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Posted on Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 8:05 p.m.

A lesson in beer: Identifying bad beer flavors

By Ryan Sloan

In the course of your beer drinking life you will be presented with bad beer: bad in the sense that your beer is faulty, presented to you with flavors not intended by the brewer. When presented with said beer, it is your duty to send it back from whence it came. The purpose of this post is to arm you with knowledge on the most common off-flavors so that you are prepared to do the right thing when the time comes.

Bad Beer on Tap

The Brewers Association recommends that tap lines should be cleaned every two weeks. Faucets should be taken apart and cleaned every two weeks as well. Lines should be cleaned with an acid cleaner to remove mineral build-up every three months. Many bars do not follow these guidelines, and the resulting bacterial infections can lead to the following off-flavors:

Sour/Acetic: With the exception of a few beer styles, your beer should not be sour or acetic. This is a sign of lactic or acetic acid in your beer and an infection in the tap lines. Buttery: If your beer smells like movie theater popcorn butter, send it back. A faint butterscotch aroma is appropriate for some English Ales, but in high levels and in other styles, it is indicative of a bacterial infection in the tap line.

Tap line infection is not the only cause for worry. It is also possible that you are being served old beer. If that is the case, you may notice the smell of wet paper or cardboard, an aroma indicative of oxidation.

Bad Beer in the Bottle

Age and improper storage are bottled beers biggest enemies. Generally speaking, bottled beer will keep for around six months if refrigerated and around three months unrefrigerated. This excludes higher alcohol beers and the other beer styles intended for aging. All bets are off if beer is exposed to light or stored at warm temperatures. Here are off-flavors to look for in the bottle.

Skunky: This is probably the most common bottled-beer fault. It is the result of an interaction between light and a compound found in hops. The best protection is keeping your beer bottles out of the light. The next best thing is brown bottles. Green and clear bottles offer little to no protection. If you are served a skunky beer, ask for a different bottle (unless you enjoy the skunkiness).

Oxidized: The same oxidized flavors noted above are commonly found in bottles as well. Pay particular attention to best before or bottled on dates, particularly when buying imported beer.

Autolyzed: If your beer smells meaty or like soy sauce or marmite, this is most likely a result of the death and decomposition of yeast cells in the bottle. In small amounts it can add a certain complexity to higher alcohol beers. In large amounts it can make you feel like you are drinking a glass of soy sauce.

It is also possible to detect the sour or buttery faults noted above in your bottled beer, this is indicative of a bad bottling run resulting in infected bottles (the brewery’s fault). If this is the case, let your server or bottle shop know, and they will, hopefully, pass the news along to the brewery.

Ryan Sloan is an employee at Morgan and York, musician and beer writer. He maintains a personal Web site and can be reached at rysloan4@gmail.



Tue, Apr 20, 2010 : 9:53 a.m.

With respect to draft beer, direct draw systems. where the keg is located in the cooler directly below the spiggot, with an actual coil system, are the best methods for delivering draft beer. That is, as long as the propietor keeps the cooler running 24/7. Having cleaned and serviced beer lines years ago, there is a a necessity in maintianing and cleaning the lines, which has a lot to do with the type of beer that runs through them. I had some stops that had long lines running from the cooler in the back of the house upfront, and a few of those places would turn the cooling system off to those lines from when they closed to when they opened back up. not only was that first pitcher of the day skunked, but the line itself would become infected. One other note of caution, draft beer at concert and sport venues can really be suspceptible to the infected tap line. They shut the power off to those all the time. One other thing you forgot to note, you can actually be served a different beer on tap then what you actually ordered and paid for. This is popular with the American light beers, substituting say a Natural Light for a Bud light

ET Crowe

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 8:53 p.m.

Really great perspective and advice Ryan...Beer Wench Likes.. cheers