We received some good feedback on our taste panel blog a few weeks ago, so I thought I would go a little deeper into one of the elements-light struck, or skunky.
This flaw is very relevant right now, as we are full swing into patio season. We’ve all experienced the pain of light struck beer-you get a nice cold pint and all of a sudden it smells like a skunk has wandered on to the patio. Skunks are kind of cute, but yeah, don’t want my beer smelling like one. So what causes this? How can one prevent it?
This where I bring in the experts. I’ll look to Paul and Gerri, our QA/QC folks. Here is an excerpt from the taste panel training manual they created:
The lightstruck or skunky aroma/flavor in beer is 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol. This gets in our beer when a little piece of an iso-alpha acid (bittering compound from hops) breaks off and reacts with a sulfur containing compound. Light is what makes the little piece break off (turns out riboflavin is also important). Because we know that this happens, we use bottles that block the wavelengths of light that cause it. That is why most breweries put their beer in brown bottles.
The question you now have is, what about beer that is packaged in clear (or green) glass?! That stuff must be skunky as hell! Well, no. There is a way to avoid the issue. You can use a product which is extracted from hops and then chemically modified called reduced iso-alpha acids instead of whole hop products. These will not release the critical piece, and so beer made exclusively with these products will never get skunky. When we reduce the iso-alpha acid, we are adding hydrogen and getting rid of double bonds, which makes the iso-alpha acid much more sturdy (resistant to that piece falling off). Same thing as “hydrogenation” of vegetable oil to make fake butter.
Important Note: “Skunky” is a very misused term. Many beer drinkers say skunky when they really mean oxidized. Do not confuse these terms, as they have nothing to do with each other. A beer can be absolutely fresh and skunky. A beer can also be oxidized to the point that it is undrinkable and have no skunky character.
So now the solutions. We would never suggest you stop drinking beer outside. That is crazy talk. But you can take a few measures to make your plein air happy hour even happier.
-The first obvious solution is to try to sit under an umbrella or tree. This will also keep you younger looking longer.
-No shade? Wrap your napkin around your glass. Looks like a beer cape if you have cloth napkins. Will you look like a dork? Yes. Will your beer taste better than your mate’s? Yes. Win.
-Another nifty and somewhat subtler trick is to always carry one of those cardboard coffee cozies with you. They fit on a pint glass super well and effectively block the majority of light, while also keeping your beer cooler, longer. They also work on plastic cups.
-As mentioned in the science part of this blog, our brown bottle helps protect the beer if you aren’t drinking from a pint. Throwing a bottle cozy on there makes it even better. (Why yes, we do sell those in our gift shop)
There you have it, a guide to making summer beer drinking even better. We wish you luck with your new found knowledge.