Bad Beer is Bad Beer
Before you send the beer back read this!
While enjoying a pint with my buddy Karl the other day he told me
that on his last visit to a local brewpub he though one of the beers just
didn't taste right. He didn't send it back because he wasn't sure if the
beer was bad or for some reason he just didn't like it. To help Karl and
any of my readers who have had a similar problem here are some
things to consider.
First, trust your nose! Look for these smells -
•Rubber (from yeast)
•Cabbage, cooked vegetable (from yeast)
•Medicinal aromas (undesirable fermentation by-product)
•Cider (undesirable fermentation by-product)
•Vinegar (by-product of bacterial action)
•Sour milk (by-product of bacterial action)
•Burned butter (Technical name is diacetyl)
•Acetone (by-product of the fermentation of corn)
The cause of this is improper brewing techniques; the off-putting order
is a chemical by-product of fermentation. If you smell any of these
send the beer back - it's gone bad.
Often times a problem with your beer is not due to the brewery but to
the place serving it. Simply put, the beer is out-of-condition thanks to
poor handling, improper storage, and/or less than rigorous stabilization
before packaging. Here are some things to look for
•Beer is "skunked." This flaw most commonly afflicts beers packaged in
clear glass bottles. Hop oils are converted by ultraviolet light into rancid-
•Oxidation has taken place: This manifests itself by telltale aromas of
paper or cardboard, indicating a beer that is past its prime. It is a
common problem with draft beer that has been in a half-empty barrel
for too long.
•Poor head formation: Head formation when a beer is poured is a
property that can be controlled by a brewer, so a lackluster head is
not a cause of alarm in itself. However, when a beer is supposed to
form a rich head, such as classic pilsner or Germanic lager, and fails to
do so, staleness is usually the answer. If the hop oils degrade through
age, the head will be proportionately poorer. (Detergent traces in the
glass might equally cause lack-luster heads).
It is also possible that your beer is "bad" due to the serving lines being
infrequently cleaned. The beer sits in the line overnight, and the
bacteria in the line chew on the beer and sour it. First or second pour
of the night? Dreadful. If the problem is contaminated draught lines
also look for a diacetyl and DMS character or cloudiness in the beer.
However once the lines are cleared, the fresh beer from the keg will
Remember that an average keg of beer has a shelf life of a few to
several months, if kept in an optimal environment. Also consider that
up to a third of that time is spent sitting at the brewery or in a
distributor’s warehouse. Of course if you drink locally brewed craft
beer it's more likely to be fresh and you'll be supporting a local business.
I'd be remiss if I didn't remind everyone that there is a distinction
between bad beer and beer that is not to someone's preference.
Sending a beer back, simply because you don't like it—unless you're
relying on your server or bartender to cater to your tastes- really isn't
the proper thing to do. You should always ask yourself and your
server a few questions about the craft beer you're thinking of
ordering. Request a small tasting sample, almost all quality beer bars
will gladly comply. Just doing that will usually keep you from having to
decide about sending the beer back.
Before I go I want to thank all of you who have sent in articles for me
to publish. Please keep them coming! If you haven't tried your hand
at it - what are you waiting for? While we only select the most
interesting ones to print there's no reason that won't be yours!
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