Why do breweries use green bottles?

| 5 Comments

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).

Sly Fox Pikeland Pils

| No Comments

This is one of Sly Fox's flagship brews, and one of the more popular local pilsners... but can it hold up to Victory's Prima Pils? I have to admit that the pilsener style isn't one of my favorites, though they sometimes do hit the spot.

Sly Fox Pikeland Pils

Sly Fox Pikeland Pils - Pours a clear golden yellow color with tons of loose, large-bubbled head. It's got that distinct earthy, floral hop aroma (Saaz hops?) that I associate with pilseners, which follows through to the taste. The taste is pretty straightforward stuff, pale malts with the light hoppy bitterness that characterizes the pilsener style. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but very light and easy to drink. Overall, maybe better than your average pilsener, but again, this isn't really my favorite style and it certainly hasn't unseated Prima Pils. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.9% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass on 9/2/11.

Sly Fox is still one of the more interesting local brewpubs, and I look forward to trying more of their beer. I've even got a couple cans of their IPA ready to go...

The Curious Case of Brewdog Storm

| No Comments

In case it's not entirely obvious, I'm a complete sucker for barrel aged beers. I don't talk about it much on this blog, but I'm also a fan of Scotch. So beers aged in Scotch casks are doubly appealing to me. Enter Brewdog's Storm, an 8% IPA aged in Islay whisky casks. For the non-Scotch nerds among my readers*, Islay is a small island off the Western coast of Scotland that is the home of 8 active distilleries. There are, of course, lots of variations between each distillery, but one of the central characteristics of Islay Scotch is a smoky character derived from peat (think Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg, though there are less peaty varieties of Islay Scotch). So when someone says they're aging a beer in Islay whisky casks, you should expect to find the smoky, peaty, almost medicinal flavors of the scotch somewhere in the taste.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, something went dreadfully wrong with this beer, perhaps compounded by a mysterious labeling snafu.

Brewdog Storm

Brewdog Storm - Pours a hazy golden orange color with almost no head, and what was there had big bubbles (i.e. it was mostly just the way I poured). The nose is full of Scotch whisky, peat smoke and not much else. There are some subtle beery aromas around if you really look for it, but they are faint. The taste is extremely smoky, with some sweetness and not much in the way of bitterness (which really only comes out in the aftertaste, mixed in with some additional peatiness). There are maybe some interesting complexities in the taste, but it's also not particularly well balanced. Mouthfeel is thin, definitely too light on the carbonation. Overall, it's completely overpowered by the peat smoke and scotch aromas and flavors. I like scotch (because I'm manly), so I thought maybe this might be ok when I started the beer, but it was ultimately not a good experience. The base beer was apparently an 8% IPA, but it absolutely does not stand up to the scotch at all. Also, as discussed recently, aging an IPA is a tricky proposition. Hop flavors tend to fade with time, which definitely seems to be the case here (especially given that it may be an older bottle than I initially thought, see below) - I really don't get any hop aromas or flavors, save a little bitterness in the finish. It's an interesting idea, but there are some major balance issues here and it's really not working for me. A tentative D - given the nerdy mystery below, I'm not sure what to make of this. Perhaps a "fresh" bottle would be better.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/10/11. Label sez: Batch 13, best before 2/2/12.

Hmm, I looked a little closer at my bottle and I noticed that the batch and date details were on a sticker. I carefully peeled it off, revealing:

Brewdog Storm sticker thingy

Sorry about the craptacular picture (you can click it to see a bigger, blurrier version if you like), my old phone isn't quite up to the task, but what the hell? It says best before 2/2/10 on the original label. No wonder it's so bad! I suppose it could have just been a labeling mistake (which has been known to happen) that was band-aided with the sticker thingy... or it could be a really old bottle (which might explain why this didn't taste particularly fresh) that was re-labeled in order to trick people into thinking it was "fresh". I don't know what to make of this. Anyone ever run into that sort of thing?

I'm scratching my head over this. There are numerous points of contact that could be the source of the problem, so who knows where the fault lies. If there actually is a problem. It seems the nerds on Beer Advocate were also not very taken with this beer, giving it a C (for reference, PBR gets a C+). Even if it is just a bad beer, I'm still not soured on Brewdog. I have a few Devine Rebels (which, granted, were a collaboration with beer-god Mikkeller) aging right now, and another of their Scotch barrel aged beers, though Paradox uses a stout as its base beer, so I'm hoping that will work better.

* Actually, I estimate that at least 33% of the people likely reading this are big Scotch fans and probably know a lot more about Islay whisky than I do.

So we all know of the stories about India Pale Ales - brewers added extra hops to beer so that it could survive the long and arduous trek from England to India. The cape of good hope is located in South Africa and represented a milestone in the trip to India (basically, it's when you begin to travel more eastward than southward).

The confusing thing about this beer, though, is that Yards claims that the IPA stands for Imperial Pale Ale (no India to be found). Weird. Of course, it is typically classified as an Imperial IPA, so there is that. Yards also says that this beer "is an unfiltered, uniquely aged Imperial Pale Ale." Aged? I suppose if you're trying to replicated the historical style, that might be accurate, but it also generally means a less fresh beer, and most hoppy beers in particular do not age all that well. In searching around, it appears that this aging has to do with the longer-than-normal dry hopping period after initial fermentation (upwards of a few months), which should give this a very nice aroma, though perhaps the bitterness will be somewhat toned down by that point.

It's also a very limited batch of beer, only around 100 or so barrels were produced, and the bottling was apparently very limited. They switch up the recipe every year, so it's unlikely that I'll ever see this exact beer again... but the general process seems to stay the same and Yards sez they'll be doing a bigger batch next year. They also say that the beer "is reminiscent of something you'd find solace in on a balmy, Indian evening far away from home. Beware of tigers..." Well ok then:

Yards Cape of Good Hope

Yards Cape of Good Hope IPA - Pours a slightly hazy golden amber color with a finger of fluffy white head that leaves lots of lacing. Very nice, powerful hoppy aroma, citrus and pine along with some sweetness. Taste is sweet with a light bitterness emerging in the middle and following the taste through the finish (I'm guessing this muted bitterness is indicative of the extra aging). Mouthfeel is really nice, very smooth and dangerously easy to drink given the high alcohol. It's not a revelation, but it's a really good, well balanced take on the double IPA (and certainly much better than Yards's regular IPA). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/2/11.

When I started this blog, I wasn't really that big of a fan of Yards, but as I've tried more and more of their beers (at this point, I think I've had most of them), I think I'm definitely coming around. Their Ales of the Revolution series was fantastic, their ESB is especially good on cask, and I really enjoy their Philly Pale Ale. At this point, I think I should probably try their saison again, as I haven't had it in a few years. Perhaps another trip to their tasting room is in order as well - I'd love to get my hands on some Bourbon Barrel Aged Thomas Jefferson's Ale!

Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale

| No Comments

"Nut." Tee hee.

In all seriousness, does anyone else really hate the foil wrapping stuff that comes on these beers? Sure, it looks nice and I've apparently been conditioned to buy fancily packaged beer (fucking Pavlov), but most fancy packaging is pretty easily dealt with. Not the fancy foil wrapping that's on Sam Smith's beers, though. Seriously, the entire surface area of that foil is seemingly superglued to the bottle, which means you have to pick and snip at it with various kitchen utensils, which just causes the brittle foil to flake into this annoying glitter-like substance that gets everywhere. And even once you cut around the cap enough that you can use a bottle opener, you have to worry about how you pour the beer and will it touch the glue and will those glittery flakes become airborne and land in my beer and give me cancer and stuff? No? Just me? Oh. Well then. Carry on.

Samuel Smith Nut Brown ale

Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale - The bottle was a bit of a gusher (tee hee) when I opened it, but not excessively so, and it settled down quickly enough. Pours a very pretty, clear dark brown color with a finger of tan head. It looks very dark, but when held up to the light, I can see right through it. Smells on the roasty side of things. The taste also features that roast, along with some more complex notes. Either I'm a sucker for the power of suggestion or this is a nut brown beer that actually features nutty aromas and flavors. Indeed, it's probably the most prominent characteristic of the taste. The mouthfeel is quite nice as well. Medium bodied and eminently quaffable. Brown ales are not among my favorite styles, but this may be the best I've ever had. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a gigantic mug on 8/28/11.

You know, I've only had two of Samuel Smith's beers, but they've both been pretty damn good. Not face melting experimental beers, just really solid takes on classic styles. But then, you know, fancy foil wrapping...

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

| No Comments

Many people seem to recommend this beer to other folks who can't get Pliny the Elder in their area. This is a somewhat contentious claim, and most will admit that Hop Stoopid isn't quite the equal of the vaunted Pliny, but they do share a certain character (of course, there are always contrarians that will say this is better than Pliny*, but I digress). That being said, it's definitely much easier to find Hop Stoopid (and it's usually cheaper too).

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid - The label prominently displays the tagline "102 I.B.U. 4 U" which means we're in for a pretty bitter beer. Luckily, Lagunitas knows what they're doing and they've balanced that bitterness with an appropriate amount of sweetness. Pours a dark orange color with a finger or so of head that leaves lacing as I drink. The smell is filled with grapefruit, pine and resin aromas. Actually, so is the taste. Sweet, filled with intense citrus and pine flavor. There's a nice, bracing bitterness appearing midway through the taste and continuing through the finish. It's got a medium body, but it's extremely drinkable for something packing this much flavor. Alcohol is hidden pretty well here too. Overally, a really fantastic double IPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/27/11.

Apparently I need to make myself more familiar with Lagunitas. For whatever reason, I've never been that attracted to their beers (perhaps it's their labels, which never seem to catch my eye), but they seem to be a big deal and some folks seem to really like them, so yeah, I'll try and pick up something else from them on my next trip to the bottle store (which may be a while, as I'm pretty well stocked right now). This is certainly a good first impression.

* Update! Jay from Beer Samizdat comments on twitter: "Better than Pliney, I say - no contest." I guess he's one of them contrarians I was talking about. See also: his original review of Pliny the Elder (which he calls "A very good overrated beer") and his original Hop Stoopid review.

Weyerbacher Heresy

| No Comments

There are a number of ways to trick me into buying your beer, and apparently one of them is to barrel-age your beer. In a recent beer run, I think maybe half the beers I bought had some sort of barrel-aging treatment (it was an expensive trip). I guess I'm just a sucker for that sort of thing... but then again, it often works out pretty well for me.

Weyerbacher Heresy

Weyerbacher Heresy - The base for this beer is Weyerbacher's Old Heathen, a pretty middle of the road Imperial Stout, but one I enjoy. This beer is basically a bourbon barrel aged version, and it pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger or two of light brown head (no real lacing here). The smell is roasty, with a little bit of that vanilla and oak character. Perhaps some caramel and chocolate flavors in the nose as well... Taste is again, very roasty. Just a little in the way of chocolate and caramel along with the oak and vanilla flavors. You can taste the alcohol as well, but it's well incorporated here, not overpowering anything else. It's reasonably full bodied, but still pretty easy to drink. Overall, I was hoping for a bit more of that oak and bourbon character would show through, but it's still a pretty solid RIS and a slight improvement over the Old Heathen. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/27/11.

Weyerbacher is a local brewery (with one of the worst logos ever) that puts out a lot of interesting, experimental, and really big beers. Sometimes these work better than others, but I always find their stuff interesting. Up next for me is their sixteenth anniversary beer, which is a 10.5% Braggot (basically a mixture of mead and beer).

The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel

| No Comments

We don't get a lot of The Bruery's beers around these parts, but there are some places that stock them and whenever I see a new variety, I snap it up as quick as I can. I have to admit, I'm not even really that familiar with their catalog - I just know that if I see a bottle from The Bruery, I should buy it. Sometimes an expensive proposition, but usually worth every penny. Even when I'm not completely blown away by one of their beers*, I find myself happy to have tried it anyway. Most recently:

The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel

The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel - In an attempt to differentiate this beer from the throngs of other Belgian style tripels, The Bruery gave this one an Asian twist. Instead of using Belgian Candi sugar (as is traditional for the style), they used rice**, then spiced with Thai Basil. Pours a slightly hazy golden color with lots of fluffy, tightly beaded head. The nose is filled with fruitiness as well as a spicy and musty Belgian yeast character. There's also an almost, but not quite funky aroma going on here too. The taste starts spicy with some sweetness hitting in the middle, finishing crisp and extremely dry. That finish is actually quite strange; it's almost like I can feel the liquid evaporating in my mouth, leaving it very dry. The mouthfeel is actually pretty tame for the style. It starts out as expected, but gives way to a gentler, more subtle mouthfeel. This lighter-than-expected body is no doubt due to the use of rice in the recipe. Overall, it's an interesting take on a classic style***. I don't think it really rivals it's competition, and it's not blowing me away as some of The Bruery's other brews do, but it is really quite good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 8/26/11.

This marks the sixth Bruery beer I've tried, of which three have blown me away, and three have "merely" been great. In a recent beer run, I picked up a couple bottles of Cuir, their third Anniversary ale that is composed partially of a barrel aged version of their second Anniversary ale (there is actually a really interesting reasoning behind this method, which I'll cover when I review Cuir). Actually, their second anniversary ale, called Coton, was the first Bruery beer I'd ever had, and it knocked my socks off, so I'm expecting a lot out of Cuir. At 14.5% ABV, I'll have to find a good time for that (or perhaps share it with some folks), but I'm very much looking forward to trying one (and cellaring the other, along with an old bottle of Coton). I'm also very much looking forward to The Bruery's next step in the 12 Days of Christmas series...

* And in such cases, their beer is still among the best out there.

** Rice is typically an adjunct used by the big macro breweries to lessen costs. Sugars derived from rice are very simple and thus completely consumed by yeast, increasing alcohol but not really impacting the taste. This proves useful for light, flavorless beers, I guess, but in the case of The Bruery, they're adding it to an 8.1% ABV beer of a style that is usually overflowing with taste. In other words, The Bruery is using rice to enhance and complement the beer, rather than to make the beer cheaper and more flavorless.

*** Indeed, it almost reminds me more of a dry saison than a tripel. Sorta like a summer tripel - and this being a summer release that features the words "Summer Fun" on the label, I guess that makes sense.

Anchor Liberty Ale

| 2 Comments

Pale ale! Yeah!* According to Anchor's website, this beer was introduced in 1975 and "Before it became a permanent year-round product, variations of our Liberty Ale formula enjoyed brief tenures as Our Special Ale, available at Christmastime." Huh, I think I'd like to try that. But since that will never happen**, I'll have to settle for the regular Liberty Ale:

Anchor Liberty Ale

Anchor Liberty Ale - Pours a slightly cloudy golden/orange color with tightly beaded head that leaves lots of lacing. Smells hoppy, a little bit of citrus and maybe even some pine. Taste is sweeter than I was expecting, with just a bit of a hoppy bitter bite in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is surprisingly strong for a simple pale ale, though it's not a particularly full bodied beer or anything. Overall, it's not one of my favorites, but it's a nice enough brew. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass on 8/26/11.

* Ok, sorry, but sometimes it's hard to make standard styles like pale ales exciting. Nothing against pale ales, of course. Some of my favorite beers are pale ales.

** Not that I'm bitter.

Old Engine Oil

| 4 Comments

Harviestoun makes a series of beers called Ola Dubh which are aged in Highland Park casks. And they are awesome. It turns out that the base beer they use for that barrel aging is a slightly higher gravity (i.e. higher alcohol) version of this beer:

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil - Apparently the owner and founder of Harviestoun spent many of his formative years working for Ford Motors, and so when he saw this viscous black liquid, it made him think of, well, old engine oil (if ever there was a beer calling out to be packaged in the old-timey oil can style that I mentioned a while back, this is it...). Pours a very dark amber/brown color, almost but not quite black, with a finger of tan head. The nose is very strangely spicy. Typical roasty aromas are also present, along with some nice caramel and fruity notes but there's something else there that's unique. I'm calling it spicy smell, but that's not right - I can't quite place it. Taste is full of rich chocolaty flavors with a just a bit of roastiness. Whatever that thing from the nose is, it's here in the taste as well, though less pronounced. Full bodied, rich, and creamy. I really like drinking this beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/20/11.

I'm not the biggest fan of porters, but this is one that I can deal with. Not to mention the Ola Dubh stuff, which I'm definitely planning to explore more of...

Categories

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID

About

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

Follow me on Twitter

Like me on Facebook

Toast me on Untappd

Recent Comments

  • Mark: I think I remember you posting something about that back read more
  • Jay Hinman: Cool that you got to go to this, Mark. I read more
  • Mark: No, I obtained this through... methods. Glad I did, as read more
  • Jay Hinman: I don't think I sent this one to you, did read more
  • Mark: Apparently the popularity of single malt and the rise of read more
  • Padraic Hagan: I've had some real winners from the independants. A few read more
  • Mark: You know what the funny thing is? Upton no longer read more
  • Padraic Hagan: I don't...uh...none of my tea is certified, uh, poop free. read more
  • Mark: I've never disliked the bubblegum note (as evidenced by ratings), read more
  • Mark: Padraic will be here all week. 2 drink minimum, tip read more