Corona always evokes a sense of relaxation, of kicking back and taking it easy, probably sitting outside somewhere - which is to say that Corona’s advertising works well on me and probably most people. Corona is for serious relaxing only. But how does it taste? Well, skunky, but that’s part of the Corona experience. Don’t believe me? Try a Corona Familiar and see if you feel like you’re hanging out with other chill people or if you’re drinking a nearly tasteless lager.
If you’re not familiar with Corona Familiar, it’s regular Corona Extra but packaged in a brown bottle rather than the customary clear bottle. Why does that make a difference? As I’m wont to do, here’s a brief science lesson on what makes a beer skunky:
The skunky aroma you get from Corona and other beers packaged in clear or green bottles (like Heineken) is also described as lightstruck, which is a more accurate way of describing the off flavor. An off flavor in terms of beer is just what it sounds like: an undesirable concentration of a particular flavor. There is a lot going on in beer and many off flavors are lurking around in beer normally, but not enough to get them past the “taste threshold,” which is when we humans can detect them by smell, taste, or mouthfeel.
Skunky or lightstruck flavors develop very quickly when beer is exposed to sunlight or ultra violet light. One way beer can be exposed to sunlight or ultra violet light is by the use of clear or green bottles because those types of bottles don’t offer any protection from sunlight. Another way to think of how a beer becomes lightstruck is to think about how your skin behaves when you go out on a sunny day. If you’re not wearing any sunscreen, your skin is going to burn a lot quicker than if you are wearing sunscreen. Brown bottles work for beer much the same way sunscreen works for your skin: it’s going to slow down the rate at which sunlight or ultra violet light reaches the beer inside.
So why is sunlight or ultra violet so bad for beer? The sunlight or ultra violet light reacts with the isomerized hop alpha acids to produce sulfur compounds. If you’re like me, you read an explanation like that and think words, words, words. What do they mean? We’re still junior scientists, not actual scientists, so let’s break that down a bit.
Hops are part of what makes a beer a beer. There are certain compounds in hops that are light sensitive. When those compounds are exposed to strong light, the reaction that takes place creates that skunky odor compound, which is one of the most pungent and powerful flavors known. If you want to impress people with your scientist status, you can also call that skunky or lightstruck odor compound by its actual science name, which is 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol (which sort of sounds like a weird cheerleading chant), or MBT if you want people to think you and 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol are cool like that. Fun fact: the reason you don’t taste skunkiness from Miller Lite even though it’s in a clear bottle is because Miller uses lab-created Frankenhops known as tetrahops, which are engineered not to react with sunlight to create skunkiness.
All right, junior scientists, now that we know why Corona and other similarly bottled beers taste the way they do, let’s get to how Corona Extra and Corona Familiar compare to each other. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a Corona Extra, but I still have my memories of it and that skunky smell that wafts out of a newly-opened bottle is one of the things I remember most about it. To me, it’s not necessarily a bad smell when it comes to Corona Extra; rather, it’s just part of the Corona experience. However, it has also been awhile since I’ve had a skunky beer (#humblebrag), so the skunkiness that came out of the Corona Extra bottle hit me in the face like, well, someone hit me in the face with a skunk. I could smell the skunkiness from a few feet away. Although I knew that smell was part of the experience, I really did not remember it being as pungent as it was. However, the taste was still the taste I remembered – the skunkiness didn’t come across quite so strongly when I drank it and did contribute to the taste of the beer. I even held my nose once to take a drink just to see the difference in the taste and was not surprised when it tasted like pretty much nothing until I unplugged my nose and my retronasal olfaction kicked in and flooded my taste buds with skunk smell.
Next I tried the Corona Familiar. There’s really not much to say about it because, as it turns out, there’s not much to Corona without the skunkiness. Corona Familiar had next to no aroma and even less taste. It seemed like I was drinking some sort of carbonated water with some very slight bitterness to it. I don’t drink American Adjunct Lagers very often anyway, but if I did, I would not choose Corona Familiar. As odd as it is to say, there are far more flavorful American Adjunct Lagers out there, so I guess good for you, Budweiser? As long as we’re on the subject of odd things, I think labeling Corona Familiar as “familiar” is a very strange choice. There is nothing familiar about the way Corona Familiar tastes compared to Corona Extra. Maybe they should change Corona Extra to Corona Familiar and change Corona Familiar to something like “Corona Bland” or “A Quart of Weird Corona.” [Edit: Thank you to everyone who explained that “familiar” in this context means “to share,” hence why Corona Familiar is packaged in large format bottles. That makes perfect sense and I’m happy to have that knowledge now!]
As it turns out, for me as well as many other people, the skunkiness you get from a Corona Extra is part of the Corona experience. It feels weird to drink a Corona Familiar because it’s not what you expect a Corona to taste like. Plus, Corona’s brilliant advertising makes it clear that you don’t really need to worry too much about the flavor because you’re a chill person drinking a chill beer and drinking a Corona Extra is basically like being on a beach in a white lounger. Surrounded by skunks – but chill skunks.