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Seven Deadly Sins of Beer

Perhaps you have always loved being drenched in memories of dad, hot dogs and beer at the ball park. You gulped in that beery aroma as a kid, wishing you could fast-forward time itself and share "a cold one" with him. Or maybe you're a newbie, enticed by the variety of beer styles available in this newly-developed craft beer renaissance. Either way, be aware of what you put in your body. Here's a little primer that lays the seven deadly sins of beer on the line.

Deadly Sin #1

Watery – Light body and watered-down flavors are common attributes among today’s mass produced light beers. These profiles are not viewed as a negative among those who prefer light beer styles. To those who enjoy the rich malts, assertive hops and spiciness of hand-crafted beer, however, a watery profile is a mortal sin.

The first light beers were produced in the 1940’s by Coors Brewing Company. This was Coors Light, a beer with less alcohol and, consequently, lower calories than Coors Premium Lager Beer. Coors Light was discontinued for a time during World War II. But in 1967, Dr. Joseph Owades designed a beer for those who were watching their weight. This beer was marketed as Gablinger’s Diet Beer, and was produced by Rheingold of New York. In 1978, Coors brought their light beer back to the market.

Joe Ortlieb, of Ortleib’s Brewery of Philadelphia, treated light beer with disdain. When these light beers came on the scene, Ortlieb launched his version of light beer by placing three bottles of Premium Beer in a six-pack, along with three bottles of water. He called it a “do-it-at-home-light-beer-kit.”

Deadly Sin #2

Buttery – Diacetyl in beer is detected as a buttery flavor, perceived in both the smell and the taste, and may be perceived as flavors of butterscotch, buttered popcorn and toffee, or as a slickness across the teeth. During fermentation, diacetyl is produced as a by-product of metabolism in yeast. Under normal circumstances, yeast eventually reabsorb diacetyl as it continues to ferment. If yeast becomes separated from the beer too soon in the process, it does not have enough time to complete the cycle. In lager beers, which typically have clean, crisp flavors, diacetyl is particularly noticeable and unwelcome.

Deadly Sin #3

Imbalance – I’m sure you have had them - those out-of-balance, out-of-whack beers that scream of pine needles, pumpkin pie or sticky molasses. When malts or hop flavors are out of balance, beer fails to be either pleasant or quenching. Some beers may be so heavy-handed with hops that a citrusy, pinelike burn bears down on the tongue. The sensation can be so overwhelming that your sense of taste dulls in what is known as “palate fatigue.”

Extreme hoppiness is not the only imbalance that can occur in beer. Being too sweet with malts (unfermented sugar) is also a problem. This can occur when beer is under attenuated. The residual sugars are not consumed by the yeast, leaving beer sweet and syrupy. Hops may also be under used, preventing a proper balance between sweet and bitter.

Deadly Sin #4

Skunking – Go ahead! Leave your beer out in the sunlight! Just 10 seconds of exposure to light is enough to change a perfectly luscious beer into a skunk bomb. Dr. Carl Lintner, a German chemist, is credited with the first documentation, in 1875, of this change to beer when exposed to sunlight. But it wasn’t until the 1960s – nearly 100 years later – that Yoshiro Kuroiwa identified MBT (3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol), a substance that resulted from the photodecomposition of isohumulones in beer in the presence of a photosensitizer. Isohumulones are the bittering agents (hops) in beer.

Since the 60s, we have come to understand this reaction on a much higher level. We know that clear or green glass bottles offer little protection against skunking. Beer kept under fluorescent lighting in stores does not deteriorate as quickly, but the effects can still be detected after a few weeks. Brown glass bottles are highly effective, but aluminum cans and kegs that totally block light are best.

Chemists who specialize in hops have developed Tetra and Hexa hops by modifying side-chain double bonds to prevent photodegradation. These bittering agents are known as light-stable bittering hops and can withstand the degrading effects of sunlight that cause skunking.

Deadly Sin #5

Unintentional Souring – Belgian beer styles, Berliner Weisse, and Gose are applauded for their tart flavors, the result of wild yeast which imparts a luscious sourness to these styles. When improper sanitation exposes other styles of beer to bacteria, unintentional sourness can destroy what the brewer intended. Sanitation is particularly important after cooling the wort, when temperatures are ideal for infection. A microcosm of offenders may spoil beer, including the more common species of lactobacillus, pediococcus, pectinatus, and acetobacter.

Deadly Sin #6

The Burn – The average session beer is soft and quenching, with no hint of heat. Understandably, one can consume enough lager to become drunk without ever feeling the sensation of warmth. Higher fusel alcohols, however, present in more robust beer styles such as Barley Wine or Imperial Stout, may impart a boozy heat that is so intense it burns in the throat. Yeast strain, fermentation temperature, and the composition of the wort can all play a part in producing fusel alcohols of undesirable levels. In most beer styles this is not a desirable characteristic.

Deadly Sin #7

Gluttony – Drinking and driving is the deadliest sin of all. Laws enforce strict penalties for lack of good judgment, described as Driving under the Influence (DUI) or Driving while Intoxicated (DWI). All fifty states and the District of Columbia have instituted “per se laws” that make it illegal to drive with a Blood Alcohol Level, or BAC, at or above a determined level for that state, usually .08% (except for Colorado, Delaware and Minnesota, where the BAC is set at .10%). The penalties for breaking these laws can result in heavy fines, jail time, and revocation of driving privileges. So don’t be a glutton.

Cheers!

Glasses for your Belgian Ale:
Riedel Vivant Set of 4 Belgian Ale Glasses

Do you like wheat beer? Drink it right!
Riedel Vivant Wheat Beer Glasses Set of 4

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