O is for Off-Flavour
It’s the bane of home brewers and sometimes even some commercial breweries. We’re talking about off-flavours.
For the novice craft beer drinker, it would be very easy to overlook these oddities as something you’ve simply never experienced, but Devil’s Peak wants to empower and educate its loyal fans. We want you to know an exceptional beer when you taste it.
Off-flavours manifest in many different forms. Some so blatant you’d be hard pressed to taste anything else, and others subtle enough that they require the drinker to know what they’re looking for. We’ve outlined some of the most common flavour gremlins below, so you as a craft beer consumer will be confident enough in your knowledge to call it when you taste it. This list is not even close to exhaustive, but it’s a good start for those wanting grow their knowledge and expand their palate.
Sometimes home brewers will leave their beer in primary fermentation for too long. As it sits on the trub (proteins from the grain, live/dead/bloated yeast) it can break down these fatty acids. Do you know what they call salts of fatty acids? That’s right – soap. You’re literally tasting soap.
Have you ever taken a piece of cardboard, dipped it into some water, and then shoved it in your mouth? We haven’t either, but if you had, you’d know exactly what oxidation tastes like. It’s caused by the wort being exposed to oxygen when temperatures are above 27 degrees. It can also manifest as sherry-like flavours.
These off flavours range from spicy like clove characteristics to having your grandmother’s medicine cabinet dragged across your tongue. Spicy clove is fine in a Hefeweizen, but don’t be fooled into thinking all beer should have that same spice. It it’s not meant to be in the style, it’s not meant to be in the style. Beer should never taste like band aids. Never.
Often described as coin, blood, or nail like flavours, this taste is one of the most off putting. Un-plated steel surfaces, high iron content in brewing water, and bad bottle caps can be the culprit. Also, if the brewer isn’t using fresh, high quality grain malt, the beer can end up with the same “sucking on a coin” taste.
Esters and Fruit
In some styles, esters are acceptable and even encouraged. But there’s a different between a slight fruitiness and a tropical explosion of Hawaiian punch in your beer. The higher the fermentation temperatures, the more esters you’re going to get. Poor control over that temperature can lead to folks telling you your beer is supposed to taste like freshly cut pineapples marinated in orange extract. It’s not.
If you’re not sure what it is you’re tasting, try asking the guys who made it! A good brewer will talk you through any of their beers, and won’t get offended by polite feedback. Festivals are the ideal spot, so pull up a seat and ask away!