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Take a quick scan of the spirits shelves at your local liquor store or survey the contents of your own cabinet and you’ll note that amidst the different labels, bottle shapes and colours, some containers only hold 700 ml while others may contain 750 ml. European brands are sold in the former, while American products support the latter.

It’s not that miserly European companies seek to increase their profits or spendthrift American distilleries add value with a bonus 50 ml of liquor. It’s a measure of control.

Considering the amount of tax there is on spirits, the European Union forced its distilleries to embrace 700 ml as its standard measure three decades ago as a way of combatting fraud. Even if liquor is smuggled between different member countries, that bottle suggests the duty has been paid somewhere within the EU. Imported spirits must comply with the size format, which means that distilleries looking to do business could face the increased costs of a separate bottling run in addition to adjusting its labels to meet the labelling criteria of its various export markets.

The 750 ml bottle has been the standard for the United States since the Carter administration adopted metric measurements in 1980. Similarly, European-sized spirits bottles were banned to protect against grey market sales. But there are signs 700 ml bottles will be allowed access to American markets, which will mean greater access to spirits made by smaller artisan bottlers and distillers. Likewise, boutique producers in the States could opt to use 700 ml bottles to sell at home and abroad for the first time.

At home, Canadian producers and retailers don’t face similar regulations. We’re allowed formats ranging from 50 ml airline bottles to the three-litre formats that’s often identified as a Texas Mickey. Consumers have, in theory at least, access to spirits from any distillery with products in the market.

Our lone Canadian eccentricity is the 1.14 ml package a.k.a. the 40 ouncer for distilled spirits. There is no hard liquor equivalent in Europe or the United States, unless you count 40 oz bottles of malt liquor, the inexpensive, sweetish and high-octane brew immortalized in rhyme by rap acts such as 2Pac, N.W.A, and Wu-Tang Clan. The rare restriction regarding bottle sizes that comes to mind concerns the Ontario market; you cannot purchase spirits in one-litre bottle formats at the LCBO. That size is exclusive to duty-free outlets.

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