99 Colors of Beer Glass on the Wall: A Short History Bottle Colors

99 Colors of Beer Glass on the Wall: A Short History Bottle Colors

Why are there different colored beer bottles and what does it mean? Today, beer bottles are manufactured in a number of colors, but has that always occurred? These are the questions I have been asking myself as I have been looking through Campus Archaeology artifacts, especially the several beer bottles curated in our collections.

Image showing three beer bottles made of green, clear, and brown glass.
Beer bottle color example (Image Source: http://wettenimporters.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/10100128_m.jpg)

Before we dive into why beer bottles come in so many colors, let’s start with why brewer’s began to use glass bottles in the first place. This practice began because brewers determined that using glass allowed their beer to remain fresh for longer periods of time. However, if those bottles were left out in the sun for too long, the smell and taste of the beer would change, becoming the skunky beer that we all fear! Studies have shown that ultra violet (UV) rays from the sun react with the acids present within hops. These then react with sulfur present in the beer to form a chemical that is very similar to the liquid skunks spray when threatened, hence the term “skunky” beer (Burns et al 2001). To prevent this unpleasant chemical change, brewers decided to start using bottles that were tinted, the idea being that this tint would protect the beer from powerful UV rays. Just like we use sunglasses to protect our eyes from UV rays, using a tinted brown bottle would help protect the beer from becoming skunky (Berghoff Beer 2013; Wetten Importers 2014).

However, beer bottles come in several colors today, including clear, green, and brown. Why did brewers begin to use green glass instead of brown? It turns out that there was a period of time during World War II when brown glass was in high demand, causing some beer manufacturing companies to turn to other tints of glass, such as green, to bottle their beer. The green tint, while not as effective for protecting against UV rays as brown glass, was more effective than clear glass and still offered beer some protections from the sun (Berghoff Beer 2013; O. Berk 2016). Higher quality brewing companies, in order to differentiate their beer from lower quality brewers who used clear glass, specifically chose green glass during this time. The green beer bottle soon became a status symbol for many European breweries (Berghoff Beer 2013; Wetten Importers 2014). Today, we don’t have to worry as much about UV rays affecting our beer, no matter the color of the glass, because glass suppliers are able to put UV protection coats on bottles to keep beer in any bottle fresh (Berghoff Beer 2013).

Image showing two brown beer bottles recovered from the Brody/Emmons Site
Image showing two brown beer bottles recovered from the Brody/Emmons site

While interesting from a historical standpoint, these changes in beer bottle glass help archaeologists in other ways. Combined with bottle shape and the presence of other artifacts, the color of beer bottles can help us place a date on archaeological deposits that we recover, which is especially helpful here at CAP. Since we primarily recover archaeological materials from relatively recent events, we cannot use many of the hard science techniques for dating sites, such as radiocarbon dating. Instead, we must rely on the artifacts themselves. Luckily, the color of beer bottle glass and other lines of evidence make this possible.

Author: Autumn Painter


Burns, Colin S., Arne Heyerick, Denis De Keukeleire, and Forbes D. E. Malcom. “Mechanism for Formation of the Lightstruck Flavor in Beer Revealed by Time-Resolved Electron Paramagnetic Resonance.” Chemistry – A European Journal 7.21 (2001): 4553-561.

Why are Beer Bottles Brown? Oberk. http://www.oberk.com/packaging-crash-course/why-are-beer-bottles-brown (accessed February 23, 2018)

What Does the Color of Your Beer Bottle Mean? Berghoff Beer Blog. http://berghoffbeer.com/blog/what-does-the-color-of-your-beer-bottle-mean/ (accessed February 23, 2018)

Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes. Society for Historical Archaeology. https://sha.org/bottle/beer.htm (accessed February 23, 2018)

Why Does Beer Come in Different Colored Bottles? Wetten Importers. https://wettenimporters.com/news-events/beer-colored-bottles/ (accessed February 23, 2018)

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