Beer brewing began in the U.S. during early colonial days when beer was consumed in large quantities during almost all meals. However, at the time, bottles were relatively rare and expensive. Beer was typically dispensed from kegs in taverns and inns. The earliest types of bottles used for bottling beer during this period were the common heavy glass black glass utilitarian bottles which were used for various liquid products. By the late 18th century, beer was being bottled in the northern Atlantic seaboard states and in large enough quantity that some were being exported overseas.
The vast majority of alcoholic beverage bottles recovered from the wreck of the SS Republic are in fact beer bottles, totaling nearly 400 samples. The assorted colors featured in the collection include shades of green and blue as well as black glass-the range of colors typical for beer bottles dating prior to 1870.
Black glass refers to shades of dark olive green, dark amber and even deep purple. Often, the glass is so dense that the color appears black. Many elements combined, including the proportions of certain substances and impurities in the materials can produce the dark color; most usually high concentrations of iron, but also other substances such as carbon derived from ashes, as well as copper with iron and magnesia. These ingredients produced a strong and resilient glass whose dense color also best protected the bottled contents from the effects of sunlight, thus preventing spoilage.
Beer and ale bottles are most frequently round in cross section, an inherently strong shape. They are also typically made of heavy thick glass, essential to withstand the pressures of the carbonation process. The strength of the glass also permitted the bottle to survive extensive post-bottling handling and use since such bottles were typically re-used many times.
American breweries used this type of bottle in the mid-19th century, filling it with their brands of beer, ale, lager or stout, then adding their distinctive brewery label-long since washed away after nearly 140 years on the Atlantic seabed.