Kegs and cans have an advantage over glass

The science of skunked beer — or why clear glass bottles are the bane of brew.


  1. If you stick to brown bottles you should be okay, green and clear are no good unless they are packaged in a way that prevents light from entering (e.g. Newcastle 12 packs). Fun fact: Miller brews beers using hop extract from which the precursors of skunk have been removed, so those are immune to skunking (but not from being crappy)

    1. Yes, the article headline is of course false, but the subtitle gets it right.  The best format for long-term beer storage is actinized glass – which most people would call “a brown bottle”.  The second best storage is glass kept away from light.  Third best is in your stomach!

      Storing beer in corrosion-prone metal containers is something you do only if you have to, presumably because you can’t afford the cost of protecting wood or glass from the environment you’re in.

      1. The aluminum, steel, or other metal is typically protected by a polymer layer of some flavor(which has its own potential for trouble, many formulations include bisphenol A which makes people nervous); but getting interior coatings to work properly was a significant step in making metal containers practical at all.

    2. In my experience, retailers seem to favor the strategy of filling the clear bottles with Corona, presumably to prevent beer from being accidentally placed in them.

  2. Off the top of my head the only beer I know I drink from a clear glass bottle is Newcastle Brown, and I guess I’ve been lucky that it’s been kept away from sunlight.

    Oddly enough one of my experiences with homebrewing was a batch of bitter that ended up skunked, or something very like it, in spite of being kept well away from sunlight. I think in that case it was probably something that got into the beer before it was bottled. 

    That was the end of my homebrewing hobby, but I’m more of a drinker than a brewer anyway.

    1. The original article mentions that lagers are more susceptible to this, plus NBA isn’t a particularly hoppy brew. I wonder if the darker color of some ales prevents UV light from penetrating and causing the beer in the middle to go skunky…

      1. I’ve sent back more than a few bottles of Newcastle that were skunked. Any beer with any amount of hops is susceptible.

  3. As a kid we all believed that they added a teeeeny tinnnny little bit of formaldehyde to keep beer “fresh” 

  4. My favourite beer to drink in the summer is Sleeman Cream Ale (Guelph, Ontario). As it comes in a clear bottle, and as I’m fond of drinking it while sitting in the sunshine in my back garden, I’ve come to associate it’s slightly skunky taste with summer. Doesn’t really bother me at all.

  5. Interesting. Good Beer (ie that from brewers rather than the junk from the large chain chemists) here in the UK is almost always sold in bottles from the supermarkets. There are beers sold in cans that are supposed to be the same thing but invariably aren’t. I wonder why glass is the packaging of choice for the premium product when its worse for the beer?

    1. I’m not sure, but I do remember when I returned to the States from the UK the closest thing I could get to a pub pint of Guinness was Guinness in a specially designed can. At the time those cans weren’t sold on this side of the pond (I had half a dozen in my luggage), and the only way to get Guinness was in a bottle. Bottled Guinness tasted very, very different, though.

      I was going to suggest that possibly bottles are cheaper, but that seems unlikely.

      1. Good point!  Nitrogenated beers with the widget in the can are generally excellent.  I believe that Guinness in a bottle doesn’t have the widget, so the bubbles are carbon dioxide.  Guinness from a tap (or a tin) will have a bit of carbon dioxide, but mostly nitrogen, which makes for smaller bubbles and a creamier head.

        My first experience with Guinness was from a bottle, and I honestly could not believe that anyone would voluntarily drink the stuff.

        1. A friend of mine who was only familiar with bottled Guinness described it as “chocolate Kaopectate”. I never did have a chance to get him to try a pint of the real stuff. 

          1.  Huh.  I did not know that.  My bottled guinness experience was back in the late 90s, so my info is no longer current

      2. Bottled Guinness and canned Guinnesss aren’t the same product, that would probably explain why you found it so different.

      3. Bottled Guiness without the widget thingy in it is sold as Guiness Export Ale and is a different beer from the Guiness you’ll find on tap. Guiness draft — whether on tap, in a can (with a widget thingy), or in a bottle (also with a widget thingy) — are all (supposedly) the same beer nowadays, though that has not always been the case. Regular Guiness is about 3% alcohol, if memory serves, while Guiness Export is about 5%. The original reason for doing it that way had something to do with taxes on alcohol in Ireland, though by my (Belgian) standards they both seem pretty low in alcohol….

        1. “Regular” Guinness Draught is 4.2%. There is also Guinness Mid-strength which is 2.8%. Guinness Extra Stout varies a lot depending on where in the world you are. There is also Guinness Foreign Extra Stout which is generally considerably stronger and again varies a lot depending on where you are.

    2. I suspect (based on nothing but my gut feeling) that it relates to scale, and ease of setup. If you want to tin your beer, then you need a pretty industrial assembly line to make it work.  Whereas bottling can be done at home.

      So tins probably aren’t a realistic option until you get up to a certain size of brewing operation, and the things brewed at that scale are miller, bud, etc.

      Also, it could be related to the fact that people already have a mental association between tins and cheap beer.  In wine, I know synthetic corks had a stigma associated with them for quite some time, even though they are more reliable than real cork.

    3. The main reason is technology. Only in the last few years has canning technology become affordable enough for small breweries to use, and even more recently have the problems with oxygen exposure leading to occasionally oxidized beer been solved.

      The other reason is that lots of premium beers still have live yeast in them, which is called bottle conditioning. That’s what makes them carbonated, and in many beers that’s why they’ll improve with age. Cans can’t handle that changing internal pressure nearly as well as glass.

      1. About bottle agingI would have assumed that cans could handle rising pressure better than bottles since metal cans can flex, while glass bottles are much more rigid and will shatter instead of bulging.

        On the other hand, I guess a single piece of glass might have more structural integrity than three very thin pieces of flanged-together aluminum with a rivet on one end.

  6. I still prefer bottles. Canned beer always tastes watery and bland to me. Except once, I got a can of Yuengling that tasted rancid and chemically. I’d rather go to the bar and get a draft if I’m not drinking from the bottle.

    And I’m probably gonna drink it before it skunks anyway.

  7. Question: is skunky flavor soapy as well? I’ve read that soapy flavors are caused by fusel/higher molecular weight alcohols.

    Or is skunkiness a different flavor and I’m just drinking gross beers?

    1. I think they are different things. There are some hops that have a very soapy taste to me, (simcoe is one variety that I think is soapy). I’ve never tasted fusel alcohol that seemed soapy.

      1. Ah. I drink a few different beers that sometimes taste very soapy. As it happens, I also can’t stand cilantro because it also tastes soapy to me. Perhaps I got a bad tastebud gene or somesuch that might influence both flavors. Most likely the two soapy flavors have nothing in common though.

  8. This is old news. Like half-a-decade old news. Trendier breweries in the Pacific Northwest and California have been doing this for a while. (example: It’s debatable what the absolutely ideal container for keeping beer fresh is, but on a reasonable level, cans are the best, And they’re better for the environment as well. Even the brown bottles still leak in light and have a more corruptible seal. As for corrosion, when was the last time you saw beer corrode an aluminum (aluminium if you like) can?

    I’ve always come to the conclusion that bottles are just more popular because people associate it with quality, and because they were the best before aluminum cans were invented. Also, as someone said above, the size of smaller craft-breweries prohibits the use of aluminum.

    And if you go with bottles just because you like the taste or feel or whatever better, then you should contemplate this: if you’re going to start getting really picky about your beer, then you should probably be drinking it from an appropriate glass.

  9. I much prefer drinking from a can. The shape of the bottle and the shape of my mouth makes bottled beer really sudsy and gassy. Cans just don’t. Yet many’s the time I’ve gone into a liquor store looking for a nice six-pack of canned beer, only to find NONE at all. Not a single can of beer in the whole place – everything from cheap dishwater to the most precisely engineered Japanese is bottled. So I buy wine instead.

      1. No, but wine isn’t bubbly like beer (champagne aside). Wine’s also easier to pour, less susceptible to detergent residue on the glass, doesn’t need to stay cold, etc.
        Now, I also have problems with wine packaging. How is one non-alcoholic person supposed to get through a 750mL bottle of wine on a weeknight before it turns gross – i.e. within 18 hours?
        Anyway… I’m coming across like a precious little foo-foo now, so I’ll shut up.

        1. Put the cork back in and it will still be drinkable the next evening, unless you’re a complete wine snob and if that’s the case finishing it in an evening shouldn’t be hard!

    1. Go to Canada, or at least Ontario. I kept looking for bottled beer in the LCBO there and choices were always much slimmer than if I searched the canned range.

      I’d much prefer beer in bottles because it generally stays cooler in my hand as can will transfer the heat faster and the taste of aluminium on my lips always tastes metallic. However, if I transfer a can into a glass I’m fine. If I’ve got beer in a bottle I’ll only transfer it into a glass if I want to see the colour, or if I’m sharing it with a friend.

  10. Noooooo. Wrooooong. Both the headline, and that white glass containers are unsuitable in general. The hight-tech glass industry found a way around this. Vanadium pentoxide or cerium dioxide is added during the production of the glass. Blocks UV.

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