Quick Guide to Bad Beers

by Jean Coffey

Is your beer supposed to taste like that?  In today's craft beer world of ever evolving
and newly created styles it's sometimes hard for the novice beer drinker to decide if
the beer is actually bad and should be sent back.  

Beer can be a fragile product. Drinkers moving to craft brews from mainstream ones
that are always pasteurized don't realize this since those beers really won’t change
much once they've been bottled or canned. Since a lot of craft beer is unpasteurized.
(many are filtered however which reduces the risk of something going wrong), and
some actually contain "live"yeast,  problems can and do occur on occasion.

The most common complaint from new craft converts is that the beer must be bad
because it's too bitter.  Not so. Bitterness  comes from hops and is part of the flavor
profile of many beers.   While balance is lauded by many drinkers just being bitter is
not a flaw in any way - just ask any "hop-head".

Another common complaint is that a beer is flat.  A lack of carbonation in beer is
sometimes deliberate which might shock those used to highly fizzy macro brews.  
Brews like cask ales or barley wines generally have low levels of carbonation on  
purpose.  However, on occasion lack of carbonation might indicate the beer is old or
air has gotten into the bottle.  If that's the case send it back; the beer is not in the
state the brewer intended it to be in.

If your beer appears cloudy or hazy it might mean that it is bad. Usually that is not the
case, however.  The haziness is often the result of either yeast being added
deliberately, or simply that the beer is not pasteurized and/or filtered which many
believe gives the beer a fuller, deeper taste.  That said, haze caused by the
precipitation of proteins in the beer can sometimes have an adverse affect on flavour,
and also provides a feeding ground for unwanted bacteria.

Does your beer smell like a skunk?  Send it back! That terrible smell is usually
caused by a reaction between hops and ultraviolet light.  Beers bottled in clear or
green glass are especially susceptible to this. The key is to keep beer out of both
sunlight and UV lights.  Just a few seconds in can ruin a perfectly good beer. Ideally,
you would avoid stores that keep their beers on exposed shelves subject to
supermarket lighting. Of course for the best protection from this get your beer in a
can or at the very least brown bottles.

Did you just detect a taste of musty cardboard or even sherry in your beer?  If so,
your beer is oxidized.   Actually there are a few connoisseurs favour sherryish notes
in their vintage beers but every agrees that oxidation in non-vintage beers means
something has gone wrong.  It's usually b an improper seal on the cap or being in a
cask or keg that has been left on tap too long.  In any event, send it back.

Butterscotch or butter flavors on the palate are by-products of  fermentation.  Some
yeast strains produce more of this diacetyl than others. At low levels, it is a trait  
considered to be desirable in many styles of beer.  However it is not appropriate in
most types of beer and if it dominates the beer's flavor send it back.

Look out for phenols.  They  can come from either yeast fermentation or bacterial
infection. The phenols from fermentation are usually acceptable but common only in
German-style wheat beers (clove, vanilla, light smoke). Phenols from infection are
nasty – it smells like medicine, paint thinner, Band-Aids, bleach, or soiled baby
diapers among others   If you get a truly nasty aroma or flavour it is the result of
bacterial infection and the beer should be considered spoiled.

If you drinking a bad beer at home just dump it and consider that the price of
adventure.  If you're at a pub send it back but be sure to explain just why you believe
the beer is off.  Needless to say, check out the style guidelines first; that's why you
go online with your cell phone, right?

Just remember that bad tasting beer cannot get you deathly sick.  It just won't be a
memorable drinking experience.  So go seek out new styles and expand your palate.
I've grown to love sour beers and out of the box flavors.  After all, isn't that what craft
beer is all about?


beernexus.com - SPECIAL REPORT
When to send a beer back