Clear glass can skunk off


I’ve arrived late to this topic. Better and brighter beer commentators have long argued against breweries putting beer into clear glass bottles, their approaches ranging from cold science to raging, well, rage. For those wondering what the hell I’m going on about, over a prolonged period sunlight will ruin beer. It messes up the hop oils, resulting in nasty odours and tastes in the beer. These beers are referred to as being skunked. Brown glass offers protection from this, clear glass doesn’t.

I’ve followed this debate with some mild concern but mainly curiosity for a while, because it had never really affected me. Granted, clear glass bottles are rarer in the ale world, but it seemed as if I had either never had a skunked bottle or never noticed if it was. Then, yesterday, I chanced across some Old Empire in Tesco.

Lately it seems as if this beer is harder to find. It was a common go-to IPA in my life during 2007 to 2010. My friends and I would sit around arguing over which IPA was best: Old Empire or Punk IPA (these mainly being the two bottled IPAs available to us at that time). So, thirsty for a taste of nostalgia, I grabbed a bottle.

Immediately on pouring it smelt vegetal and funky. Not good funky. Badfunky. Then, in the taste, I was hit with stale notes and puckering astringency. My recollection of Old Empire is that it is tempered by sweetness, but I was being assaulted by the sort of tastes you might brew up from the leftover rinds and teabags found at the bottom of a bin.

I now fully appreciate the clear glass issue and won’t be buying any beers in clear bottles if I can help it, which is a real shame because there are some great beers that continue to be packaged this way (the list of the fallen includes: Old Speckled Hen, Old Empire, SA Gold, Doom Bar, most Shepherd Neame and Badger ales…). Come on 2013, let’s see the end of clear glass and ruined beers.

The Empire has fallen
The Empire has fallen

3 thoughts on “Clear glass can skunk off”

  1. No surprise that the main offenders are the ‘big boys’ because they have marketing teams that are convinced people want to see the colour of the beer in the bottle (and, of course, that their brand will stand out among all those other boring brown bottles). False economy in terms of marketing, though, if the punter only ever buys one skunked bottle and is alienated from the brand forever more.

    1. Spot on, Darren. I can’t think of any small to medium brewers which use clear glass, and these guys have small to non-existent marketing departments.

      It’s a damn shame the big brewers take this approach. Badger make some great ales. Their Poacher’s Choice is my favourite in their range and interestingly comes in a brown bottle. I wonder how much their range might improve in flavour if it was all bottled in brown glass. Just a thought.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Something that you know I very much agree with. Clear glass, on top of ruining the beer, also looks really cheap and tacky.

    What I hate most, aside from the marketing defence, is when brewers say ‘Oh, it’s okay, we put something in the beer so that it won’t get skunked’. Cheers guys. Put something in the beer. Fantastic. That’s not worrying at all. Probably fine.

    You have my sympathies for your lost Old Empire. As you say, once it’s happened to you, you can never look at clear glass bottled beer the same way again.

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