What Happens when #Beer Goes Bad
This is not a beer review. It should have been a beer review, but as you can see, this beer has seen better days. Instead of just allowing the beer to flow down the drain without so much as a whisper, I would like to use it as a primary example of what happens to beer if it’s left to age for too long.
Beer is very, very delicate. It’s extremely sensitive to all sorts of factors; Oxygen, light, temperature change, the list goes on, let alone the fact that it’s susceptible to much mishandling once it leaves the brewery. In the case of this beer, proteins have fallen out of solution, leaving the beer swimming with material that resembles snowflakes.
Time can easily do this to a beer, especially with weaker ones. Hop aromas and flavors begin to fade, and the protein structure can begin to unravel, causing what you see in the photo above. Oxygen (beer’s nemesis) can begin to take hold of the beer, causing oxidation and producing cardboardy flavors.
Some beers, however, respond very well to aging, especially bottle-conditioned ales. Flavors can mellow out, a little oxidation can produce some enjoyable sherry-like qualities, and some beers benefit greatly by having their spritziness tempered. So, here’s a few, quick and simple notes on storing your beer.
1) Keep the storing temperature constant and cold. The inner workings of beer chemistry are very sensitive to temperature, especially if that temperature is frequently changing. Heat is also not a beer’s best friend. So once it’s cold, do your best to keep it that way. Consistency of temperature is the most important thing here.
2) You probably all know this one, but keep it away from the light. When light meets beer, bad things happen. Hops contain resinous material, specifically alpha acids, that are very important to beer. Alpha acids are responsible for beer’s much-needed bitterness. During the kettle boil process of brewing, hops are added, and the alpha acids undergo isomerization, which basically means that they become bitter and soluble in the liquid. When light meets beer, these iso-alpha-acids are deconstructed to form some undesirable compounds. This causes beer to become light-struck, or “skunked,” as it is so often called. Not fun.
3) Unless you intend on aging the beer, consume it quickly. Obviously, you don’t need to pop the top on a brew the second you get it home, but most beers are meant to be consumed when they leave the brewery. Also, weaker beers aren’t really meant to be aged. There’s little point in aging a weak, pasteurized lager. They’re usually in prime condition once they leave the brewery, and any changes they undergo likely won’t be beneficial.
4) If you plan on aging a beer, ales, particularly bottle-conditioned ales, are most suitable for aging. The yeast can scavenge oxygen and protect the beer a bit. Sweeter flavors can mellow out and the beer can gain a very charming complexity. As I said earlier, a little oxidation can actually be a good thing, producing some sherry-like characteristics. Stronger ales, such as those above 6% or 7%, are the best candidates. Very strong ales such as barley wines are even better, and some of them actually get better with age.
There’s obviously a lot more to it than the few notes I just outlined, but I have to go to work now. So, I’m going to stop it right here for now. In the meantime, treat your beer with care. It loves you. Reciprocate it.