Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 2, No. 31
How to make your beer taste stale

May 9, 2002

Anheuser-Busch fired a shot across the bow of imports this week with its first national "Freshness Day." On Tuesday, A-B delivered beer packaged earlier in the day to 180 markets, and invited consumers to taste the difference. This is the beginning of what is going to be a summerlong campaign, so expect to see a lot more talk about freshness.


Although A-B works hard to ensure its beers are consumed fresh, you may occasionally be served stale Bud - and the fact is that you can find fresh imports. Additionally, some beers stand up to time better than others. But that is a different discussion.

Instead, today we offer an exercise that makes it easy to spot stale beer. There are two main villains in this scenario - oxidation and skunkiness. We've explained before how when bright light strikes the hops, creating what's technically known as "light struck" beer, the resulting chemical is identical to that in a skunk's defense system. That's why light-struck beer puts off one of the most powerful aromas around.

Although professional brewers work hard to keep oxygen out of a bottle, a tiny amount can make beer taste stale given enough time - and high temperatures (in unrefrigerated trucks or warm loading docks) shorten the time it takes to oxidize a beer. The resulting flavor/aroma will be of wet cardboard.

Still not sure what flavors you should and should not be looking for? Start with three bottles of beer, preferably pulled from a case shortly after the case was delivered to where you buy it. This works best with lagers, and not particularly dark ones.

You may want to try the exercise with more than one beer, perhaps once with Sam Adams Boston Lager, another time a regionally brewed lager and a third time a light beer such as Bud Light or Miller Lite.

Take one bottle and set it (still unopened) in the bright sunlight for several hours. Take another, open it and leave it sitting out for a day. Put the third in the fridge. Then mix an ounce of each of the doctored beers with about half the third bottle, pouring the remainder of that bottle into a second glass.

Taste them both. Or, for fun, have a friend taste them both and ask him or her which cost more. Expect the doctored beer to win more often than not, accompanied by a comment it tastes "imported."

Tasting notes

Brewed by Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland
Michael Jackson writes:
... a very full color and body for the style, though its grainy dryness and touch of newly mown hay are exemplary. In general, the most robust interpretations of the Dortmunder Export style are today found in the U.S.

Brewed by Gordon Biersch Brewing in California and at brewpubs of the same name
Roger Protz writes:
Stunning gold-turning-copper color with a rich waft of fat, juicy malt and cornflour on the nose and just a hint of freshly-cracked cob nuts. The palate is full-bodied and malty with a delicious underpinning of tart fruit and light hop bitterness. The finish starts malty but finished dry with a lingering light hop note and some delicious hints of citrus fruits.