Does a bottle’s color affect the flavor of the beer inside?
Well, just like the debate over beer bottles and cans, there are many differing opinions. But if all beers were to taste the same no matter what color the bottle is, why do we have so many options — brown beer bottles, green beer bottles, clear glass, and even metal bottles now?
Let’s try and settle this debate for once and answer why high-quality beers nearly always come in a green bottle!
The History of the Glass Beer Bottle
The history of beer goes back to the early civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia before pasteurization and sterilization techniques were commonplace. The beer had to be drunk as soon it was finished, often from the same vessel in which it was brewed.
Storing and shipping beer in glass bottles became more popular around the 19th century when brewers became convinced that it was the best way of keeping the beer fresher for longer.
One romanticized myth I particularly like was of a monk who took some beer on a picnic with him in a glass wine bottle. When he got home, the monk was surprised the beer had been kept so well, and word soon spread of this improved way of storing beer.
For whatever reason, glass bottles became famous for storing beer; the original glass bottles always had a green hue. Less advanced glass production techniques failed to remove the impurities like ferrous irons, which gave the glass 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 seen as too expensive to be wasted on beer consumers. Beer producers also quickly learned that beer didn’t stay as fresh in clear bottles as UV rays from the sun, a natural enemy of beer, would affect the beer quality.
In a phenomenon known as “lightstruck” beer, the acids in beer react, particularly the alpha-acids in hops, with the sunlight, which triggers a chemical reaction and causes a “skunk” like smell.
Any beers which use significant amounts of hops, especially those European pilsner lagers, will be subject to skunking. However, modern brewers have now developed light stable hops to prevent chemical reactions from exposure to solar radiation.
Brown Bottles and the Return of Green Bottles
In the 1930s, beer producers found that utilizing brown glass bottles would help shield the beer from those harmful UV rays, in the same way that sunglasses protect our eyes.
Brown glass is still used today by many famous beer producers, including many domestic beer brands like Budweiser, Coors, and much of the craft beer scene.
However, there was a period during WWII when beer companies could not obtain enough brown glass to manufacture their beer bottles, and they had to revert to bottles made of green glass. Although green bottles won’t protect as well from the sunlight, they certainly do a better job than clear bottles in keeping beer fresh.
Rather than sticking their higher-quality beers back into those poor-performing clear bottles, beer companies swapped out those brown bottles for green glass bottles. As a result, green glass bottles of beer were seen by beer consumers to represent a quality premium beer.
Although there is no need for the producers to use green bottles anymore, for some of the more famous beer brands, the color has become so associated with their identity that it’s hard for them to switch back.
As for clear glass bottles, modern techniques now allow beer producers to apply UV protective coats to the glass which keeps the beer fresher. However, knowing sunlight is a natural enemy of beer, it is always advisable to store your beer in a darker beer container to avoid the skunking effect, whether in a green, brown, or clear glass bottle.
Famous Beers in a Green Bottle
When it comes to famous beer brands in green bottles, there’s none more prominent than the worldwide giant Heineken.
Available in almost every country and brewed under license in more countries than any other beer, Heineken wouldn’t be Heineken in any other color bottle. Even the cans of Heineken are decorated in the now famous Heineken green colors.
Note the words “Premium Quality” on the Heineken bottle.
Another famous European brand is the Belgian beer Stella Artois which has stuck with the green bottles and often advertises itself as “reassuringly expensive.”
Many of the other premium pilsners from Europe still come in green glass bottles, including Staropramen and Pilsner Urquell, two of the original Pilsner beers from the Czech Republic, and of course, the brewing monster that is Carlsberg from Denmark.
Many German beers still come in green bottles to honor tradition, including Becks from Bremen, which proudly boasts of its conformity to German brewing laws.
Belgian beers, especially Saison or Lambic beers, will often come in a more wine bottle-like drinking vessel, mainly green.
On this side of the Atlantic, beer producers were not too affected by the brown glass shortage of the 1930s, so most domestic brands still use brown glass beer bottles. There are a few exceptions to the rule, including the domestic beers of Rolling Rock and Moosehead, to name a couple.
The Takeaway: Does Beer in a Green Glass Bottle Taste Different?
All beers taste different, of course — that’s what makes the beer scene so interesting. But the color of the glass the beer comes in doesn’t directly impact the taste.
Put a premium beer into a clear or green bottle, and it will taste the same. The only thing that may affect the beer’s flavor over time is exposure to sunlight which darker bottles can help prevent.
Although green bottles won’t be as effective at protecting from UV rays as brown ones, they will undoubtedly provide more shielding than a clear bottle. However, modern brewing and packaging techniques mean the color of the glass isn’t as important as it once was. UV coatings and non-light reactive hops mean beer stays fresher for longer and avoids that skunk “lightstruck” beer taste.
Green bottles still seem to signify a higher quality beer, but this is more down to the branding — perception rather than the flavor.
To make sure your beer stays fresh longer, you can always store your beer stash in a darker place to reduce the effect of light.
I’m still going to enjoy my occasional bottle of Stella Artois, and that green bottle is probably half of the charm!