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Why beer bottles are usually brown

If you’ve ever experienced that funky taste, it comes from a chemical compound similar to the stinky smell that skunks produce. This is why the beer brewing community has dubbed this process “skunking”.

Chuck Skypeck, Technical Director of Brewing Projects at the Brewers Association, has owned and operated craft breweries for 21 years. He said the cause of the skunk wasn’t really understood until around the 1960s.

When beer hops are exposed to strong light, a photooxidation reaction occurs, creating the compound 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol. To prevent the skunking process from occurring, beer brewers opted for dark tinted glass. That’s why you see so many beers in brown glass bottles today.

“It’s a simple reaction that creates what most people consider an undesirable flavor,” Skypeck said. “So anything that protects the beer from that will preserve its flavor, so it’s served as the brewer intended.”

Hence the popular choice among brewers: brown. But it’s not the only color found in beer bottles; some also come in green glass. What is behind this choice? Since green isn’t as light protective, the reason for its use is primarily marketing, according to Skypeck.

“If you look at what green glass brands are, you’ll probably find mostly heritage brands that have been around for a while,” he said. “A good number of European brewers use green glass. Their green bottles are their image. And again, we’re talking decades ago, there was a certain association of quality and uniqueness with green glass.”

Why beer bottles are usually brown

And if that green glass wasn’t tinted dark enough to deter skunk, Skypeck said consumers at the time might just say, “Oh look, it tastes different. It’s from Europe. It must to be good.”

When it comes to choosing glass as a packaging material over plastic, Skypeck said not only is glass perceived to be more environmentally friendly and appears to be of higher quality to consumers, but it prevents beer from going stale, as the plastics let carbonation out of the beer and let in oxygen over time.

Cans are also a popular choice for packaging and do not let light in, but skunk is still possible due to a process known as heat aging. More studies are needed in this area, according to Skypeck, to determine which packaging is optimal for preventing skunking.

As with any other advice on storing beer to avoid skunking, staling, or any change in taste, Skypeck has a simple rule: cold and dark.

“Beer is basically water, barley, sometimes wheat, hops and yeast – it’s a food product. And like any other food product, it’s prone to losing its freshness. “, did he declare. “What really causes any food product to lose its freshness – in addition to this photochemical reaction that we talked about – is exposure to oxygen and exposure to (warmer) temperature.”

If you’re ever up for a pointless experiment at home, place a beer in the sun for a few hours and you can taste the skunk for yourself.

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