Not too long ago, I saw a “web coupon deal” for a tour with tastings for two at a local brewery for a fairly reasonable price. I told my wife and friends about the deal in an attempt to get a small group to go with – new beer with friends is always a better experience. Local brewery tour and tastings? Check. Reasonable price? Got it. Friends to drink with? Done. It was only natural that I purchase this coupon.
So my friends and I make the trip, and upon entry to the tasting room I was quite impressed. Great looking decor, friendly and knowledgeable staff, great beer selection, and board games along with the giant Jenga set that seems to be a must have in every brewery around town.
We took the tour of the 7 bbl. brewery, shared laughs and kettle-envy, then sat down to enjoy our double-digit tastings. We started with the lighter, cleaner ales and made our way through to the stouts and porters. We talked about the ones we like, and the ones we didn’t. The words “buttery,” “astringent,” and “apple flavors” may or may not have been said at our table. In the end, many of the 5 oz tasters were still over halfway filled, and my friends and I opted to go to our typical go-to taphouse.
Now, this is not a criticism of the brewers or the brewery. Are my friends and I Master BJCP judges or even award winning home brewers? No. But we can tell you what we like, and what doesn’t taste right to us in a given beer. Perhaps these were off flavors. Or, perhaps some of these flavors were on purpose as part of the brewery’s style. I believe it’s up to us as the consumer to determine that.
The unpopular opinion here may be that it is acceptable for a brewery patron to not like a brewery’s beer. It is also okay to not see through a beer’s flaws simply because it was made locally. I don’t necessarily think there is a craft beer bubble in front of us, but I do believe the breweries that are making flawed or less than stellar beer may not survive as a business.
According to the Brewers Association, a little more than 20 years ago there were less than 600 breweries in the United States. In 2014, the number of total U.S. “craft” breweries topped 3,418 with the number growing every day. The number is sky rocketing with little sign of slowing down. With this tremendous growth, occasionally a beer with “flaws” may be produced and sold to you.
I have listed some of these “flaws” or off-flavors (from BJCP.org) that you may find in a beer, commercial or homebrew. If you find them in a beer from a local brewery, should you throw the taster in their face and write a 2 page, 1/2 star review on every craft beer platform and forum? I would venture to say that it would be more beneficial if you didn’t, and instead, you should probably have a discussion with someone at the brewery. Maybe they will thank you for the feedback. Or maybe you will learn something about the beers produced or the beer styles.
Off-Flavors and Brief Description
Acetaldehyde – Green apples, grassy (not from hops), vinegar or cider-like
Astringent – Tannic or tart, unpleasant
Diacetyl – Buttery, nutty, reminiscent of butterscotch, oily
DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide) – Cooked corn, vegetables
Lightstruck – Skunky, mercaptan
Oxidation – Cardboard, wet-paper, stale, sherry or leathery; musty or earthy
This list is obviously a brief summary and is not all inclusive; it is only intended to serve as another quick reference. There is at least 2000 lbs of information out there on these off-flavors, their causes, and how to troubleshoot them if you run into issues in your own brewing. You can also check out the Beer Judge Certification Program or the How To Brew websites, which also have a ton of information on beer styles and/or off-flavors.
Did I make a mistake somewhere? Do you disagree with anything written? I’d love to learn and have a respectful conversation with you! Feel free to reach out to me on the Twitter, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.