The other week, while meeting with Joe for a beer in Brussels, the topic of skunking was mentioned. Although I understand the chemistry of it, and why brown glass is preferable to green or clear glass, I had to admit that I wasn't sure exactly what that flavour was, and that from reading I imagined it to be something powerfully awful. Joe asked had I ever tasted Heineken. Well, yes, of course. But if it is all skunked, how would I know what to compare it to?
As fate would have it, two days later my neighbour left two bottles of Heineken outside my door. In the past the offerings have been more exciting, but actually, this was perfect timing. The sun was blazing over the long weekend, so I left one bottle out on the balcony for three days, and the other safely secured in the fridge. Last night, I opened them. Here's what happened:
Heineken isn't my favourite beer in the world, not by far, but if there's sod all choice, I'll take it. I've never thought about it much, but I suppose there's a perfumy hop thing going on, and a thin, sweeting malt base. It's probably not the worst beer in the world.
Sniffing the one that was in the sun for three days gave me a rather strong plastic aroma, with a touch of sulpher and perhaps a touch of stale urine. But in the mouth? I thought I was going to gag for a moment. Absolutely awful! If this is skunking, then I have never tasted it before. There has been alot of debate amongst ICB members about beers from Shepard Neame that come in clear bottles, and some people were quite sensitive to the beer being light struck. I have to admit I only occasionally got a sense of staleness, but nothing like this awful burnt plastic and piss flavour. I had to gargle with the unskunked Heineken to try to get the taste out of my gob. That didn't work. Neither did chocolate. Tortilla chips helped.
I was tempted to run this test again with some Jever, as it's definitely more hoppy than Heineken and should interact with the light more strongly. If that will only intensify the awful taste, I'm not sure I'm up to it!
My wife didn't believe me, so actually, I will do the Jever test!