Why Are Some Beer Bottles Brown or Green?

When you’re enjoying your favorite beer with friends while watching a game on a big-screen TV in a sports bar after work, there are a lot of things to talk about.

You may talk about stuff at work, you may reminisce about past trips you took with your friends or funny moments that you guys had experienced together, you may talk about new relationships or your families. There are a lot of things to talk about.

But you know you’re getting buzzed when you talk about the specifics of the cold, sweaty bottle of beer you have in your hand. I’m talking about that common discussion many beer aficionados have.

I’m sure at some point in your beer-drinking life this question came to mind: “Why do some beer brands come in brown bottles in different shades, while others come in green bottles in different shades?”

Sure, this kind of topic probably comes up after you have covered many topics, but — believe me — if you enjoy beer, this question will come to mind, for this pattern will jump out at you if you go to a bar where they line up all the beers that they serve.

If you are in any way curious or intellectually adventurous, you would ask yourself: “Why? Why is it that of all the color combinations that can be used to treat melted sand (which a glass really is), they only use these two color choices?”

Well, to answer this question, we must first do a recap of beer’s history.

The first brewed beer was invented in ancient Egypt. This is a beer that comes close to how we normally define beer, which is basically boiled grains exposed to yeast.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence that ancient Egyptians brewed beer as far back as several thousand years ago.

But, believe it or not, the Egyptians did not pour that tasty and heady concoction into brown or green bottles. This is a fairly recent phenomenon in the grand history of beer-making.

Beer makers only started bottling beer around the 17th century. Glass bottles were invented to keep the beer fresh for a long time.

The Problem

But here’s the problem that they faced. When the bottles were stored in a warm area and it is exposed to the sun, the beer went bad. The beer had a very sour smell when they took off the cork or any other covering for the bottle. Upon tasting, the beer was almost undrinkable because it was very sour.

A lot of people who occasionally experience these problems say that it’s so awful that the beer smells like a skunk. That’s quite a description because skunks, to put it mildly, smell very far from roses.

Once people saw this pattern, they found that the UV rays from the sun — upon penetrating the clear bottles — had started to break down the acid component found in the beer mix.

Hops have a certain amount of sulfur. When exposed to ultraviolet light, this breaks down and creates a very nasty smell. That sun-exposed beer smells exactly like a skunk is no exaggeration.

The Solution

To solve the problem, the beer-bottling industry used dark-colored bottles to block out the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

With beer storage, you really have little of a choice where you’re going to store the beers, especially if you are a distributor storing a vast amount of bottles of beer.

Ultimately, sunlight will be an issue. So the industry in many different parts of the world shifted to darker-colored bottles to block out ultraviolet rays.

This had the effect of keeping the beer fresh and preventing chemical reactions that will cause the beer to go sour. The brown bottles we’re all familiar with today were the standard until World War II.

At this point in beer-bottling history, another problem emerged. Due to wartime shortages and the scarcity of certain materials, manufacturers simply run out of brown bottles. So instead, they used an alternative.

There are other types of silica that when melted under high heat produced glass that has a green tint. This is an alternative that beer manufacturers jumped on. They started using green bottles to keep the beers fresh.

Unfortunately, the green color of the bottles is not as effective in blocking ultraviolet rays. Still, they did a better job in preventing beer from souring than plain clear bottles.

While the shortages of World War II have disappeared and all beer manufacturers could easily go back to brown bottles, a lot of beer brands have stuck with green bottles.

Why?

They’ve developed fan bases. People have grown accustomed to drinking their favorite beer from green bottles.

Also, from a marketing and branding standpoint, this makes sense because it makes a manufacturer’s product line stand out from the competition. Not surprisingly, green bottles are here to stay.

It’s important to note though that more expensive brands use green bottles. Over the years, they have become quite the status symbol. If you are looking for a little bit more of an upscale brand, you might want to get a beer in a green bottle.

Heineken, for example, is the first brand to come to mind.

Modern Developments

Modern technologies have been developed in the bottling industry since they started using brown or green bottles. Such bottles are no longer necessary to be green or brown. A UV-protectant coating helps shield clear bottles from UV rays. Given this development, there is a large number of beer bottles out there that are perfectly clear.

But due to marketing, branding, and sheer tradition, a lot of beer companies still use green and brown bottles because doing so has become part of their corporate identity.

Some beer manufacturers, however, prefer to use clear bottles because they can showcase the beautiful golden-yellow color of their beer. A lot of craft beer microbreweries located throughout the United States use crystal clear bottles precisely for this effect.