Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Green Bottle Blues

As you may recall, one of my previous posts was about bottle cleaning. In that post Gene was appalled to see clear bottles (Newcastle) in my bucket - with good reason. I never ended up using those bottles (they were for emergencies only, since I wasn’t sure I had enough) but I did use a few green ones. Let’s see how that turned out:

First: A Little History

Being too lazy to look it up, this will be my slanted, biased, and otherwise corrupted version of the facts. Needless to say, it’s still better than what you’d hear on the News.

During the early part of the 20th century following prohibition, import laws were enacted to protect domestic breweries from foreign competition. The reason given was that American’s couldn’t easily tell the difference between domestic and imported beer. Being good patriots but poor readers, they needed to have different colored bottles to indicate the beer’s origin. Brown was reserved for domestic beer and green was used for imports. This might sound logical, but in fact it’s quite nefarious.

We all know light causes beer to get “skunked.” This is due to the formation of mercaptins, which are literally the same chemicals found in skunk musk. Needless to say, unless you’re playing a game of Beanboozled, you really don’t want to taste those. Why the digression into my tenuous grasp on chemistry? When the bottle colors for “import” and “domestic” were chosen, it was because green glass lets in light and brown glass doesn’t. They wanted imported beers to get skunked, in a sort of solar sabotage effort. Special interest groups were almost as sneaky back then as they are now.

Back to the Present

On my first batch of beer, I used all brown bottles with the exception of 4 Grolsch style bottles. All the brown bottle beer was fine, but most of the Grolsch bottle tasted kind of flat and bad. I thought something was wrong with the gaskets or my sanitizing, but now I don’t think that’s the case.

On my second batch of beer, I used 2 green Stella bottles as an experiment. The caps seemed like they might not have fit on right, since the shape is slightly different, but I believe that they did seal. Both of those bottles tasted off, not quite skunked but not quite fresh, like saltines left on the counter overnight. I’ll probably try this one more time to make sure it wasn’t the caps, but my hunch is that these were the victims of sunlight. Conclusion: Green glass turns your homebrew into vampires.

The only remaining question is how these beers deteriorated so quickly. I didn’t leave them out in the open; they were in a dark closet. I suspect it happened the morning after bottling. When I finished bottling, I didn’t have the space cleared in the closet for all the beer so I left it on the kitchen table. Ordinarily, it takes beer quite a while to skunk indoors, but under direct sunlight it can happen in only a few minutes.

In the morning, our living room windows face east, getting direct sunlight. Even with the blinds closed, this causes what I call laser beams (since they always always hit my eyes directly when I am trying to sleep in) to sweep across the room like some sort of beer killing scanner. These bottles were in full range of Ra that one morning. I suspect that’s what did them in, creating two bottles of “Lightstruck Beer.”

Lesson Learned? Always use brown bottles for yourself, and donate green bottles to your rivals.


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  2. antigonum the humbleAugust 1, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    One of the great pleasures in my life, besides planting/collecting/propagating plants, was the unique experience of brewing my own batch ONCE in New York.

    It was a present from Marjorie Jordan, the first and only attempt was fine. I was satisfied with the result. However, buying, having the money to buy the many, hundreds of options from the world, made the effort, silly.

    Now in Puerto Rico, the shittiest place in the world for beer, I may be ready
    to make my own again..Good luck in your projects.