It’s probably happened to you. If not, it will someday. You picked up a nice bottle at your favorite shop, get it home and poured it into proper glassware. Or maybe your friendly beer server poured what looked like a perfect pint. Then it hits you like a brick upside the head. You face puckers up and you know “there’s something wrong with this beer.”
It’s disappointing, but it happens. Beer is food and food goes bad. Except for a few special styles of beer, most beer is best consumed fresh. Just as food can be spoiled in the production and packaging processes, so can beer. Beer aficionados call these “off flavors.” Off flavors can be caused by an improper boil in brewing, a by-product of fermentation, poor sanitation, bad packaging or improper handling and storage.
Starting with the next post, we’ll go into each of the 7 common off flavors you may experience in your beer:
- Diacetyl – A buttery, or butterscotch flavor. Think movie popcorn butter.
- Acetaldehyde – Tastes like green apples, especially the Jolly Rancher kind.
- Dimethyl sulfide – Or DMS for short. It’s perceived as creamed corn or cooked tomatoes.
- Acetic Acid – Like you threw up in your mouth a little bit. At best, it’s like vinegar. At it’s worst, it’s like bile. Pleasant, eh?
- Oxidation – Did you eat paper as a kid? Kind of tastes like that. Reminds some of wet cardboard or waxy lipstick.
- Bacterial Infection – It’s just bad. Not desirable if unintentional. There are intentionally infected beers, we’ll talk about those later.
- Light-stuck – Skunky beer that is caused by light. Clear and green bottles are big culprits. I’m looking at you, Heineken.
Don’t fear the technical names, even if you got a D- in high school chemistry. Beer off flavors are easy concepts to understand. Once you know how to describe what your tasting you’ll be able to impress your friends at parties. By the way, let the seller know if you get a bad beer. Any good beer bar should pull the keg and get you a fresh pint and a retailer should exchange it for a good bottle.