide to kill off its 16-ounce swingtops.

The swingtop, said Middelhoff, is “a brand icon . . . The bottle is more famous than the brand. It’s an asset. You have to leverage on that.”

Now that Grolsch has figured how to install the swingtops by machine, this vestige of 19th-century ingenuity is probably here to stay.

Which is good news for all those restaurants that re-use the fancy bottles as vinegar bottles.

But here’s a warning to the creative types who discovered the ceramic stoppers can be used as a makeshift grass pipe: They’re not ceramic anymore, they’re plastic. Smoking from a Grolsch swingtop may be hazardous to your health.

 Thoroughbred brews

Whether you’re headed for Baltimore or going to watch on TV, the Preakness is one of the great sporting events of the year. Cheer for Smarty Jones with this sixpack.

  1. Victory Workhorse Porter.
  2. Riverhorse Hop Hazard.
  3. Colt 45.
  4. Mare-dsous 8.
  5. Stoney’s, from Jones Brewing.
  6. Rolling Rock ponies.

 Beer radar

Much as I’m pulling for the Flyers, there was something about the Tampa Bay Lightning that appealed. Can’t put my finger on it; possibly had something to do with a playoff promo in which fans who purchased season tickets got all the free beer they could drink. But then the team gave in to anti-beer hysteria. So so much for that . . . The drawn-out saga of the Red Bell brewpub in Manayunk continues. Currently shuttered, the pub is now asking visitors to “name our bar. ” (See for details.) My suggestion: Ye Olde Don’t Hold Your Breath Saloon . . .

Demand for Flying Fish Farmhouse Summer Ale is so strong, the Cherry Hill brewery had to turn to the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre to produce its bottles. The draft version remains Jersey-made, said Fish prez Gene Muller, who adds that the capacity problem should be solved by next year when it hopes to move into a new facility . . .

 Sixpack on the air

Headed for the Preakness in Baltimore this weekend? Tune into Beer Radio – that’s 105.7 on your FM dial – between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for a gabfest on your favorite topic. Joe Sixpack will be one of the guests.


Saturday – 4th Annual Brandywine Valley Craft Brewers Festival (Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, 30 E. State St., Media). Music, food and the opportunity to taste beer from 28 local breweries while doing a good deed: Proceeds benefit the Media Youth Center. Tix: $20, $25 at the door. Taps pour: 1-5 p.m. Info: 610-627-9000. *

 Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Philadelphia Dunkel (his own handmade home brew).


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