A case of beer, a crate of beer, a box of beer, a carton of beer, or a slab of beer if you’ve been Down Under to Australia, we’ve all heard the terms.
But what is a rack of beer? And why do beer distributors more often refer to a half rack of beer than they do a rack?
Confusion about beer racks also occurs with “racking” being a term used in the brewing process where a fermented brew is transferred from one vessel to another, often for bottling or kegging. So when somebody refers to a rack of beer are they talking about a packaging size of the beer or a stage in the production of a batch of beer?
Restaurants can also sometimes refer to a serving or sampling tray of beers as a rack which can actually be elaborate and elongated custom-made planks turned into a beer rack.
And finally, just like a wine rack, you may have a homemade or custom-bought rack that you use to proudly display your latest collection of IPAs.
So let’s try and clear up this confusion about the word “rack” when it comes to beer. In reference to beer packaging, how many bottles or beer cans make up a rack? Is it the same number in a rack worldwide? And why would anybody call it a rack, what’s wrong with the traditional case or crate?
A Few Basic Factors in Beer Packaging
Traditionally beer in America is sold in bottles, cans, kegs, and of course glasses in your favorite restaurant or bar (I’ve even been served beer in a beer pong cup in some less savory establishments!).
Cans of beer will normally come in one of four sizes:
- 8.4 oz can, also popularly known as the “nip can” – designed to be compact and ultra-transportable. They are normally sold in a corrugated cardboard beer case of 24.
- 12 oz can – the standard serving for American-style beers and lagers. Beer makers will normally offer 12 oz cans in packs of 6, 12, 15, 18, 24, or 30.
- 16 oz can – the same size as a standard pint here in the US. The craft beer explosion has seen this adopted as the best size for beer lovers to take home a “pint” of their favorite beer. Also known as a tallboy can.
- 19.2 oz can – a giant of a can, these cans have seen the biggest growth in sales over recent years. They contain over 1.5 standard servings and a common slang term is a “stovepipe can”. Ideal for those beer drinkers who like to just grab a can and go, they are normally sold as single cans in venues like gas stations or music festivals.
Bottles of beer in the US tend to come in four sizes too :
- 12 oz bottle – the standard serving size for most beers. Even the American Medical Guidelines class one 12-ounce bottle of 5 percent ABV beer as a standard drink. Most brewers will offer the option to buy this size of bottle in packs of 6, 12, or a case of 24.
- 22 oz bottle – once known as “bombers” these larger format bottles were previously popular with many craft brewers, especially for their limited-release beer varieties. More recently those same craft brewers have been transitioning to 4 packs of craft beer in 16 oz cans for that “take home a pint” experience. Normally due to the larger dimensions of beer bottles that are 22 oz, they would be sold in boxes of 6 or 12 bottles.
- 750 ml bottles – the same size as a standard wine bottle, these bottles have become very popular when showcasing some of the special releases of craft beer brewing companies, especially those who make wild or sour beers in a lambic style. They make awesome craft beer gifts as they are sometimes caged and corked giving them an individual elegance. Normally sold individually rather than in cases or crates.
- 64 oz growler – When you want to transport a flavorful beer home from a craft brewer or the local brewery you may have used a growler. Looking a lot like a glass jug they even have a small handle by the wide mouth of the bottle which has been specifically sized and configured for transporting draft beer. In addition to being made of glass, growlers can also be made of stainless steel or ceramics. Not really sold in crates or cases, they are empty vessels that you only fill with beer for temporary transportation and storage.
Why Are There 24 Bottles in a Crate or Case of Beer?
After the end of WWI, glass bottles became more widely available to UK brewers who found that it was the ideal way to sell premium beers in addition to beer from casks in their pubs.
Wooden crates were developed to carry the beer during transfer, and it so happened that a 6 x 4 crate or case was the sensible weight limit for the delivery drivers (draymen) to handle.
The bottles would weigh about 8kg in total for 24 half-pint bottles, the beer roughly the same, and the beer crate about 5kg for a total weight of about 21 kg – easy enough for a burly drayman to move about quite easily! For pint-sized bottles, the crate would hold 12 bottles.
The beer business in the UK developed the practice of returnable bottles where the empty beer bottles would be returned to the brewery to be washed and then refilled. The crates or cases which were developed were the perfect way for the pub owner to store the empty bottles before sending them back.
To this day, bottles of beer and beer in cans come most commonly in a case of 24, even though most are now in disposable, non-returnable bottles.
When people talk about a case of beer or a crate of beer they normally mean 24 cans in a carton or maybe 24 bottles in a crate or plastic case.
In the aisles of your local supermarket or grocery store, beers will be commonly sold as six-packs held together in mini cardboard “crates” or with plastic tags.
How Many Cans or Bottles in a Rack?
Depending on where you live, a rack of beer can have many different meanings. Here in the US, we may talk about a six-pack of six beers, a half rack of twelve, or a crate/case of 24 beers. It’s very rare somebody mentions a full rack.
However, in most other countries in the world, a rack of beer refers to 30 bottles or cans. A half rack in this case would obviously be 15 bottles or cans of beer.
To further complicate matters, in certain parts of Germany a rack of beer is sold as 16 returnable bottles. When you want a refill of beer, you take the rack back to the seller to get 16 fresh bottles. Usually, the deposit for the bottle will be part of the price of the beer. Kids and teens often return the racks to claim the spare change.
Occasionally, in the US, a brand may release a special edition pack called something like the Bud Lites 30 rack which contains 30 cans of beer. Normally a way of making more affordable beer, these 30-pack beer packages will be sold at discounted prices when compared to regular domestic beer prices.
Commonly seen in the amusing beer ads of the Super Bowl, racks of beer are seen as the ultimate party pack of beer and a convenient way of buying beer in bulk.
Other varieties of beer available in 30 racks here in the US include:
- Coors Light (they also do a half-rack of 15)
- Bud Light
- Rolling Rock
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Keystone Light
- Miller High Life
- Hamm’s Lager
- Michelob Ultra
- Natural Ice
On average, a rack of domestic beer such as these will cost between $18 and $26, well below the average beer price of $1 a can for many other sizes of crates or cases of beer.
A Summary of Beer Package Sizes
|NAME||NO. OF CANS OR BOTTLES||NOTES|
|12 PACK||12||Also known as a half rack when a rack refers to 24 bottles|
|HALF RACK||15||When a rack refers to 30 bottles|
|RACK||16||German-style rack of 16 returnable bottles|
|30-RACK||30||Commonly sold as affordable beer boxes between $16 - $28 for 30 cans or bottles.|
How Did a Rack Get Its Name?
Beer rack discussions never seem to agree on where the term rack comes from in relation to the packaging of beer.
The physical dimensions of a beer bottle or can are designed for easy packing yet stacks of bottles can often fall down in a glass avalanche. The first theory recognizes the need for speed and bulk in the beer business.
Whether it’s at the local beer depot or in a delivery truck the beers are likely to be boxed and then stacked up. In this sense, the word rack could simply mean piles of stored beer.
A more bizarre myth refers to the roofing rack of a car. When buying beer in bulk for a party at home you may end up buying six-packs rather than bulky cases or crates of beer. If the beers are arranged in sixes, then four six packs make a rack as these four boxes of beer can sit comfortably on the roofing rack of a typical car.
This theory is, I think, the most unlikely as most beer lovers would put their beer in the trunk, not on the roof. You don’t want to risk leaving the beer on the roof of your car where it may get so warm it degrades before you even open it. Worse than that, it could slip off the roof of the car or be stolen by some pesky college kids.
In the Pacific Northwest, especially Washington State, a rack is still a commonly used term for a 24-pack of beer, probably dating from the times when due to strict alcohol laws, beer distributors in Washington only delivered beer in single stacks.
The stacks came in packs of 24 with each pack having a single row, so the taller bottles would fit snugly in a single rack of a fridge.
The least interesting theory states that when beer is racked from the fermenting vessel to be either kegged or bottled, the bottle is one part of the rack. It makes sense, I suppose, but it’s not the best anecdote!
Although it can be confusing to define a rack of beer, a crate of beer, or a case of beer, as long as you understand how many bottles are in the package you are buying it shouldn’t really be an issue. The context of each term varies depending on where you are.
Racking beer and a rack of beer are two completely different things. Racking beer is a transferring process used in the production of beer, while a rack of beer refers to the packaging of beer.
Finding a 30-pack beer package known as a rack is easy and affordable in most states.
When somebody asks you what a rack of beer is, you could answer that it’s a 16-pack, 24-pack, or 30-pack of cans or bottles. Or you could just say, “buy a case instead.”