If you've ventured down to your local grocery store to peruse the beer section lately, chances are good that you've seen row upon row of bottles gleaming under those fluorescent lights – six-packs, 12-packs, cases and even singles. It's also likely that you saw a predominant number of brown bottles available with a smattering of green and clear bottles tossed in. Why the color range? Why does brown dominate the world of beer bottles?
Once upon a time, beer bottles were mostly green. However, during the 1930s, scientists discovered that sunlight actually caused beer to break down and that brown glass helped to prevent this from happening. Green and clear glass did not do much to protect beer from the ravages of sunlight. Most brewers switched to brown bottles to protect their beer and make sure that it arrived at the stores as fresh as possible.
Of course, some beer makers did not make this move. You will notice that quite a few beers still come in green bottles – Heineken and Molson being two good examples of this. There is a good reason why they have stuck with green even though this glass color does not protect the beer quite as well. After World War II, European brewers found that it was more affordable to use green bottles for their beer. America was suffering from the effects of Prohibition, which reduced the number and quality of American breweries by a significant amount. Because high quality European beers were available in green bottles (and because low-quality American beer came in brown bottles), most drinkers began to equate green bottles with high quality beer. Many brewers use green bottles as a status symbol to this day.
You've probably also noticed that a handful of beers are bottled in clear bottles – Corona, for instance. If a beer has a low percentage of hops used in the brewing process, then sunlight does not affect it in the same way as other beers. Anything with a low hop percentage can be safely bottled in clear glass without much worry about the beer breaking down with exposure to light. That doesn’t mean that you should store them on your window shelf though.
That is it in a nut shell. Brown bottles are important for protecting the delicious brew from the ravages of sunlight. Green bottles are more a status symbol than anything else, and clear bottles really don't do much of anything to protect your beer, but can be a sign of a low-hop beer.