Skunked Beer - The Ultimate bitter beer face

By John Markus Pinard | April 22, 2008 | 3 Comments |
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The ingredients in a beer and the process by which it is brewed allow for a great deal of variation in the final outcome, as the slightest tweak in one aspect of the beer could alter its taste entirely. This is why homebrews normally aren't as reliable for their taste as, lets say, a Bud Light. However, despite the near perfect record large brewers have in bringing you a consistent product, the opportunity still exists for an outside force to alter the state of ingredients that create the flavor we have all grown to love, thereby leaving you with a skunked beer on your hands.

So it is Sunday afternoon and you just want to sit down on your couch and watch a football game with a brew or two. You remember that there are some leftover beers in the car from the BBQ the week before, so you grab them and the first sip you take leaves you with a bitter beer face that can put that guy in the old school commercials to shame. So what causes this off flavored taste from a beer that you are so fond of and why did it happen to MY beer?

According to, there are close to one thousand different compounds that constitute a beer. The five main components include yeast, hops, starch source, water and a clarifying agent; different amounts of each distinguish one beer from another. Another way to distinguish a beer from itself, leave it out in a warm environment for an extended period of time.

Hops in a beer can be compared to alcohol in celebrities – if applied in the right doses, we all are happier, but when overdone it can create a catastrophe; being very sensitive at that! When a beer is exposed to light it creates a reaction in hops that brings out a more acidic taste, and with hops being such a strong ingredient, if distorted it can completely change the taste of the beer. Chemists at UNC Chapel Hill say, "when exposed to light, the alpha acids in hops break down into free radicals that then react with sulfur-containing proteins to make a chemical called 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, which is virtually identical to the principal constituent of skunk juice."1 Wait they said what? Skunk juice is actually part of my beer? Tip: don't let this happen to your beer!

So how can someone avoid such a thing? Rumor has it that light colored bottles are more prone to skunked beer; hence why Heineken is often referred to as the ultimate skunked beer. Sam Adams has recently come out with commercials stating how their dark bottles help avoid this; similarly their six pack boxes rise higher up on the bottles to help protect it from the light. Other breweries such as Miller Light have altered their hops so that light does not affect them as fast as it normally would, giving the consumer more time to enjoy their beer without having to worry about the taste being distorted.

Don't worry; leading beer companies are currently researching even more ways to avoid a beer being altered by light. But as of now, the best way to avoid this is to simply refrigerate your beer! Don't let the sun ruin your relaxing Sunday afternoon in front of the television watching a manly game of football. The next time someone comments on the off taste of a beer, just throw out a couple of facts you learned here to put your newfound knowledge in the art of beer to use.


3 Comments · Skunked Beer - The Ultimate bitter beer face

  • Green bottles! Damn you green bottles.....!!!!

  • Great article - wish this didn't happen to me as often as it does...

  • Great post. I rail about skunk beers all the time. But it's sad to think that someone trying to break away from their "macrobrew blinders" and pick Heineken, Grolsch and the like. Sometimes, people prefer that to American Pale Lager and I can't say I blame them.

    I still want to go to the Heineken brewery and taste what it is supposed to taste like. What then if that is also skunky?!

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