Are all beers 12 oz?

When it comes to beer, one of the most common questions people have is about the typical serving size. Most beers come in 12 ounce containers, leading many to believe that 12 oz is the standard beer size. However, while 12 oz may be the most popular, beers actually come in a variety of sizes. In this article, we’ll take a look at the different beer serving sizes and find out if all beers truly are 12 oz.

Common Beer Sizes

Here are some of the most common beer serving sizes:

  • 12 oz – This is the typical size for most bottled or canned beers. Major brands like Budweiser, Coors, and Miller produce 12 oz containers.
  • 16 oz – Also known as a pint, 16 oz beers are common at bars and restaurants. Draft beers are often served in 16 oz pint glasses.
  • 22 oz – Referred to as a “bomber”, 22 oz bottles have become popular for craft and specialty beers. They allow more beer per serving.
  • 24 oz – Large 24 oz cans have grown as a packaging option, especially for craft beers. They contain two 12 oz servings.
  • 40 oz – Best known as “forties”, 40 oz bottles contain malt liquors like Olde English 800 and Steel Reserve.

So while the 12 oz serving may be the norm, beer comes in many other sizes too. Even within the 12 oz range, there are variations. Some beers may be 11.2 oz or 12.7 oz rather than an even 12 oz.

History of the 12 oz Beer Bottle

To better understand why 12 oz became the standard, it helps to look at the history behind it. Beer has been packaged into bottles since the late 1800s. However, back then most bottles were 6.5 oz rather than 12 oz. The first 12 oz bottle wasn’t introduced until the early 1900s.

Pre-Prohibition Era

Prior to Prohibition in the 1920s, most beer bottles were 6.5 oz, though some breweries also used 8 oz and 12 oz sizes. Since beers were higher in alcohol content back then, the smaller 6.5 oz bottle was typical. The 1918 wartime Temporary Prohibition Act banned the production of beer over 2.75% alcohol by volume (ABV). This contributed to a shift towards larger bottles, since more volume was needed to reach desired alcohol levels under 2.75% ABV.


Prohibition banned the production and sale of beer and liquor from 1920 to 1933. However, some breweries survived by producing “near beer” under 0.5% ABV. With the lower alcohol levels, near beers were packaged into 12 oz bottles to provide more volume. When full-strength beer returned after Prohibition, the 12 oz size stuck since it was already commonplace. The 12 oz bottle became the new standard.


After Prohibition ended, the 12 oz bottle dominated as the primary beer package. Glass companies mass-produced 12 oz bottles specifically for beer starting in the 1930s-1940s. For ease of production, breweries shifted towards the standardized 12 oz bottle. Regional 6.5 oz bottles faded out of use.

World War II also contributed to the prominence of 12 oz beers. With rationing and bottle shortages, standardized bottles were crucial for efficient production. The 12 oz size could be produced most readily. By the 1950s, nearly all beers were bottled and sold in 12 oz containers. This trend continues today with the popularity of 12 oz cans and bottles.

Exceptions to the 12 oz Standard

While many beers today adhere to the 12 oz norm, there are still quite a few exceptions. Certain beer styles and package formats lend themselves to sizes beyond 12 oz.

Pints and Draft Beer

When drinking beer on draft, the typical serving size is 16 oz, also known as a pint. This traces back to old English pub tradition of serving beer by the pint. Most American bars offer pint-sized glasses for draft beer. Even with bottled beer, some bars may serve 16 oz pours. The 16 oz draft pour allows more beer per serving compared to a 12 oz bottle.

Craft Beer Variety

The rise of craft beer has led to more diverse and experimental packaging. Many craft breweries use 22 oz “bomber” bottles instead of 12 oz. This provides more beer and allows a greater showcase of the flavor profile. Craft beers also often come in larger format cans like 16 oz and 24 oz. These appeal to craft drinkers seeking above-average beer servings.

High ABV Beer

For bolder, higher alcohol beers like double IPAs and barleywines, larger formats are common. This could include 22 oz bombers or 750 ml wine bottles. The added volume allows the beer strength to shine while still keeping alcohol content reasonable per serving. It also stretches servings of pricier beers.

Malt Liquor and 40s

Malt liquors like Colt 45, St. Ides, and Olde English 800 are known for their 40 oz bottles. This traces to malt liquor’s roots as an affordable, higher-alcohol option for inner city drinkers. The 40 oz bottle provides ample volume. “Forties” have become an iconic package in hip hop culture and urban communities.

Light Beer

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some beers actually come in less than 12 oz. Many light beers are now sold in 11.2 oz or 12 oz “slim” cans. With less alcohol and flavor in light lagers, the smaller bottles provide adequate servings. This also allows light beers to be priced lower.

The Purpose of 12 oz Bottles and Cans

Looking at today’s beer shelves, it’s clear the 12 oz format remains the gold standard. But why has 12 oz endured as such a ubiquitous package size? There are a few key reasons:


One of the biggest perks of a 12 oz bottle or can is portability. The small, compact size allows beer to be easily transported and consumed in many settings. Beer can go from the fridge to the beach or ballgame with ease. The 12 oz package lends itself well to an active, on-the-go lifestyle.


In terms of alcohol consumption, 12 oz represents a moderate single serving size. It provides enough beer for enjoyment while discouraging overconsumption in one sitting. This made the 12 oz format appealing even early in beer history for temperance advocates. The 12 oz bottle strikes a sensible balance for many drinkers.


As mentioned earlier, the standardized 12 oz package allows streamlined mass production. Breweries can produce bottles or cans en masse knowing 12 oz is the standard format. It also simplifies packaging lines and label design if the package size stays consistent. Having an agreed-upon standard is mutually beneficial for beer companies large and small.


From a cost perspective, 12 oz makes beer more affordable than larger sizes. The price of a 6-pack is kept reasonable by using 12 oz rather than 16 oz or 22 oz containers. This appeals to brewers who want to offer an accessible price point. It also suits beer drinkers looking for value.

How Much Beer is in 12 oz?

When assessing different beer sizes, an important question is “how much beer is actually in 12 ounces?” First, 12 fluid ounces converts to about 355 milliliters. But when looking at it relative to pints, here is the breakdown:

  • A 12 oz beer is 3/4 of a 16 oz pint
  • A 12 oz beer is 2/3 of an imperial pint (20 oz)
  • Two 12 oz beers make up one full pint

So while a pint may be the visual benchmark at bars, a 12 oz bottle or can still provides a substantial portion. Two 12 oz beers equal a proper pint.

Ounces and Milliliters in Common Beer Sizes

Beer Size Ounces Milliliters
12 oz 12 oz 355 mL
16 oz pint 16 oz 473 mL
22 oz bomber 22 oz 650 mL
40 oz 40 oz 1183 mL

This puts into perspective how a 12 oz beer measures up in terms of volume. Despite not being the largest format, 12 oz still provides a substantial single-serving for most drinkers.

The Future of 12 oz Beers

Looking ahead, what is the future outlook for the 12 oz beer package? Here are some projections:

Still the Norm, But Not as Dominant

The 12 oz format will likely remain the norm, but lose a bit of dominance. As craft beers and variety packs continue growing, we may see less uniformity in beer sizes. However, major domestic brands will stick with 12 oz as their bread and butter package.

More Slim 12 oz Cans

Slim 12 oz cans are on the rise, especially for light lagers. The slimmer profile uses less aluminum and is easier to grip. Slim cans may overtake standard 12 oz cans among leading brands emphasizing affordability and drinkability.

Smaller Format Innovation

Some speculate that smaller beer sizes under 12 oz may emerge, following the hard seltzer trend of 8 oz and 12 oz cans. Smaller cans appeal to wellness-minded drinkers. They also allow greater sampling of flavors in variety packs.

Larger Formats Still Key for Craft

Craft breweries will continue leveraging 16 oz, 22 oz, and even 32 oz packages. This provides a point of differentiation from domestic lagers. Larger sizes also reinforce craft beer’s positioning as a premium, high-quality product.


In the beer aisle today, 12 oz packages undoubtedly reign supreme. But beer has been bottled in many other sizes throughout its long history. The rise of the 12 oz bottle emerged through a unique combination of factors including Prohibition, World War II, advanced bottling lines, and market trends. While some beers still deviate from 12 oz, it remains the “gold standard”. Moving forward, 12 oz will likely stay the norm but lose some ubiquity as package innovation continues. Yet for the foreseeable future, when you grab a mainstream beer, chances are it will be a 12 oz bottle or can.

Leave a Comment