The first perfect days of spring are upon us. When the sky is cloudless and blue and the temperatures are resting easily in the seventies, it's time to hit the beer garden, the sidewalk café, the patio or even your front porch. Grab a cold beer, bask in the warm sun and do some people watching. Sounds like a worry-free afternoon, right? Not quite.
Drinker, your beer is perilously close to getting skunked.
When beer is exposed to light, a chemical reaction begins that will quickly produce a pronounced off flavor. Everyone has tasted it. People call it "skunky" or "skunked" beer, and associate it mostly with beers in clear or green glass bottles.
The technical term for the cause of this off flavor is 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, but even brewers just say it's "light-struck" or skunked. This flavor, which some consumers don't mind, is "formed as a result of exposure of beer to daylight or artificial light. This initiates a reaction involving hop bitter acids, vitamins and sulphur compounds," according to the Cicerone Certification Program.
The important thing to realize is that this reaction occurs not over the course of hours or days, but in minutes. So what can you do to enjoy a cold brew al fresco? Cans and brown glass bottles are always safe. Some big commercial beers are bittered with a hop extract that has been modified to avoid this problem, so beers such as Miller High Life are safe, even though they come in clear bottles.
If you're drinking draft beer, however, the situation is more challenging. Try to find a spot where your beer can be in the shade. Or, find one of those ceramic steins with a flip-top lid at a thrift store -- it's stylish, traditional beer protection.
If there's no shade and you're drinking beer out of clear glasses, your options are limited. If half pints are an option, go for it. You'll drink it faster and it will stay colder, too. If it's hot, you'll be quaffing the beer down, anyway. "I have to finish this before it gets skunked." You might also choose less hoppy beers, like wheat instead of an IPA. If the bar lists the International Bitterness Units (IBUs) of each beer, choose the lower numbers. This really won't buy you too much time, though.
After sunset, you're safe, but if you want to get some sun with your brew, plan ahead to maximize your pleasure, and minimize the smell of skunks. Above all, enjoy a cold drink and the perfect weather while it lasts.