Every once in a while I run across something that makes me realize what a happy little bubble we have here. This site is frequented by some of the most opened-minded and knowledgeable beer geeks around. Frankly, I forget that there are other folks out there, some of them very intelligent and articulate, who really don’t know their ass from their elbow when it comes to beer. But that doesn’t stop them from writing about it.
Observe this article from Scientific American, which talks about what makes old beer taste bad. On its surface the article is accurate, stating that the alpha acids found in hops degrade over time to create nasty compounds, including tricyclocohumol, which can create a “skunky” flavor in beer.
They also share the fact that this process is accelerated by storing beer in warm conditions. A pilsner’s tricyclocohumol concentration grew fourfold when stored at 83 degrees for eight months. A pilsner stored at room temperature for four years has six times the concentration of tricyclocohumol. Interesting.
But the article actually comes off the rails long before this information is shared. Like in the first sentence:
Beer, for the most part, is not like wine—it does not improve with age. Quite the contrary, in fact. Old beer is a comparatively unpalatable shadow of its former self—skunky in odor, bitter in aftertaste.
Um…not exactly. The information in the article is taken from a study commissioned by the Bitburger brewing company in Germany, who makes their flagship Bitburger Premium Pils. It makes sense that they’d be interested in what makes beer taste skunky over time, as pilsners typically suffer with age.
But other beers, as we all know, don’t suffer with age – they improve, or at least change in interesting ways. But this doesn’t come across at all in the article. Left to their own devices, readers would be seeking out a Bud with the freshest “born on” date they can find. Yuck.
Much like happens here, the best information on the page can be found in the Comments section, where a reader called “Cramer” very kindly and evenhandedly tells the author that he’s full of balloon juice. He’s obviously a beer geek of the first order, and a geek-geek as well, because he reads Scientific American. 🙂
I don’t blame the article’s author John Matson here – he’s a science writer who writes about space shuttles, quantum physics and white dwarfs (the stars, not the dude from Jackass). I’m sure he looked at the study, parsed the data and wrote his piece based upon what was in front of him.
Mostly, I celebrate Cramer, and by extension you guys and gals, who swooped in with his knowledge and insight and laid down the logic without being an ass about it. There is more useful information in his comment than in the article itself, and it’s obvious that this guy knows his stuff. I love it when a beer geek comes to the rescue.
Pop over to Scientific American and check out what I’m talking about. The article, though flawed, is still a good read, and the comment are even more informative.