Very little ruins a picnic or cookout like bad beer. Even more insidious than a bad beer is a beer that’s been degraded through bad handling. The drinker may not even know that the beer in their hand could taste better than it does! In this column, I’ll teach you about the three main ways that beer gets ruined: temperature, sunlight, and time.
The simplest and most common way to make your brew worse is to drink it at the wrong temperature. All but the strongest-flavored beers taste best between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Too cold and your taste buds are numbed, which might be a good idea if you’re tasting Buds (sorry, couldn’t resist), but otherwise isn’t a great idea.
A good rule of thumb is that the stronger the flavor in the beer, the warmer it should be served. Those macro light lagers really should be served colder (40 to 45 degrees), as should wheat beers, light Belgians, session beers, etc. Stronger beers like pale ales, IPAs, porters, and stouts deserve a warmer 45- to 50-degree temperature because that unlocks more flavors. Even stronger beers call for temps in the 50-to-55-degree range, while a good imperial stout, Belgian strong/quad brew, or barleywine tastes best at 55 to 60 degrees.
While less-than ideal serving temps can minimize a beer, extreme heat (or cold) can really wreck the flavor. One should never buy a 6-pack or case of beer and then leave it in the car all day. Your beer will simply taste worse, as extreme heat (and cold) helps to break down the intricate chemistry of a beer and can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences.
Temperature is important, but truly the best way to ruin a beer is to expose it to light, as ultraviolet rays are even worse for your beers than they are for your skin. UV rays break down hop compounds into sulfur compounds: They “skunk” your beer. It takes a while for beer to skunk, but it’s really best to keep it out of the light as long as possible.
Brown glass does help prevent skunking, while green does a merely mediocre job of it and clear glass doesn’t help at all. Maybe that’s why Corona is so often paired with lime? Canned beer doesn’t let in any UV light, of course, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular in the summer. However, then you have to deal with BPA, which I covered in a column from last August, viewable here – http://goodbrewhunting.com/the-benefits-and-hazard-of-canned-beer/
The final way folks abuse their beer is through neglect. With only a few exceptions, beer is meant to be consumed quickly. Heck, Stone Brewing puts out an excellent series of “Enjoy By:” double IPAs that are meant to be enjoyed by said date. The longer your beer is stored, the more the chemicals break down and the more mediocre the beer becomes.
Life is simply too short for second-rate beer, so let’s all do our best to keep our brews at the right temperature, out of the light, and consumed within a reasonable amount of time. We’ll all get more out of our beer, and brewers everywhere will rejoice as you taste their products as they were intended to be tasted.
America has reached a milestone that we haven’t seen since the 1870s: We surpassed 3,000 breweries in July, with 3,040 now in business. But if you think that’s impressive, there are another 2,000 breweries in planning stages! We could easily surpass the all-time high of 4,131 breweries (in 1873) in the next year or two. But don’t count on matching the per-capita brewery numbers of 1873 anytime soon (or maybe ever), as we’d need over 30,000 brewers to match the breweries-per-person ratio of our great-great-great-grandparents!
Originally published on July 17, 2014