Ever heard of a Skunky Beer? Imagine it’s a hot day in late August. You’ve spent the entirety of the day wrestling the backyard into submission. You’re sweaty, a bit overheated, and all you want is a nice, cold beer. So, you open the fridge and savor the wave of cold air that hits you before reaching for your favorite bottle of domestic. You pop the top and tilt the bottle. But instead of the refreshing taste you’re expecting, you get the offensive flavor of musty, wet animal.
What happened? What scenario possibly could have unfolded to turn your favorite beer into a malodorous bottle of sludge? Let’s find out.
Why Skunked Is an Apt Term
Since you were old enough to buy a case of beer and toss it in the trunk of your car to transport home on a hot day, you’ve likely heard the warnings – never let beer get warm and then cool it again, lest it become ‘skunked.’ While the advice was flawed in one respect (allowing beer to cool, warm, then cool again isn’t what causes skunking), the use of the term ‘skunked’ is pretty accurate. Skunked beer tastes the way it does because chemical reactions inside the bottle have created a compound called 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol (MBT) – a compound nearly identical to the one skunks spray in self-defense.
Humans can taste this compound in ridiculously small doses; just a bit of MBT is enough to completely ruin a beer. So, how does it appear in your beer bottle? More importantly, how can you prevent it?
What Causes Skunky Beers
Contrary to popular belief, beer does not become skunked after exposure to heating and cooling – unless you’re regularly boiling and nearly freezing your beer. (It does, however, increase the speed at which your beer oxidizes, leading to a slightly less offending wet cardboard flavor.) Instead, the main culprit behind skunking is the UV rays of the sun.
Over time and in large enough quantities, the blue spectrum of UV light interacts with the hop compounds (isohumulones) in your beer, breaking them down and lending an electron to an amino acid. The result is the dreaded MBT compound that gives your beer that skunked flavor.
How Can You Avoid Skunky Beer?
The first step in skunky beer prevention occurs at the brewery – brewers choose packaging that helps to block out UV light and avoid skunking altogether. Kegs and cans are completely opaque and are the best way to prevent skunking, and brown bottles come in a close second – there’s a reason most craft beers are packaged in these two containers. Green and clear bottles let in the most UV light, and the beer contained within is thus the most susceptible to producing MBT.
Skunking can happen at any time– usually during the warehousing or in-store portions of your beer’s trip to your fridge. That means there isn’t a lot you need to do to prevent skunking except purchase beers that come in cans or brown bottles. If your favorites are packaged in clear or green bottles, just do your best to keep your beer out of the sun.
You can trust Payless Liquors for all your cold, fresh beer needs. Our beer stock is regularly rotated to prevent unnecessary exposure to the UV light that can cause skunking. We also have a large selection of brands and styles to please any palate. Stop in or complete an online order form for pickup today.