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Salty Beer

The Disgruntled Chemist was in Minnesota last week. He went out to a few local bars, and wrote about his encounters. Check out this one where met a girl who had martini olives in her beer. She claimed the olives were a substitute for the salt she normally put in her beer. Yeah, salt. SALT! In her beer. Salt. In. Beer. What’s up with that?

I was intrigued. Now, this practice wasn’t entirely new to me; one time when I went out to dinner with family I saw a guy pour salt in his Budweiser. I’ve been trying to figure out why he would do that ever since. So, I did some research*. Here’s what the beer advocate had to say:

Putting salt in beer stems from a few philosophies – all of which seem to have had a purpose at one time or another. An old wives’ tale said that putting a sprinkle of salt in your beer would stave off cramping during hard work. Dehydration can cause cramping of the muscles, because of the depletion of minerals in the body. Adding salt to the beer would make the worker thirsty, and thus he would drink more beer to relieve the dehydration.

Others add salt to beer for flavor purposes; post-prohibition (1933) beer had turned into somewhat of an ugly being. Breweries had to cut costs and started to use cheaper ingredients like rice and corn, which made for a nearly flavorless beer. These beers are still around, though most people have become accustomed to flavorless beer and so have no need for the salt. Many South and Central American beer drinkers will add salt, and sometimes hot sauce and/or lemon, for flavor, or to mask off flavor in beer.

The last reason we found, which also makes no sense, was to add salt to beer to knock the carbonation out. Why not just pour the beer out hard or swirl it a couple times?

Really and truly, there is no reason to add salt to your beer (unless you are 80-something and traditions die hard with you). Nowadays, adding salt to your beer is a complete oddity, something of the past. Save the salt for a good steak, and leave the beer alone!

According to the girl in the bar, “It’s a midwestern thing,” and someone from Southern California wouldn’t understand. I wouldn’t want to understand it. Why drink a beer that needs the added flavor of salt**? Why make your beer flat?

But if you like ruining your beer, there are products you can buy that allow you to do just that. We are so entrenched in our consumerist culture we’ll pay for something that will screw up another thing we bought.


* I googled salt+beer.

** You know how you’re supposed to add a lime wedge to Corona? It’s because the bottle is clear, and the beer skunks when exposed to light for long periods of time (ie, in a display case). The lime (or salt, or hot sauce) covers up the skunk.

Comments

  1. #1 Chad Orzel
    September 17, 2006

    In Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder books, their regular driver, Stan Murch, always orders a beer with salt. He can’t afford to get drunk because he has to drive, so he drinks slowly and his beer tends to go flat. Sprinkling a little salt in it brings back the head, briefly.

    I’m not sure why you would dump a whole bunch of salt in at the beginning, though. That’s just silly.

  2. #2 RPM
    September 17, 2006

    I don’t think they pour salt in. From what I saw, they sprinkle the salt. Sure, it releases carbonation quickly, but the beer flatters faster in the long run.

  3. #3 Tracy P. Hamilton
    September 17, 2006

    “** You know how you’re supposed to add a lime wedge to Corona? It’s because the bottle is clear, and the beer skunks when exposed to light for long periods of time (ie, in a display case). The lime (or salt, or hot sauce) covers up the skunk.”

    Corona should not be skunked. Skunkiness comes from mercaptans formed by photochemical reactions between alpha acids (with C=C double bonds) and other sulfur sources in beer. Corona uses hydrogenated hop extracts. I suggest the lime or lemon is there to give Corona some taste. :)

  4. #4 SMC
    September 17, 2006

    Another basic principle is that, essentially, salt is the opposite of “sweet”. If someone thinks their beer is too sweet, a little salt would correct the flavor.

    Salt also generally “increases the amount of flavor” in general to things that it’s added to in small amounts, so the notion that people put it in to make it seem like their commercial swill has flavor is plausible, too.

    And, yeah, it is pretty mind-boggling that people’ll buy something bad or broken and then a separate product to fix the brokenness, rather than just using something good in the first place. I’ve been shaking my head for over a decade at people who insist on using “Microsoft” products, and then have to go and buy a license for “Norton Utilities” or whatnot just to keep the thing working. My best hypothesis at the moment that it’s just a case of “monkey see, monkey do” (“everyone else drinks Bud/Uses Windows/Votes [Republican|Democrat] here so I’ll just do that to fit in”)

  5. #5 RPM
    September 17, 2006

    Tracy, it’s my understanding that light catalyzes the skunking reactions. The particular wavelength responsible cannot penetrate brown bottles, but can get through green and clear glass (hence the predominance of brown bottles amongst better brewers). Is Corona immune from this process?

    Who knows how this tradition started — it’s common practice to put a lime wedge in most Mexican beers (XX, Modelo, etc). The practice may have originated independently of covering up skunk (a lot of Mexican food and drink involves limes), but been hijacked by Corona because of its ability to cover up off flavors.

    My beer professor in college (yes, I took a class on beer) told us that Corona advertised limes in their beer so that people would serve it that way. In turn, they wouldn’t be able to tell that the beer tastes like crap.

  6. #6 _Arthur
    September 17, 2006

    As I understand it, drinking establishments know that providing free salty snacks will increase beer consuming, as would providing salty beer; but I know no brewery that sells salty beer, and I don’t see why a beer drinker would salt his beers in other to drive himself to drink even more beer.

  7. #7 RPM
    September 17, 2006

    “As I understand it, drinking establishments know that providing free salty snacks will increase beer consuming…”

    Oh, that reminds me. Even though I know I’m being duped by their salty snacks, I still can’t get enough of them. Well, maybe that’s because I want to drink a lot when I’m at a bar. Anyway, here’s a list of the requirements for a perfect bar:

    -Cheap beer. Not crappy beer, but beer that doesn’t cost much money.

    -Many electronic dart boards. Now, some people will argue that manual dart boards are better. Try keeping score when drunk. And how safe is it to have sharp needles around drunk people?

    -Free popcorn.

  8. #8 Matt Dunn
    September 17, 2006

    I figure that if you like salt in your beer, put salt in your beer. If you don’t, don’t.

    Also, salt is actually added by brewers as a spice (along with coriander) in the traditional Gose breweries of Leipzig Germany. They’ve been doing it for a while and Gose was a very popular style of beer at least in Leipzig in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is still brewed there, but can be difficult to find in the states.

    And if you think the salt is bad by itself, there is also a hefty Lactobacillus contributed tang to the Gose style. Mmmmm…salty bacteria.

  9. #9 SMC
    September 18, 2006

    [...] there is also a hefty Lactobacillus contributed tang to the Gose style.

    Perhaps you mean “Geuze“? (Young, incompletely fermented Lambic mixed with aged lambic and given a secondary fermentation without added fruit)?

    Sour beer – good stuff.

  10. #10 Matt Dunn
    September 19, 2006

    No. I mean Gose. Gueuze is from Belgium. Gose is pronounced goze. If there was an umlaut over the ‘o’ it would be pronounced the same as gueuze, i.e. guze or more correctly, guza.

    I’m not sure of the etymology of these words, but the beer styles are vaguely similar. They actually aren’t all that similar but they are more similar to each other than, say, to an American double stout.

    Furthermore, nobody adds salt to lambics.

  11. #11 Mercy
    September 30, 2007

    One theory is drinking alot of beer can lower your bodies sodium, depending on the drinkers health and medications this can cause a condition known as ‘hyponatremia’.
    In short it is low blood sodium which can cause coma and death. Basically the brain swells shuts down seizes. ETC.

    Just one possible reason for some not all to do that.

  12. #12 The Brew Buddy
    January 5, 2009

    The whole salt in beer thing stems from adding minerals to prevent dehydration. Alcohol is a natural diuretic. The salt helps you to hold onto the “water” in the beer and prevent cramping. Beer is used by workers in many countries as “fuel” for hard labor. Just check out some roofers next time you’re in Germany. They’ll pound a couple nails, then sip a beer, repeating this process throughout the day.

    Let’s face it, I don’t care what you add to it, if a beer is skunked, it’s skunked, and you are not going to drink it. Corona is a marzen style beer or fest beer which lends itself well to a citrus accompanient. Many of the brewers who first started brewing beer in Mexico and South America were German imports who enjoyed a nice slice of lemon with their wheat beers and fest beers. Lime is just a natural transition. When you factor in the whole tequila tradition of a lick of salt with a shot followed by a wedge of lime afterward you can easily see how someone would have thought that this would be great with a beer too!

    Just my thoughts on the matter. Cheers!