How Does Beer Get Skunked?

By James Madeiros


How does beer get skunked: a question that implies people actually let this happen, all of whom should be very ashamed and righteously punished. But, that doesn’t really provide any answers…

“Skunky” beer, for those of you fortunate enough to have never had one foul your lips, is beer that has gone bad – insofar as beer can go bad. It doesn’t spoil, per se, like meat or milk, but it can take on a nasty flavor that devastates the taste buds and reduce even the stoutest lumberjack to tears.

So, how does it happen?

A widely held myth is that a beer will go skunky if it’s allowed to chill and then get warm, even if it’s chilled yet again before drinking. That, however, is not the case; a fact that should cause some measure of relief for anyone who has filled a cooler and failed to empty it before the ice melts and the mood fades.

No, beer gets skunked by light. Natural light will foul a beer the fastest, but artificial light can cause flavor alteration, too, although you may have to be a brewmeister of some renown to detect the differences. Not so with daylight, though. Enough of the sun’s rays and your beer will begin to break down – with one of the byproducts in the process being a sulfur compound that will make it taste (and smell) like a skunk.

The process doesn’t take long, either. Pilsners in a clear glass that are exposed to direct sunlight can skunk in a matter of seconds, according to the Food Science and Technology Department at the University of California–Davis, so be sure not to dawdle with your drink on those sunny days.

Skunky Beer

Legal Stuff: We should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

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