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Part 2; This Beer Tastes Like Shit

From The Iron Horse Brewery Blog

Part 2; This Beer Tastes Like Shit


In the initial installment, I , Greg, talked about differences in tastes and perception and other things that really have no defined correct position and therefore saved myself from having to defend my position. I left the part where we discuss the technical side of beer to Tyson. Good luck, buddy.

So Tyson, as difficult as I am sure it is, we are counting on you to quantify the difference between preference and poorly made beer. Flaw vs. ingredient choice. Bacteria vs. Yeast selection. Wild  yeast (as in not-supposed-to be -there)vs. Hop selection. DMS vs. Water profile.  You get the idea.
Okay I’ll try to field this one but this is an excessively difficult topic and one that will most likely alienate a few people.  First, in general, the term “off-flavor”is widely used to denote negative aspects commonly found in beers. Iin reality there are, with a few exceptions, no truly off-flavors.  It is all about what  the beer is meant to taste like and any deviation from what the brewer intended is an off-flavor. For example, 3-methyl-2-butyl-1-thiol (otherwise known as skunky) is generally considered an offensive off-flavor to most brewers and people, but is a purposeful flavor in a certain Dutch beer in a green bottle (which is consequently why it tastes like it does) that people feel is a symbol of class when they bring it to parties.  Another common example is dimethylsulfide, which is a creamed corn sort of smell and is also a purposeful flavor standard in a beer that rhymes with bowling spock, and is a flavor most brewers try to avoid.  There are many more of these that I won’t get into but the general idea is that there are a ridiculous amount of flavor compounds in beer, some good and some bad (in any one individual’s opinion) but if it was intended to be there, it does not make it a bad beer just a beer you don’t like.  The one exception I can think of off the top of my head is a compound called dichlorophenol, which is a plastic sort of aroma and is caused by using incorrect sanitizer and not rinsing it properly.  I know of no beer where this flavor is designed in and it is most commonly found in home brew batches because they tend to use bleach to sanitize bottles.

So after that long winded explanation of off-flavor, I will try to explain how to tell the difference between a beer that someone may just not like and one that went horribly wrong and I’ll try, but probably fail, at keeping my opinion out of it.

Greg says ‘Tyson has strong opinions, which is one of the reasons we value him. He will almost certainly fail at keeping them to himself in this blog, which is one of the reasons we value him.

So, I’ll start off with the topic of yeasts and bacteria.  A huge part of the flavor of beer comes from the yeast and the intensity of those flavors can be controlled by fermentation conditions.  These flavors range from very fruity (many English ale yeasts) to sulfury (lager yeasts and conditions) to clove/medicinal aromas (common in the Belgian yeast strains Greg is so fond of).  This list could go on forever but you get the idea.  These intense flavors some people just don’t like, or in my case, I just don’t like them when they slap you in the face. So if somebody forgot to turn their cooling on, it would be a bad beer, and if they just thought that their beer was delicious fermented at 85 degrees, it would be a beer that I probably wouldn’t like.  You are probably starting to get the idea.  Even bacteria, which, in 99% of all beers would be considered a bad thing, can be on purpose.  Common bacterial flavors include buttery, commonly referred to as “butter bomb” by people that want to sound like rude wine tasters, and a sour flavor produced by lactic acid or acetic acid.  Lactic acid sour is not to be confused with acetic acid sour (I told you this would get complicated), which is more of a vinegar smell.  Acetic acid is never on purpose (that I know of) and indicates some serious process errors.  There is a lot of overlap between yeast and bacteria flavors so the key is to identify the style and goals of the brewer which is difficult because we are kind of mad scientists of sorts.

So, without boring anybody any longer, I will conclude.  The real thing to keep in mind is that most brewers are proud of their beers, even when they taste like shit (damn, I knew I couldn’t keep my opinion out of it).  There are only a few flavors that haven’t been designed into beer at sometime or another and being able to identify the failed batches from the original goals of the brewer are exceedingly difficult.  So next time you have a beer that tastes like shit, make sure there is not actually a turd in your glass and then quietly chalk it up to a beer you don’t like because you never know, without some research, what the brewer intended to be in your glass.  “Quietly” is the key because by saying something out loud you affect everyone’s tasting experience around you (I would like to second this statement-Greg) and you just might be overheard by somebody who makes the stuff who’ll take it personally and then you might just find your beer literally does taste like shit.

Thanks Tyson. In summary, what have we solved? The usual nothing. With any luck we have encouraged a few of the two people reading this blog to take a different look at new beers. Perhaps you will attempt to tease out the things you do like while also identifying the things you don’t, in a new beer. The benefit of this approach is, 1) you don’t sound like a moron, 2) you may make some discoveries by focusing on your palate, and 3) through this process of discovery, you will be able to tell your server ‘I like toasty, biscuit-like flavors, but I don’t really appreciate herbal flavors and aromas’, for example, and end up with a glass of new beer that is to your liking. That is what we strive for, getting a beer that makes you happy. Lend a hand and we will.

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