Why do breweries use green bottles?

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One of the things I don't really understand about the beer world is why so many beers use green bottles. When beer is exposed to ultraviolet light for a certain period of time, certain molecules (basically the stuff contributed by hops) start to break down and cause bad flavors. This is what's called "light-struck" beer, but it's more commonly known as "skunked" beer. Brown bottles provide a large degree of protection, but apparently don't make the beer invulnerable (unless you've got your brown bottle baking in the sun for a long time, you should be ok). However, green and clear bottles provide nearly no protection from UV rays, and thus those beers can get skunked rather easily. Incidentally, cans? They actually provide the best protection, which is one of the reasons you see so much talk of craft beer in cans these days.

This begs the question: If light is so bad for beer and if green and clear bottles don't provide any protection, why do breweries use green or clear bottles? Sure, some of the crappy imports do, but even really good beers use green bottles. A while ago, I got drunk and sent out a series of pedantic (but polite!) emails to a bunch of my favorite breweries that nevertheless use green bottles. I asked why they used the green bottles and if it had anything to do with cost, tradition, or marketing. I didn't get a response from Dupont, but Yuengling was very responsive and provided a very forthright and honest explanation:

Thanks for your recent inquiry regarding our usage of green glass.

We make 7 year round beer brands and 1 seasonal Bock Beer. Currently, 2 are offered in green glass.....Lager and Lord Chesterfield Ale. The others are in a standard brown.

Your questions are great...let me address a few as I go. First, green is definitely not less expensive. It's actually harder to source in the quantities we need.

Originally, when Dick Yuengling reintroduced Lager in 1987, he placed it in brown glass and had a very different label designed than what we know today. In the early 1990s he decided to redesign the packaging entirely.....he knew he had a great beer that was different than other full calorie beers on the market at the time. But the brown glass and original label just didn't make it look "special". It looked like every other beer on the market. There was no point of difference.

When the label was redesigned to what we know today, Dick also considered a change to green glass. First, no other domestic brand was in green. Miller High Life was in clear. So was MGD back then. But the "special" beers of that time were mainly imports. Becks, St Pauli, Lowenbrau, etc. All green glass.

So the shift to green was a marketing shift.....a point of difference for this special beer.

You are accurate....green is less protective of the product than brown. We have been working closely with our glass supplier who has developed a UV coating to apply to the outside of the bottle. This is in early stages of development. We are also considering a "high wall" six pack carrier to protect the bottles on the shelf. But there are also other packaging considerations to sort through. But the bottom line is that it's always a concern to protect the integrity of our products. Luckily, our Lager turns very quickly on the shelf so we rarely get complaints about this product. We do sometimes get off taste feedback on chesterfield ale, which we make good to our customers on a case by case basis.

With all that said, cans are actually the best vessel for packaged beer. Very many craft breweries are figuring that out now. Luckily nearly all of our brands are available in cans.

Thanks again for the email and for your support of our brewery!

Ah Marketing! The Alehead's worst enemy. It is funny because I've always noticed that I enjoy Lager the most out of the can or on tap, but until I started getting all beer nerdy, I never really put two and two together. Also, it's rather heartening to see that they're researching UV coatings for their beer, though I'm guessing it will be a while before that happens (and honestly, at this point, switching to brown bottles would probably be fine).

I'm still a little baffled when I see beers from Dupont or Fantôme in big green bottles though (even more confusing - Dupont sells smaller bottles of Saison Dupont that come in capped brown bottles!) During Philly Beer Week a while back, I asked an importer why so many good beers use green glass. He said he didn't know, but he always assumed it was tradition. I would bet marketing probably has more to do with it (especially given Yuengling's response), but I'll still be forever confused as to why a brewery with the reputation of Mikkeller would use green bottles for something (seriously, I just bought a bottle of Mikkeller barleywine, and it came in a green bottle).

5 Comments

Interesting reply by Yeungling. I totally agree with the Lager in a can or draft argument. I personally like the taste from a can the best - you have wonder how often a lager tap line gets cleaned at some establishments. Another rumor I heard has to do with where the lager is brewed - cans are still brewed in Pottsville, and kegs too. but the bottles are brewed else where - florida? Again, it is only something I've heard but from sources close to the brewery in Pottsville.

Interesting post, and excellent that Yuengling got responded in a pretty forthright manner. Good on them!

Currently drinking: Abita Satsuma Wit and Hofbrau Munchen Octoberfest. The Satsuma Wit is interesting, lots of coriander spice and citrus, and the Octoberfest is cool, a bit different from the Americanized style...definitely lighter, malty, but not syrupy.

Any fine brewery uses brown or black bottles to bottle beer.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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