Why is it called a fifth and a handle?

Answered by Matthew Yawn

Why is it called a fifth and a handle?

The terms “fifth” and “handle” are often used in reference to bottles of liquor, but have you ever wondered why these specific terms are used? Let's delve into the origins of these names and uncover their fascinating history.

1. The Origin of “Fifth”:
The term “fifth” is derived from the fact that the standard bottle size for liquor used to be one-fifth of a gallon. This measurement was commonly used in the United States, especially during the early 20th century. At that time, liquor was frequently sold in gallon-sized jugs, and the one-fifth size became the standard for individual bottles.

2. Measurement in Gallons:
To understand why one-fifth became the standard, we need to look at the historical context of liquor measurement. In the past, liquor was commonly sold and measured in gallons. This practice can be traced back to the early days of distilling, when were used to store and transport . These barrels were typically sized in gallons, and the measurement carried over to the sale of bottled liquor.

3. The Rise of One-Fifth Bottles:
As the demand for individual bottles of liquor grew, it became more practical for distilleries and retailers to package their products in smaller sizes. The one-fifth size, equivalent to approximately 757 milliliters or 25.4 fluid ounces, became popular due to its convenience and affordability. This size allowed consumers to purchase a reasonable amount of liquor without committing to a larger, more expensive bottle.

4. The Influence of Prohibition:
The term “fifth” gained further prominence during the era of Prohibition in the United States (1920-1933). During this time, the production, sale, and distribution of alcoholic beverages were banned. However, the possession of small quantities of liquor for personal use was allowed. People would often purchase bottles labeled as medicinal or sacramental, which were typically one-fifth of a gallon in size, conveniently fitting into a pocket or purse.

5. The Mismatched Quart Bottles:
In the late 19th century, a peculiar situation arose where some bottles labeled as “quarts” contained less than a quart of liquid. This mismatch occurred due to variations in glassblowing techniques and the desire to use standardized bottle sizes. As a result, customers may have been surprised to find that their “quart” bottle held less than the expected amount. This discrepancy likely contributed to the continued use of the term “fifth” as a reliable measurement for liquor bottles.

The terms “fifth” and “handle” have their origins in the historical context of liquor measurement and packaging. The one-fifth size became popular due to its practicality and affordability, and its association with Prohibition further solidified its usage. The term “fifth” continues to be used today, even though the standard bottle sizes have evolved over time. So, the next time you come across these terms when purchasing or discussing liquor, you can appreciate the rich history behind them.