Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tasting objectively: Harder than it might seem at times

Wow, I had a bit of a humbling, but very interesting experience today that I want to share. I was out in the garage, brewing my first lager of the season. I pulled a couple of tasters of some beers I have on tap: The Rye-Amarillo pale ale, and the Wontonamo Bay IPA. I was planning on doing a tasting of the IPA for the blog, which in a way this will be.

There has been a flavor to the IPA that a couple of my beer geek friends have noticed, but no one put their finger on until now, including me. It is an annoying flavor, and it's probably the reason I haven't posted a taste evaluation of it yet. I don't really like it, to be quite honest.

So this flavor was there, that my 2 beer geek friends and myself have been picking up, was being described by all of us as an overly sweet or caramelly. Even though the beer was heavily hopped, low on the crystal malt, and well attenuated to 1.012. So where was that sweet flavor coming from? I was chalking it up as an unknown, possibly a combination slight alcohol sweetness (it was fairly high in alcohol, at 7.3%), and possibly some esters (I had let the temp rise towards the end to about 72).

It took me trying it next to another hoppy beer to figure it out, and then it hit me over the head like an oversized wooden mallet. Diacetyl! Big time. Why did I not pick this out before? I know what diacetyl tastes like (artificial butter, basically), but I was not picking it out in my own beer. I have been able to pick it out in other commercial IPA's, so why not mine? Possibly, at least a little bit, because it was being overpowered to a degree by the heavy dose of hops. Possibly because I was dealing with a new hop (Citra), and I thought it might be coming from there. But more likely, most importantly, was that I have never really had a problem with diacetyl. I consider myself a pretty skilled brewer, so it never really crossed my mind! Cali ale yeast is usually a clean, hardy yeast that is not known for diacetyl production. It's not something I have had a problem with in the past. Yet, there it was, clear as day once I finally recognized it. Doubtless someone else could have picked out the problem on the first sip, which is what brings me to the important point: Sometimes the brewer is just too close to the beer to realize what is wrong with it.

It's a tough lesson. No brewer is ever good enough not to, sometimes, make a rookie mistake. I think the problem with my beer was just not pitching quite enough yeast (only a 1 quart stirplate starter) for the high gravity/ alcohol level, and not letting it finish out a little longer, which probably would have cleaned it up eventually. Also, the alcohol is just a bit too noticable, which again points to not pitching enough yeast.

I have always tried to give my beers an honest and clear evaluation. If anything, I think I err on the side of being too critical. In this case, I guess I just had my blinders on. It's something to try to look out for in the future, and I think it leads to the conclusion that now matter how good of a brewer you think you are, honest and critical outside opinion is of the utmost importance. I tend to be a little tough on other brewer's beers too, even though it is always in an effort to be helpful. For instance, when tasting any of my my friends' homebrews, I try to always be encouraging and focus on the positive, but also try to give a straightforward critique of what I am tasting. If I didn't do that, I think it would be a disservice to them as a brewer.

If I could try to evaluate the flavor of this IPA otherwise, I would say the hop flavor/aroma would be magnificent if not muddled up by a bunch of fake butter. I would have brewed it to a lower O.G., but I'm not sure that I would change anything else. Maybe this recipe deserves another shot with thsoe 2 easy fixes.


Pete said...

I have noticed that flavor in my beers before and it is hard to swallow. It is something that can easily reappear in you brewing process if you are not careful. I find that my darker beers such as a dry stout have had this strange sweetness that is hard to pinpoint as diacytal. Thanks for the reminder and keep posting.

Darren said...

always hard work tasting your own beers. I think its tougher to be fair to your own beers, always your own worst critic and all. But then finding a fault puts you in that place of drain pour or not? have fun figuring that one out.

Seanywonton said...

I am not afraid to drain pour occasionally, but most of the beers that I don't really like are still good enough to serve at a party or something. In this case, there is only a gallon of beer left (somebody must have liked it!), so it will probably just get poured out the next time I clean kegs and rack beer.

Darren said...

always good to have friends to drink the not %100 sucessful experiments