Why Does My Beer Taste Bad?

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There are a few reasons as to why your beer might taste bad. Most have to do with extreme temperature changes or chemical changes. Here’s the few reasons a beer might taste bad.

Reasons Your Beer Tastes Bad: Skunking

The biggest reason a beer can taste bad is if the beer had been skunked. Skunking a beer means that you left the beer out in the sun for too long (and it doesn’t have to be that long). After the beer has been exposed to the sun, it will first smell bad, like a skunk (hence the name). Without becoming over-technical, the beer goes bad after being light-struck. This means that certain wavelengths of light in the sun are able to change the chemical balance of a beer, specifically with the hops. A photosynthetic reaction changes the chemical compound of the hops in beer which then gives them that skunky smell. That’s why many bottles are made of a dark brown tint or cans are made of aluminum. This is to help protect the beer from the certain wavelengths. If the smell isn’t putrid enough for you and you decide to taste it, get ready for an overpowering flavor of nasty. I recommend to pour those beers out as quickly as possible.

Reasons Your Beer Tastes Bad: Expiration

Another reason a beer may taste bad is that it has expired. However, that could be a bit misleading. Most beers don’t ever expire in the way bread or milk does. Much like wine, beer actually can age for the better. There’s a peak freshness at about 3-4 months after being bottled. However, soon after, the quality of the beer will begin to decline. That, however, does not mean it has expired. The beer will just begin to taste less fresh. If you beer is somewhat flat or flavorless, you may have been keeping that beer in your cellar for a little too long. Most beers these days will label their bottles with an expiration date. You should have a good amount of time from purchasing a beer to when it expires. If you have an inkling that your beer may be past due, check the expiration date before drinking, no one wants to sip a flat, flavorless beer.

Reasons Your Beer Tastes Bad: Temperature Changes

Lastly, another way a beer can taste bad is if you overheat the beer. Now all beers go through a bunch of temperature changes throughout the brewing process. However, once a beer is ready, you’ll want to avoid letting it get extremely hot. Think of a day trip. If you pack a case of beer into your car and leave it in the hot sun for a few hours while you’re out on a hike or at the beach, you can potentially overheat it. Your beer will become quite stinky and probably smell like a bad can of creamed corn. The beer will lost a lot of its flavor and the malts will definitely have a curdled taste. If you’re taking beer on a trip, we recommend you bring a cooler and ice, or at least make sure the beer is in a cool, shaded area.

On the opposite end, freezing a beer can also make a beer taste bad. Ever want to speed up the process of cooling down a beer by popping it in the freezer only to forget about it? That beer, if it hasn’t exploded all over your freezer, will develop large chunks of ice. If you let it melt and bring the temperature back down to a drinkable level, don’t be surprised if the beer is flat and flavorless. While temperature changes can ruin a beer’s flavor, be aware that it has to be a pretty extreme change. During the brewing process, beer goes through many temperature changes.

A common misconception is that taking a beer from the refrigerator, leaving it out to get warm, then placing it back in the fridge can ruin the taste. This isn’t true. Beer is able to withstand those slight temperature changes. Though its not recommend to drastically change the temperature, such as from the fridge to the trunk of a car on a hot summer day, letting it warm up to room temperature is not going to harm your beer’s flavor.

For the best tasting beer, store your cases in a cool dark place, or if you can, a refrigerator. Try not to leave beer outside exposed to the elements. Even in a garage can be a bad idea. Beer comes in a thousand different styles and flavors, and all of them deserve to be tasted just as the brewer had hoped for. Treat your beer well and it will reward your with its delicious flavors. Happy drinking!

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Carla Lauter was the founder of The Beer Babe and has been a beer blogger and expert for several decades. She's been interviewed in beer publications and podcasts about her favorite brews and the craft brewing scene. While she's ceased her involvement with The Beer Babe, her legacy remains in the various reviews and articles she has written.