You’ll Never Guess Why Beer Bottles Are Brown
The reason will surprise you. Plus, find out why some beer experts swear by drinking brews stored in cans.
Since the explosion of the craft beer market, you can now walk into any store that sells brews and have dozens of options for what to drink. Whether you reach for a dark lager or a hoppy IPA, the one thing all beer drinkers are bound to notice is that most brews come in brown bottles.
According to Jaime Schier, Director of Quality at the Massachusetts Bay Brewing Company, the brown colored glass does the best job of preventing beer from becoming “lightstruck,” the industry term for a beer gone bad. “Like Gremlins, but more friendly, beer has several natural enemies, including time, temperature and light, which leads us to the brown bottle,” Schier explains. “Brown (as opposed to clear or green) bottles do the best job of blocking the part of the light spectrum that causes the formation of MBT from hop constituents.”
If MBT forms in the beer, it can give it a funky taste and a skunk-like smell. While brown bottles will be the most effective in preventing this, Schier stresses that no bottle is 100 percent effective. “Keep your beer cold, and keep it out of the light—even if it’s in brown bottles,” he advises.
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And while you might have been told that beer tastes better coming from a bottle than a can, that’s not necessarily true. Because cans can keep all the light out, there’s no risk of developing the weird skunk-like quality from the MBT. “The other thing is that while cans are 100 percent impervious to oxygen ingress, bottles aren’t,” explains Schier. “The lining of the crown (the layer under the cap) becomes brittle over time, and allows very small amounts of oxygen to migrate into the bottle, accentuating staling reactions that make beer smell and taste cardboardy/papery/sweet and dull.”
Schier says that cans get their bad rap from their history of metallic flavors derived from imperfect linings and lubricants applied to the seam of the can, but that the can manufacturers of the 90’s eliminated the bad taste, so now cans do a better job preserving than bottles.
And while technically the best brews still come from a keg, Schier jokes, “For me, the best vessel is still the one in front of me—but choose yours wisely!”