Wednesday 23 December 2009

Tip Beer in Mouth and then Swallow

Before I became a commercial brewer I used to love tasting beer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a real perk of the job and finding a new gem of a brew at a festival or in a pub is still exciting, but now brewing is my living tasting is an entirely different proposition. When tasting beer commercial brewers aren’t doing it for fun. If it’s their own stuff they are looking for faults or for where things have gone well but most importantly for trueness to type. If it’s other beers they will probably be rating them in their head judging it like the panel on Strictly Come Dancing, comparing it to their own stuff and to the model of a good beer in that style in their brain.

I taste beer according to this hierarchy listed from most important to least important

1. Evidence of off flavours (DMS, H2S, Diacetyl, bacterial, wild yeast etc)
2. Technical merit (how difficult the beer is to brew)
3. Balance of flavours
4. ‘Commerciability’ (will the average drinker like it?)
5. Character (will the beer enthusiast like it?)
6. Do I like it (this is strongly influenced by the 3 above)

Most drinkers are only concerned with the last point. Rate beer reviewers and beer enthusiasts are probably only concerned with the last two points along with another which is individuality. The more you understand about beer the more complex tasting beer becomes. For a brewer the machine (his/her palate and brain) measuring the beer has a great deal more functions, whistles and bells.

Next time you are enjoying your beer spare a thought for the poor commercial brewer for whom beer will never be as much as fun again!


Whorst said...

I recently brewed what I would consider an English Best Bitter. For bittering I used Magnum and East Kent Goldings. For finishing I used a lot of Styrians. I've brewed it many times, but this time I fermented it with 28g of medium toast American oak. I actually prefer the beer without the oak. It's good, but the wood element gets in the way. What would be interesting is to see what effect cutting the wood to 14g would make. Regarding off flavors, I've noticed that some brewers brew styles of beer that their water is not suited for. An example is my local brewpub, who use the same water I do. Their pale beers are shit, because you can't brew quality pale beer with water that's high in bicarbonate unless it's treated. Their result is a slight astringency or huskiness, more than likely do to mash pH. It's easily corrected on my brewing scale with lactic acid. I'd imagine that there's something for commercial brewers?? I rarely have tasted off flavors do to bacteria, wild yeast, etc. Most off flavors I've tasted are astringent, husky type flavors. Brew gear hygiene is important, but water that's not equipped to handle a particular style can ruin a beer.

Stuart Howe said...

Ionic composition is essential for the whole brewing process. All commercial brewers who deserve to call themselves brewers adjust the ion levels in their water. If these aren't consistent then the beer will not be consistent. What a lot of home (craft) brewers fall into is messing around with 12 hop additions, spices and overly elaborate mashing regimes without getting the basics like water and yeast right. It's not the fun part of brewing but if you don't get it right your beer will be pants.

Whorst said...

I couldn't agree more. My water has fair amounts of calcium and magnesium, making it moderately hard. I generally add gypsum or calcium chloride, sometimes both. I produce some pretty nice beers. For dark stuff I cut my tap water with distilled to bring the sulfates down. Calcium is easily brought up with Calcium Chloride.

Can you mention what yeast strain you use?? I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess you don't use dry Nottingham??

ZakAvery said...

That's an interesting post Stuart (as always). It's all too easy to get seduced by the "bigger is better" school of thought.

I'd guess that point 2 is the one that I tend to skip (I don't really have the tech knowledge you have, obviously), but point 4 is always important (and often overlooked)

Whorst said...

You don't have the tech knowledge I have either Avery. Other than that, you make wicked video beer reviews.

ZakAvery said...

Quite right Kevin, and I don't claim to, other than some pretty basic stuff.

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