Judge a beer by the colour of its glass?

beer bottles

On returning to live back in the UK, one of the treats in store for me was to have a few bottles of some of the beers that I had loved in the era before the ‘Craft Beer Revolution’. These are beers that some young hipsters in East London might turn their nose up at these days, but in my view are as tasty and drinkable as any put out at £3.60 a bottle in a stall in Borough Market! They might be seen as old-fashioned, traditional or just plain boring, but these are the ones that I grew up with, and offered flavour and a certain ‘made with love and care’ feel at a time when there was not the plethora of crafty options that the modern drinker has at their disposal.

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As I found myself in a large supermarket, looking at shelves of bottles, lined up like soldiers waiting for inspection, I noticed that a regular tipple of mine (one I had in cask at my local in Twickenham more often than in bottle) was now in a clear bottle. 20 years ago, you would be hard pushed to find many beers in anything other than the traditional and trusty brown bottle.

Even Heineken and Carlsberg knew their beer tasted better from brown glass.

Then the marketing people took over.

‘The public want to see the colour of the beer’ they say.

‘Green is the colour of a premium European lager’ they chorus.

‘Great packaging will help you sell more’ they promise.

So what do I have against clear and green glass?

I hate the odour of a skunk.

Those readers outside of my former home of Canada or the USA may be unfamiliar with the incredibly musky, ammonia punch of squashed skunk on a road, but the smell is not nice. British readers might imagine a tomcats spray of musk and urine, and then let it fester a while with some sulphur to get some idea.

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This is a similar smelling chemical that is released (in thankfully smaller doses than an attack from an angry skunk) when ultra-violet light is allowed to react with  iso-alpha-acids present in hops creating a compound called 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol (MBT for short!)

The result for the less scientific among us is known variously as ‘lightstruck’, ‘sunstruck’ or just simply ‘skunked’. I have seen the term ‘catty’ used as well, but it all means one thing: The beer in your hand may well be off as was my bottle from Badger beers (Hall and Woodhouse). A good pint of bitter in the pub is transformed in clear bottle to a stinky smelling and tasting beer that has sat in clear glass under the glare of sunlight or the UV strip lights in a store. Green and clear glass let UV light in and brown glass (the darker the better)  largely keeps it out. It’s that simple.

So here is an appeal to brewers, marketing managers and drinkers alike:

Say NO to clear and green glass, show us some respect and do your best to ensure the beer that passes my lips is as close as humanly possible to the one that the brewer intends me to drink.

 

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3 comments to Judge a beer by the colour of its glass?

  • Nathaniel Hornblower

    Agreed! It amazes me how many great Belgian breweries use green glass. Cantillon, in my opinion one of the top 5 breweries in the world, uses it. Do they not know what this does to their beer or do they just not care? I don’t get it.

  • Thanks Nathaniel, In Cantillon’s defence they use very few hops in their beer, due to the style
    and need to propagate organisms that hops defend against, but I agree, all beer, especially more hopped styles, like Czech pilsners, pale ales and bitters, should always be in dark brown bottles. It seems they treat the consumer with contempt when they don’t mind selling us skunk beer!

  • To add to the above, green glass will reduce the “skunking” process. On another note, I always wonder why certain mass-produced domestic brands didn’t end up skunky. It’s because of the use of rho-iso-alpha-acids as hop products in beer as a light stable kettle extract. I know this from my recent tour to Haas processing in Yakima, Washington, USA with the Olds College Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management crew this past September. You’d be surprised how many big-name breweries (I’m not talking standard domestic names either) use various extracts. Long story short, research the brewery that you’re purchasing from. Belgians are a different lot and tend to bottle condition almost everything. I guess from this guy’s POV, be wary of clear glass bottles. (I’ll remember that as I tuck into TangleFoot). 🙂

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