Green Glass Is Great!

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents - By John Holl

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.

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