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Temperature Shock on Beer

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2012

Is it true that temperature changes can cause beer to develop the off-flavors and aromas associated with “skunked” beer?

We knew from our beer storage experiment (see "Drinking 'Expired' Beer" in related content) that buying and keeping beer cold helps preserve its fresh taste, but we were also curious to see if so-called temperature abuse can produce off-flavors. To find out, we purchased a case of chilled beer (in cans to avoid any issues of light exposure) and divided the contents into two groups. Half of the cans went into the refrigerator as a control, while we subjected the others to significant temperature fluctuations: three hours in an 85-degree water bath, followed by an overnight chill. After repeating the “shock” process three times, we tasted both batches of beer side by side.

As it turned out, no one noticed a skunk flavor in either sample. We also spoke with David Grinnel, vice president of brewing quality at Boston Beer Company, who confirmed that skunked beer flavors and aromas are the result of light exposure, not temperature fluctuations. So buy your beer in cans or dark bottles and don’t be afraid to buy it chilled, even if you won’t be able to keep it cold once you get it home.