Monday 2 November 2015

I Can See All Obstacles in My Way

"Everybody knows / Badger loves / Clear bottles!"

Ah, the bottled beer in clear glass debate. It's kicked off again on Twitter this week, with the usual run down of the usual offenders  It's well known that using clear rather than brown bottles will bugger up the beer, so why do Shepherd Neame, Greene King, Badger etc. do it?

For me, clear glass bottled beer is the main sign that the Marketing tail is wagging the Brewery dog. Apparently, market research shows that your average PBA consumer (as opposed to the beer geek of either the Beardy or Crafty persuasion), likes to see what the beer looks like, and don't seem to know that the taste will be affected by UV light breaking down the hip oils.

The Brewers know this happens, and presumably have told the people in charge of Marketing & Sales. But for somebody working in the dark arts of Selling, what the customer wants the customer gets. Whether it good for them or not

Looking at it that way, this is actually a good thing for the discerning beer consumer, as it tells them whether the company in question cares about the beer itself being any good when it reaches the shop. This way, such alleged products as Bishop's Finger, Hopping Hare and Old Golden Hen can be safely avoided.

With the increased interest in "Beer Appreciation", some producers have noticed the complaints about clear bottles, the best known being Marston's (they even put blurb on the bottles explaining this). Even Innis & Gunn have gone brown, even though their beers had no discernible hop flavour to begin with.

Round here, Lancaster Brewery were notorious for their dodgy clear glass bottles. Again, an effect of marketing. If you promote and even name your beers on their colours, the sales team are going to want those colours to be seen on the shelf. Presumably after numerous complaints, the bottles went brown when they redesigned the labels to look more Craft.

Brown glass is not a reliable indicator of beer quality in itself, but it at least does show that the Sales Team regard their customers with a bit of sense and aren't trying to take the piss.


  1. Just as a brown bottle isn't a guarantee of good beer, neither does a clear bottle inevitably indicate that the contents are crap. Some of the beers you mention (plus some from Charles Wells) are actually pretty decent, even if not achingly craft.

    I'd be genuinely interested to be given a tutorial in how to recognise lightstruck beer, as it's not something I've ever noticed as such.

    1. Get a corona, or a Green King IPA works fine too. Sit it on a windowsill in sunlight for a day or two... more than enough exposure. Chill. Crack open the bottle about half a foot from your nose and "waft".

      Aroma is sort of animal, almost musky... a bit like the smell when you wander near badger setts.

      You adapt to it pretty quickly. Once you're drinking the beer the aroma will likely be unnoticeable unless the beer is really strongly skunked.

  2. I would guess that most people drink bottled beer fairly soon after they've bought it. If so, the effect of light upon the beer would be minimal.

    1. The reaction that creates the "lightstruck" aroma occurs very quickly. Doesn't require direct sunlight either. Just UV.

      UV also breaks down various other flavour compounds.

      Putting beer in clear glass is always a quality compromise.