Green Glass Is Great!
Professional traditionalists argue that a little lightstruck goes a long way to giving a fuller beer experience.
Purists turn up their noses at green bottles (thanks to that often-present skunk aroma), but professional traditionalists who make saisions and mixed-fermentation ales argue that a little lightstruck goes a long way to giving a fuller beer experience.
THANKS TO A CERTAIN
Dutch lager, when many of us think of beer from a greenglass bottle, our thoughts turn to skunk, the lightstruck aroma that occurs when the blue part of the visible light spectrum (350–500 nm) negatively reacts with alpha acid in hops, resulting in the off-flavor.
It’s then generally accepted that this is something to avoid—both drinking and making possible. It’s why most brewers use brown glass (which is far more effective than green or clear at blocking harmful UV rays) or cans when packaging beer.
But, if you’ve been paying close attention over the past several years, you’ll have seen a handful of brewers who are packaging beer in green bottles on purpose, particularly makers of saisons and mixed-fermentation ales who argue that a little bit of skunk is just what those beers need.
“There’s just something missing with a farmhouse ale or saison on draft or in brown bottles,” explains Bob Sylvester, the owner and brewer of Saint Somewhere Brewing Company in Tarpon Springs, Florida. “It’s the whole experience; it adds that little mustiness to the flavor, chalkiness, as well as lightstruck. That’s part of it, too, and I don’t think of it as being a flaw.”
He’s been using green bottles for more than a decade, and in the beginning “caught a lot of flack” from folks for using that package. However, he noticed that when he tasted his saisons, they were missing something subtle that was noticeable in traditional Belgian examples of the style, such as Saison Dupont.
That beer, considered the platinum standard by most, is now available in both green and brown bottles, with drinkers who have tried both usually picking a side and sticking with it. It’s the limited sunlight that naturally hits the bottle after packaging, during transport and storage, that makes all the difference. (Brewers who use green glass, including Jester King Brewery, are quick to point out that they aren’t placing bottles in direct sunlight for extended periods of time.) And because saisons and farmhouse ales usually use aged hops (in which the alpha acids are lower) in their recipes, the lightstruck aroma is often much less than in a bottle of that above-mentioned lager.
The lightstruck aroma also adds a perceived dryness to the beer, brewers say, although few of them have done any specific tests on the finished product.
The biggest thing, Sylvester says, is to reprogram your brain when drinking one of these green-bottle saisons, to taste lightstruck notes as intentional and a feature, not necessarily as a flaw. It’s akin, he says, to drinking an old ale where oxidation is present. It’s appropriate there but maybe not in that stout that was packaged just last week.
Now, of course, green bottles aren’t appropriate for every style. They should be avoided for IPAS or other hops-forward beers where there are high amounts of alpha acids. It’s why brewers who are still using glass avoid green (and clear for that matter) for those styles (and you’re hard-pressed to find any brewer who would willingly package a hops-forward beer in green glass).
If you’re making a saison at home and are curious about the lightstruck aroma, follow a recipe for a beer in the Dupont tradition (such as the “Belgian Saison in the Style of Saison Dupont” recipe on our website, beerandbrewing.com) and then package some of it in green bottles and let the bottles age for a spell. The slightly skunky whiff that mixes with the yeast-driven esters and slight spiciness gives the beer more of a traditional flavor, which is what appeals to many of the pros who have gone this route.
“Caviar is salty, linen wrinkles, and farmhouse ales are lightstruck. That’s how it works,” says Sylvester.