Bottle Sizes

Alcoholic beverages come in a wide assortment of bottle sizes and some of them have some rather peculiar names. Knowing a little about the different sizes makes planning a party much easier for the home bartender.

Bottle sizes may seem confusing today but they were wildly so before the 1980s. Liquor, beer, and wine made in the United States were bottled with American measurements to determine volume.

Many, many alcoholic beverages are imported, though, from countries that use the metric system instead. Even volume from one bottler to the next used a different amount of liquor to fill bottles so it was almost impossible to know, to the ounce, how much booze a bottle contained.

Federal US standards were established in 1980 but some confusing distinctions remain. American ounce measurements were adjusted to match metric milliliters.

The fifth used to be a standard bottle size for hard liquors and wine, containing one-fifth of one gallon of liquor (or 25.6 ounces). That measure has been adjusted by a fraction to now contain 25.4 ounces, or 750 milliliters (ml).

Slightly larger is the one-liter bottle, containing 1,000 ml, or 33.8 ounces. A standard US quart is 32 ounces so a liter is about two tablespoons more than a quart.

A half-gallon bottle no longer contains a true half gallon (64 ounces) although most people outside the liquor industry still refer to it as such. Today it actually contains 59.2 ounces, or 1.75 liters.

On a smaller scale, the half pint (8 ounces) now contains only 6.8 ounces (200 ml) but the pint-size bottles got fuller, now holding 16.9 ounces (versus the old 16 ounces) to be the equivalent of 500 ml.

A split of wine or champagne contains 6.8 ounces, or 200 ml.

The smallest miniature bottles, often referred to as airplane or hotel bottles, contain 1.7 fluid ounces, or 50 ml.

All wines sold in the US since 1980, regardless of where they were imported from, must contain 750 ml, or 25.4 ounces. It’s possible to find wines bottled before 1979, before federal standards became the requirement, and they will contain slightly more wine. They’ll probably be quite pricey, too, given their now-rare vintage.

Very large bottles of wine with very interesting names are once again available in the US. After the 1980 standardization, importation of these bottles was banned because it was impossible at that time to make such large bottles to exact capacity. They’re allowed once again because they now contain wine in exact liter increments.

  • A magnum, meaning great, bottle of wine contains 2 liters of wine, the same as two standard-size bottles of wine, or .53 gallons.
  • A Jeroboam, named after the first king of the biblical Northern Kingdom, contains 4 liters (4 standard bottles), or 1.06 gallons.
  • A Rehoboam, named after the first biblical king of Judea, contains 6 liters (6 bottles), or 1.59 gallons.
  • A Methuselah, the oldest man in the Bible, contains 8 liters/bottles, or 2.12 gallons.
  • A Salmanazar, a biblical Assyrian king, contains 12 liters/bottles, or 3.17 gallons.
  • A Balthazar, one of the three wise men, contains 16 liters/bottles, or 4.24 gallons.
  • A Nebuchadnezzar, biblical king of Babylon, contains 20 liters/bottles, or 5.28 liters.

One gallon of wine weighs almost nine pounds so it’s easy to see how unwieldy some of these very large wine bottles can be. They are certainly not practical for everyday use but they make some truly memorable display pieces.

Some mathematically challenged drinkers say the US liquor industry makes their heads spin, in more ways than one.