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Monday, November 19, 2012

Damned Green Bottles

On my recent trip to Europe, I managed to collect several bottles of beer.  Mostly these were rarities not available in the US, but I devoted precious space to beer widely available here--Budvar.  I wanted it partly for the bottle, but also so Sally could enjoy a beer that came on a jet rather than on a slow boat from Europe.  Bottled Budvar is pasteurized, but still, fresh is best.

You have read the title of the post, so you know where this is headed.  The beer, packaged in an admittedly attractive green bottle, was skunked.* None of this is shocking: that's what happens to beer in green bottles.  When I visited Budvar, brewer Adam Brož shook his head sadly when the subject came up.  It is, as with all breweries that use green bottles, out of the brewer's hands.  Marketing types think that green bottle is so pretty they just can't be bothered about what it does to the beer.

What is shocking--to me, anyway--is the fact that Budvar gets skunked in the Czech Republic.  Americans are so used to skunked European lagers that many consider it a part of their character.  It had never occurred to me, though, that natives are also getting skunky beer.  It's one thing to sell crap to silly Americans, but Czechs presumably know what Budvar tastes like.  Surely this is an outrage?

In any case, consider this a plaintive cry to all marketing types working in the beer industry: kill the green bottle before it kills your beer.  This is unforgivable.

* Beer takes on a skunky flavor when exposed to light, a chemical reaction resulting from the decomposition of certain chemical compounds in the hop’s isohumulones.  Clear and green bottles lead, almost inexorably, to lightstruck beer.  It is one of the most incomprehensible practices in the brewing world--like selling unrefrigerated milk. 


  1. I don't care how much blowback I get from the beer geeks here, the fact is good beer in Brazil is almost completely absent.

    However, one positive aspect of Carlos Brito's conquest of the world is that for a reasonable price in my local Pao de Acucar, I can get a pretty darn fresh bottle of "Czechvar" (yes, even in Brazil, Budweiser is reserved for the St. Louis stuff) for about 10 Reais. That's a 25oz bottle for about $5. It has become my stand by. And it is darn good. Yet to have a skunked one.

    My guess is you were an easy mark, "sell the old stuff to the stupid American!"

  2. Americans took a vote. In the Electoral College, skunked beer in green and clear bottles won. Hence, the undying love of Heineken and Corona, two of the most skunk-infested beers out there. Sometimes taste counts for nothing. But, then, you already knew that.

  3. I can’t help thinking that Europeans don’t seem to find lightstrike as unpleasant as Americans do. Perhaps because we don’t have actual skunks over here.

  4. Patrick, I bought this bottle in the town of its manufacture. I don't think the American rube market is keeping things afloat in Ceske Budejovice.

    Barm, we are fortunate indeed to share our continent with the noble skunk.

  5. I would suspect that most Czechs drink the beer from cask or keg, not from bottles. The same is true in Bavaria. However, in Belgium and also sometimes here in the Netherlands, bottled beer is better because it's bottle-conditioned. The better breweries use brown glass, Heineken and their colleagues use green. Brand UP, probably one of the best Dutch pilseners, is owned by Heineken, but comes in a brown bottle.

  6. Don't know if this is still the norm. But, ...
    back in the day when they were my beer of choice, several Northern European green bottled pilseners were packaged in sealed cardboard cartoon. Mostly impervious to photon particles. Or, are they waves?

  7. Patrick is just lucky to find unskunked Czech beer in São Paulo, as all beers are poorly handled and stored in stores around here. Heineken is brewed 100km from São Paulo and is often skunked. It's not how much it has traveled but how long it has been on the shelf, under bright lights.