Beer has come a long way since the days of the cask and leather flagons. In fact, the decision about what to put beer in for storage has plagued people for centuries. Before the days of refrigeration, before the days of pasteurization, beer storage was an issue. Beer had to be drunk quickly to keep it from spoiling.
The idea of putting beer in bottles was developed by a monk several centuries ago. He had put beer into a wine bottle to take on a picnic and left the beer in the bottle for quite some time. He came across it again much later in the beer was still fresh. That was beginning of bottled beer.
Sealing the beer bottle was the next big issue. Beer makers tried everything from wax to cork. The cork solution lasted hundreds of years, until wire loop closure was developed many years later. For a long time beer bottles were short, bell shaped and clothed with wires like mason jars.
Most beer makers embossed the name of their beer right into the bottle. This was before the days of labels, and embossing was the only way to let people know what kind of beer they were drinking. Embossing was used to label beer bottles well into this century, before the paper label was developed.
Over time, the shape of the bottle changed, becoming thinner and taller, looking more like the beer bottles we know today. Beer bottles stayed brown or green until the present-day. This was mainly because refrigeration was not invented for quite some time. With out away to keep the beer at a steady temperature, keeping direct light out of the bottles was important to keep the beer fresh.
After refrigeration was invented, it wasn’t important to keep the bottles opaque any more but many beer makers continue to make dark bottles out of tradition. Only recently have companies started to buck tradition by making clear beer bottles. Most of the clear bottles are import beers such as Corona and wine coolers and blended beverages such as Zima.
Another theory about why beer bottles are brown has to do with the glass making process itself. This one has never been proven, but many people say that in past centuries it was much harder to make clear glass but it was to make colored glass. Apparently, crystal clear glass requires processes that were not developed until the industrial age.
Regardless of which reason you think is most accurate for why beer bottles are brown, the fact remains that the tradition is hard to shake. People are used to seeing brown bottles of beer, and new beers that are marketed in bottles that are any color besides green or brown have a hard time being successful.
It is a fact that modern-day beers made in America do taste fresher and more flavorful in brown bottles. Many American beers still lose their texture and flavor if exposed to direct sunlight. One good thing about everyone using the same brown bottle glass is that it makes it easier to recycle the glass.