The History of the Glass Beer Bottle
The history of beer dates back to the early civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, before pasteurization and sterilization techniques became commonplace. Beer had to be consumed immediately after it was finished, often from the same vessel in which it was brewed.
Storing and shipping beer in glass bottles gained popularity around the 19th century when brewers became convinced that it was the best way to keep the beer fresh for a longer period. For some reason, glass bottles became renowned for storing beer, with the original ones having a green hue. Less advanced glass production techniques failed to remove impurities like ferrous iron, resulting in a green tint similar to that seen on vintage Coca-Cola bottles.
The Problem With Clear Glass Bottles
In the mid-19th century, clear glass became more available but was often considered too expensive to be used for beer. Beer producers also quickly discovered that beer didn’t stay as fresh in clear bottles due to the detrimental effects of UV rays from the sun, which is a natural enemy of beer.
In a phenomenon known as “lightstruck” beer, the acids in beer, particularly the alpha-acids in hops, react with sunlight, triggering a chemical reaction that results in a skunk-like smell. Beers that contain significant amounts of hops, especially European pilsner lagers, are susceptible to skunking. However, modern brewers have developed light-stable hops to prevent chemical reactions caused by exposure to solar radiation.
Brown Bottles and the Return of Green Bottles
In the 1930s, beer producers realized that using brown glass bottles would help protect the beer from harmful UV rays, much like sunglasses protect our eyes. Brown glass is still widely used today by famous beer producers, including domestic brands like Budweiser, Coors, and many craft beer breweries.
However, during World War II, beer companies faced a shortage of brown glass for manufacturing beer bottles, forcing them to revert to green glass bottles. Although green bottles don’t provide as much protection from sunlight, they still perform better than clear bottles in preserving beer freshness.
Instead of using poor-performing clear bottles for their higher-quality beers, breweries began using green glass bottles. Over time, green glass bottles became associated with premium quality beer in the eyes of consumers. While there is no longer a necessity for producers to use green bottles, the color has become so closely tied to the identity of certain renowned beer brands that it’s difficult for them to make a switch.
As for clear glass bottles, modern techniques now allow beer producers to apply UV protective coatings that help keep the beer fresh. However, considering sunlight as a natural enemy of beer, it’s always advisable to store beer in darker containers, whether they are green, brown, or clear glass bottles, to avoid the skunking effect.
Does Beer in a Green Glass Bottle Taste Different?
All beers have distinct tastes, which is what makes the beer scene so fascinating. However, the color of the glass in which the beer is packaged doesn’t directly affect its taste. If you put a premium beer into a clear or green bottle, it will taste the same. The only factor that may impact the beer’s flavor over time is exposure to sunlight, which can be better prevented with darker bottles.
Although green bottles won’t provide as much protection against UV rays as brown bottles, they still offer more shielding compared to clear bottles. Nevertheless, advancements in brewing and packaging techniques have reduced the importance of glass color. UV coatings and non-light reactive hops now allow beer to stay fresh for longer, avoiding the “lightstruck” skunky taste.
Green bottles still tend to symbolize higher quality beer, but this association is more about branding and perception than actual flavor. To ensure that your beer stays fresh for an extended period, it’s always a good idea to store it in a darker place to minimize the effect of light.