Why Do People Put Limes in Their Beer? Answered!

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with a “beer” and a wedge of lime? Awesome!

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself where the whole lime thing started? I know, you put it in yours because you “like the taste” – we’ll get to that later.

There are two explanations that have are often cited as the reason people started putting limes in their beer:

1) Rust: Mexican beer bottle caps would get rusty and the lime would wipe it away or clean the lip of the bottle.

2) Flies: Rimming the lip of the bottle with a lime would keep flies away.

Both of these explanations are false.

Ready for the truth? Here we go:

Beer has three major enemies – Light, Air and Time. We are interested in light. Sunlight breaks down beer.

Put a pint of your favorite beer in a glass and leave it in the sun for 30 minutes on a hot day. You will notice that that it starts to smell stale – and rather quickly at that. It  smells like a skunk. Lucky for us, that is the exact scientific term explaining what just transpired – the beer skunked.

To combat this, you may have noticed that the majority of beers come in brown or green bottles. This prevents the sunlight from getting to the beer and skunking it. Unfortunately, colored glass is more expensive than clear glass; and guess what color the bottles are for the beers you put limes in? Yup. Clear.

So sunlight skunks the beer. What to do!?

Ready?

According to Corona, (NOTE: THAT’S FROM CORONA ITSELF) the reason for the lime is that “Corona is bottled in clear glass, and before our modern methods of refrigeration and transportation, the opportunity for spoilage from exposure to sunlight was increased. Therefore, the lime technique began as a measure to mask the skunky aromas caused by spoilage.”

So to paraphrase: “Our product spoils. We know it spoils, and we have taught people to put fruit in their beer to mask the fact that it is actually spoiled.”

Think back. You were young. It was trendy. You thought you were sophisticated . . . C’mon, we all fell for it.

The difference is that now we know the truth. Just like someone putting ketchup on a filet mignon without tasting it first would be met with gasps from the foodies around him, every time someone pops some fruit in their beer a beer fan dies inside just a little bit.

Now there will of course be those people who counter with, “But I like the way it tastes. I’m not being fooled, I like the taste!”  Ok . . . If you like fruity flavored beers there is a whole world to choose from. Craft breweries are constantly experimenting with styles and tastes. If you want a fruity beer then by all means bottoms up! However, the fruit essences should be imparted to your taste buds based on the ingredients that brewer used: special hops, certain types of yeasts, maybe even some actual fruit!

To add fruit to a beer without even tasting it is an insult to any brewery that takes pride in their product.

Back-of-the-napkin calculation: This whole lime in beer facade started about 30 years ago. Hopefully people will share this article and educate others who are discovering the variety and quality of craft beers. One would hope, wouldn’t they?

Then again . . . I saw this sign for a popular MillerCoors product just last week:

Really people? An orange wedge “helps bring out subtle fruit flavors.” Can we just stop and THINK about that for a moment?

Hey, we’re not hatin’ – just sayin’. Drink what you like, but like what you drink! If you’re adding things to your beer before you even taste it – well, let’s stop and think.

Next up – Why do bars use frosted glasses? You’ll love it. Trust us.

15 Comment(s)

  1. It doesn’t just help clear bottled beers. A lime does wonders for a budweiser too.

    Face it, the beers in question will never be as good as the craft beers we love, but they have their place.

    Ryan | May 5, 2010 | Reply

  2. You contradict yourself…saying the lime in beer thing started 30 years ago while Corona traces it back to before modern refrigeration and transportation. I’m pretty sure that when I was a kid 30 years ago, we had a fridge just like I have today, and there were big rigs on the road.

    Not that I support adding lime or orange slices to beer in most cases…but I will admit that I take a lime with my Corona in the horrible worst case scenario that Corona is my “best” (or should I say, “least worst”) available beer option. Though I could do a Blue Moon naked without an orange.

    Now I’m going to add you to my RSS so I can find out why bars use frosted glasses… I’m guessing it’s got something to do with serving so much BMC. And I’ll come out right now against frosted glasses in all cases. Even with crappy macro lager.

    Keith | May 5, 2010 | Reply

  3. Adding citrus fruits directly to freshly opened beers also kills head retention. Not only does that impact the visual appeal of the beer, but also the aroma, which is actually a major component of what is perceived as flavor.

    I’ve even seen bars in Maine add oranges to Allagash White, even though it’s fresh and doesn’t need it (no beer should need it, but least of all a good craft beer).

    Don’t add citrus fruit slices to your beer! (And if it is spoiled and could benefit from a slice of lime, lemon, or orange, why not just pour it down the drain and find a worthy craft beer to drink instead?)

    markskar | May 5, 2010 | Reply

  4. Just want to say… green glass doesn’t protect against skunking. It’s pretty much just as useless as clear glass. Brown glass is where it’s at; although I still cover my brown-glass-protected beer with something opaque when it’s sitting on the back seat on the way home from the store.

    Very interesting article. If you really like Corona (tip: try Bohemia instead), get it in the can.

    Sam | May 5, 2010 | Reply

  5. I’m still putting olives in my Martini no matter what you say.

    brian | May 7, 2010 | Reply

  6. I heard that today Corona is treated against spoilage, so the clear bottles are just a marketing ploy along with the lime.

    Wes | May 19, 2010 | Reply

  7. In the tasting businesses (coffee, chocolate, wine) that I was in before I decided to get into beer, you definitely use food pairings to enjoy what you’re tasting more. You just don’t put it IN the liquid! No cup of coffee wasn’t improved by a little square of dark chocolate, but the mocha frappe non-fat decaf nonsense is a mask, not an embellishment. Perhaps the same goes for fruit? Great as a food pairing, nasty as an adjunct?

    Anna | May 19, 2010 | Reply

  8. When you think about beer pairing with food (a bit off topic, but bear with me), it has carbonation (why they say sparkling wine goes with everything) and a nice breadth of flavors, but no acidity! One eighth of a lime adds acidity and flavor that makes a light, semi-flavorless beer more drinkable and refreshing! It’s true that you’d never want to add a lime or orange or whatever to a style that had some serious flavor, because most likely the fruit would clash or obscure that beer’s rich flavor.

    But saying that a lime or orange wedge should never EVER be added to a beer is just closed-minded. The acidity that a lime or orange wedge adds to a beer is both refreshing and makes food pairings that much easier and more flavorful.

    Mike P | May 19, 2010 | Reply

  9. Great writeup and thanks for the information.

    The other beers mentioned in the comments are fascinating – Corona (the subject of the article) and Blue Moon, a product of the Molson Brewing Company.

    I like to drink tasty, high quality, micro brewed beer. If I can’t drink Devil’s Canyon (my beer of choice), then I’ll drink something else from that is locally micro-brewed, not mass-produced.

    But I do have a question, why is a lemon slice served with a Wheat Beer?

    Larry | May 20, 2010 | Reply

  10. Larry –
    From Beer Guru Michael Jackson: “When I first encountered South German wheat beers, in the early to mid 1960s, they were regarded as an old-fashioned, rustic style, favoured by old ladies with large hats. The beer was at that time customarily garnished with a slice of lemon.

    People have told me the lemon was to mask the taste of the uneven products made at that time by unscientific country brewers”

    And from Beer Advocate:
    “On one side, we have beer drinkers that run in the same group as those people who put salt on their $20 porterhouse steak before they even taste it. A lemon in their wheat beer is a must. Even worse, some go too far and request a slice of lemon in their Belgian White Ale! The Horror! We are not telling you to take sides, but don’t cry when your beer has no head … you can blame it on the lemon wedge and its acidity.

    On the other side are people who appreciate beer straight up. They lust after that unique yeast flavor that would otherwise be destroyed by a sharp wedge of lemon. “

    Daniel Curran | May 20, 2010 | Reply

  11. Do you think the shandy has similar origins?

    Monique | May 4, 2011 | Reply

  12. Monique – Shandy is quite different: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shandy

    Daniel Curran | May 6, 2011 | Reply

  13. I love a good beer next to any other connoisseur of the sort. I love good craft beers without ony fruit. I especially love a good ‘Barley Wine Style Ale’ that any beer drinker, that thinks they’re a connoisseur wouldn’t be able to stand. That is not the point. My point is, that when i drink a Corona, I put a lime in it, if I have them. Why? Because that is the way I have always done it and I won’t stop. If I don’t have lime I’ll drink it straight. Also, regarding ‘Blue Moon’, have you ever tasted a Belgian White without orange? You can taste the orange hint…almost. So, why not mix an orange with it. It does compliment it well. Also, a Hefeweizen is the same concept with lemon. Nevertheless, drink a beer the way you wnat to. That’s the beauty of being able to do whatever you want. Stop hating you wanna be beer drinkers and let people do what they think is best for themselves.

    Under The Table Drinking | Sep 23, 2012 | Reply

  14. Wrong it started to help the Mexican lime crop
    When the fields produced to many limes. ( those
    With a lime tree can confirm) someone can up
    With the idea to but it in beer to sell more limes.
    Beer does spoil I sun light but the gambrinus company
    Owns the largest lime crop in all of Mexico
    And that my friend is why we put lime in corona

    Ed | Jun 3, 2013 | Reply

  15. Limes can accentuate or mask the impurities of lesser beers. They are of a different class than craft beers. Ambient drinking temperature, however, plays a crucial role. Originally I hail of Michigan, land of IPAs and stouts. I became a huge fan of craft beer. Fast forward to present; I am a resident of southwest Arizona, average temperatures ranging from 95-120* with humidity of 6-40%… a lighter beer with a lime takes an edge off of the heat, even if it is a low quality beer. From someone who thought they would never say this… limes in beer have their place, it’s all about where you’re enjoying a brew.

    Brandon | Jun 11, 2013 | Reply

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