You’ve likely heard of how quickly beer can go bad if left in heat or light. Skunking is an awful consequence of having left your beer for too long in the sun. The same goes for wine. It can quickly turn to vinegar if stored improperly.
But what about hard cider? Are there storage issues to consider? And does hard cider skunk like beer?
The skunk flavor or aroma in all food, beverages, some strains of marijuana, and yes, in actual skunks, is a result of a sulphuric compound called prenylthiol, but it can also be a result of several different sulphuric compounds, of which there are many.
In some substances, the skunk smell and flavor are actually sought after. And in others, they are incredibly off-putting. It can also vary based on the levels of that skunk flavor and aroma.
And again, in some substances the skunk smell and taste are intentional, like skunks and marijuana for instance.
But in others, even a hint of skunkiness means we have to toss everything.
So what actually happens when beer goes skunky?
The actual scientific term for this phenomenon is “lightstruck,” which is much more accurate in terms of what occurs.
When hops are boiled down in beer, they release a chemical called Iso-Alpha Acid, which is already bitter. When exposed to light, those compounds break down and interact with other compounds in the beer to create that prenylthiol compound that exudes the skunk effect.
This only happens to beer in bottles as the glass bottles allow the sunlight to get through so the UV Rays can do their (destructive) job.
Indeed, it is more likely to happen in clear bottles, where the UV Rays have direct access to the beer inside.
It is less likely to happen in green bottles, which provide more protection.
And it is even less common in brown bottles, which offer the most guard from the sun.
To be completely safe and avoid the skunk flavor in beer altogether, it is wise to leave your bottles completely out of the sun, in a dark, cool storage space. The truth is that this type of storage is best for all beer, bottles or no.
Beer in cans, kegs, or casks will not have the skunk problem, but the flavor and aroma profile can be effected, to an intense degree, if left in the heat. The compounds interact in different ways and can dull some flavors and heighten others.
Best to leave your beer in the basement whenever you’re not drinking it.
Now, hard cider is an entirely different beast from beer.
Hard cider involves no grain and no hops.
To make hard cider, the brewer will crush either apples or pears, boil and steep them, then leave the liquid to cool. Once cooled, yeast is added, and the liquid is left to ferment.
After a few days, you have hard cider.
It would seem then that hard cider is impossible to skunk, considering there are very few ingredients to interact and create off-flavors.
Does Hard Cider Skunk, then?
On many levels, and for many reasons, no, hard cider does not skunk.
First, as we already discussed, no hops are added to cider, so there is nothing for the UV Rays to interact with, even if the cider was left out in the sun for days.
Second, most cider is stored in dark brown bottles, kegs, or casks, so, even if the cider was left out in the sun, it is unlikely to be exposed to UV Rays anyway.
Third, even if, and when, off-flavors do appear in cider, they tend toward the tart or sour, which is not always a good thing, but it is a far cry from skunk.
Off Flavors in Hard Cider
Still, while skunking, or “lightstriking,” in cider is virtually impossible, off flavors are not.
While cider is typically known for having tart flavors; remember we are fermenting apples and pears, after all; it should not twist your mouth sideways with tartness, and it should not go so sour as to resemble sauerkraut. Both of these off flavors are distinct possibilities with cider.
Tart like Lemons
If you have brewed a batch of cider that is sour like a Meyer’s Lemon or a Granny Smith apple, it is merely a result of a more sour batch of fruit. All you’d need to do to remedy this situation, if you must, is to add some table sugar for sweetness before serving it. Sugar is a balance for acid on your palate, so simply sweeten it up.
Tart like Sauerkraut
If you’ve got that super tart sauerkraut like flavor or smell that can come from sauerkraut or other fermented foods, you likely have a case of lactobacillus, which is fairly easy to sneak into any fermented food and has been around for thousands of years. There is no eliminating it, and if it is not too strong, you may just go ahead and serve it. If you hate it, however, you may just have to toss it. In the future, just be sure to clean and sanitize all of your equipment and your hands during the brewing process.
Sour like Vinegar
Vinegar is a natural part of fermentation and results from excess time, air, and even fruit flies. If you hope to avoid this, just keep your container airtight and keep the bugs out. If it has already gotten to vinegar status, you may just convert it to a batch of apple cider vinegar, which is a tremendously beneficial product to have on hand.
Ultimately, at least you know your hard cider does not skunk, regardless of storage, yeast used, or any other factor. To remedy, or experiment with, other “off-flavors,” simply have patience and try different approaches.
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