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A beer bottle is a bottle that is designed as a receptacle for beer. These designs can vary significantly in size and shape, but the glass used is usually either green or brown to reduce spoilage from light, especially ultraviolet.
The history of why wine and beer bottles are mainly brown or green is through trial and error.
The actual hue of the bottle in which our favourite tipple is stored is likely something we rarely, if ever, think about.
The sight of tall, green bottles of wine and smaller, wider brown bottles for beers and ales is something we are used to.
Beer was first bottled and sold commercially during the 1800s, and glass was the chosen receptacle to keep the beer or wine fresh and to preserve them between bottling and consumption. The industry experts decided on clear glass - perhaps to show off the product inside, or maybe they didn't think the bottle's colour would affect the liquid?
The transparent beer bottles were practical throughout the winter but come summer, the sun's UV rays penetrated the transparent glass and made the beer slightly sour both in smell and taste.
Beer experts noted that the beer started to smell "skunky", which was far from appetising.
The resulting answer was to make the bottles darker and block the UV rays. This way, the drinks would be better preserved.
Post World War II, there was a shortage of green glass, so beer adopted the brown bottles we know today. Wine later housed itself in green glass.
A chemical reaction occurs between the sun's UV rays and the essential oils of the hops, making beer taste terrible. A skunk-like smell is produced from the chemical compounds created by this process. Beer's taste can be affected by oxygen, but this usually takes time to happen.
An amber glass beer bottle provides 99.9% protection from UV rays which preserves the beer's superior taste and aroma.
Glass containers and their closures are practical barriers to oxidation, ensuring freshness.
Through the latter part of the 1900s, most British brewers used a standard design of beer bottles, known as the London Brewers' Standard.
A bottle closure is a device that seals the contents inside a bottle, protecting them from dust, spilling, evaporation, and the atmosphere itself. The finish and closure are interrelated entities of any bottle. The closure must conform to the finish to function, and vice versa. The invention of some closures corresponds to specific finishes, and a closure may be adapted to old finishes, or both the finish and closure are invented together (Berge 1980).
A bottled beer uses several bottle caps but most often uses crown caps, also known as crown seals.
By contrast, come beers (for example, Grolsch) use "beugel" style bottles, known as "flip-top" or "swing-top".
Homebrew beers can undergo fermentation in the bottle, giving natural carbonation. This method is usually referred to as bottle-conditioned.
The beer is bottled with a viable yeast population in suspension and to start what may be a second or third fermentation. If no residual fermentable sugar is left, you may add sugar and wort in a process known as priming.
The resulting fermentation generates CO2 trapped in the bottle, which remains in the solution. The CO2 provides natural carbonation.
A Complete Comparison
Many homebrewers have probably wondered whether they should be using glass or plastic bottles for their beer at some point. While the glass bottle was, is, and will likely forever be the traditional choice, there are some reasons why some people might wish to use plastic when bottling their beer.
Using plastic bottles for homebrew beer has many positives for brewers as they are inexpensive, lighter, and not as likely to break if over-carbonated. The main concern is long-term storage in plastic bottles as this can cause issues with under carbonation, oxidation, and potential off-flavours in a beer.
There are different factors to consider when deciding whether to use plastic or glass beer bottles. There are things to be said for using both containers to bottle your beer!
Here are the pros and cons of plastic v. glass.
The inescapable whoosh of gas escapes as you release the cap from a cold beer.
That special clink of the glass.
The experience of the glass in your hand as you drink your beer.
Drinking beer from a bottle feels right for many people.
Of course, it does!
Beer seems to have always been stored in a glass bottle and poured into glasses to be drunk for most of beer's modern history. Brewers have been pouring beer into glass containers in England since the late 16th century. During that time, corks were used instead of metal caps, and the bottles tended to break reasonably often due to secondary fermentation. However, they worked pretty well!
If we move forward to today, technology has changed, and it is now possible to put beer in glass bottles, plastic bottles, aluminium cans, and other containers.
Commercial brewers often prefer cans. However, homebrewers often reuse old glass beer bottles. They clean the bottles and fill them, and recap them. However, to some, plastic bottles are a viable option for homebrewing when it comes to bottling beer.
For a novice brewer, there is probably a case to be made for using plastic in some situations. It probably makes absolute sense for some brewers only to use plastic bottles.
Bottling beer in plastic is borderline blasphemy for some brewers.
At first glance, plastic bottles look like a cheap substitute for a glass bottle (and it is). There is reason to suspect that plastic could cause issues with your beer (it could). Why would you then even want to bother?
Well, plastic is super convenient for various reasons but let's address a couple of the biggest questions you probably worry about when using plastic homebrew bottles.
Many homebrewers don't believe that beer can last as long or longer inside a plastic bottle as it could inside a glass one. They would be right! That's because standard clear PET plastic bottles (like the ones you would find in the soda section) do a fantastic job of keeping CO2 inside the plastic bottle but a relatively poor job of keeping oxygen from entering the bottle.
As we all know, oxygen causes oxidation, killing a beer quickly by making it taste stale or creating off-flavours.
Typically, beer will only stay fresh inside a standard clear PET plastic bottle for about two months. After two months, there will likely be enough oxidation to be able to taste a difference.
It is now possible to buy special plastic bottles made of PET that are amber in colour. These bottles do advertise storage capabilities on a par with glass bottles. If these bottles can genuinely remove this potential plastic issue, there is a much stronger case for using them!
The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe yes.
Suppose you are only storing your beer in plastic bottles for a short time
An example is for a few weeks of bottle conditioning.
Another is filling up a bottle from your keg to take somewhere.
In either case, there shouldn't be any difference between a glass and a plastic bottle.
The longer you store the beer in the plastic bottle, the more likely hood there will be off-flavours stemming from oxidation if you use standard PET bottles.
You might not have any issues using the more specialised amber PET bottles.
Usually, however, as long as the bottles are kept at room temperature or lower, there is minimal risk.
So why do you want to use glass beer bottles for your homebrew? Many people think this is more of a question of why you wouldn't want to use them. There is such a positive bias attached to glass beer bottles.
In most cases, glass bottles will probably give you a better homebrewing experience. This better experience is because the beer will be able to condition in the bottles for longer. Any worries about the beer going bad before you manage to drink it are unfounded. For brewers just starting on this exciting hobby, there are also way more resources to guide you in using glass bottles, such as when you are learning the technique of filling them.
They are readily available through empty commercial beers or homebrew supply stores
The dark colour reduces light penetrating your beer
The glass will not allow any oxygen to spoil your beer – the cap is still the weakest link
No off-flavours spoiling the beer.
Glass is easier to clean (you may scrub glass without much fear of actually scratching it)
Glass is traditional
That lovely hard-to-describe experience of drinking a beer from a glass bottle
Glass bottles are heavy when full
Glass bottles are relatively easy to break during transporting or if accidentally dropped
Glass is more likely to explode if the beer is over-carbonated
Amber glass makes it hard to check clarity and carbonation levels.
Plastic bottles for homebrew
There is a solid case to be made for using plastic bottles if you physically find it challenging to move the heavier glass bottles.
Suppose you tend to bottle lighter beers that don't require as much bottle conditioning. You tend not to keep your beer too long before it is drunk.
There are also other interesting Reasons.
Some homebrewers have stated that they would never use plastic bottles for their whole batch. It could make sense to fill a couple of plastic bottles enabling you to watch the bottle conditioning process if the bottles are clear.
The clear bottles will let you check the clarity and colour of your beer as it conditions. Also, because plastic is bendable, you can check to see how your carbonation is coming along.
Plastic is lighter
Plastic bottles are almost impossible to break during transportation or if dropped
Plastic is less likely to have issues with over-carbonating. The cap will usually go before the bottle.
Easy to find generic PET bottles
The capping process is straightforward
You can check the clarity and carbonation levels of conditioning beer
Plastic can be easily used to transport kegged beer (with a Carbonator Cap)
Generic bottles are prone to quicker oxidation
Possible off-flavours from plastic leaching
Plastic is usually transparent, which allows more light into the beer
At the end of the day, which type you decide to use is a subjective question you will have to answer.