There is no universally perfect beer since taste is subjective. But no matter what your personal preferences are, there are universal signs of a great beer. Like food, beer is a perishable product meaning that how a beer is made, its ingredients and how it’s kept will determine its shelf life. Let’s take a look at the 5 signs of a great beer.
Doesn’t Need to be Served Ice Cold
There’s a reason some beers are better when served cold. It has nothing to do with cooling you down and everything to do with masking what are called off-flavors. Light beers are particularly reactive to sunlight and temperature. Add to them cheap ingredients, adjunct lagers that further decrease the barley flavor and long trips from brewery to table…let’s just say that it’s better to drink that beer as cold as possible.
But a great beer actually gets better the warmer it is. You should be able to smell and taste hidden aromas and get a more distinct aftertaste. Any beer that gets worse as it gets warmer isn’t worth drinking.
Is Poured A Lot
Like any perishable product, if beer sits in the line from the keg to the tap too long, it goes bad. Fermentation is a chemical reaction and the longer the beer is exposed to oxygen, the more it changes. If you’re at a dive bar and don’t like any of the bottles or cans, choose a beer that has been poured a lot. Sure, it might not be your favorite, but at least you’ll know that it came fresh out of the keg and has not had time to develop off-flavors.
Has Never Seen Sunlight
Because beer contains hops, it reacts poorly to sunlight. Hops contain a chemical called isohumulone that is cleaved by sunlight. The resulting molecule is called 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol. Yes, that’s a mouthful – actually a noseful – you know this molecule is “skunk smell.” Beers in green or clear bottles are the most prone to skunking (that’s an official term!) because high energy blue light enters easily and reacts with the isohumulone. For non-skunked beer, choose ones that come in a brown bottle or a can.
What tastes better, a tomato shipped from Florida or one that you grew in your backyard? Anyone who’s ever had homegrown tomatoes knows that they are the sweetest and tastiest. You have the luxury of picking them off the vine when they’re ripe, instead of harvesting green tomatoes and letting them ripen in transit in the back of a dark truck. The same goes for beer. Local brews are fresher and they don’t need to travel as far. This means less exposure to sunlight and jostling, thus less chance to spoil.
Has Not Experienced Temperature Changes
When beer is transported, it experiences temperature changes. In chemistry class, the most obvious sign of a chemical reaction is if something is heated up or set on fire. Temperature changes cause chemical changes in beers, most of them resulting in weird off-flavors. This is another reason to choose a local beer instead of one that has been shipped from another state or country.
Your beer preference may be subjective, but the process needed to keep any beer fresh is the same. Next time you go to a bar, keep these tips in mind in order to pick the best, freshest beer.