Daily Archives: November 5, 2010

Store Bought Beer 101

When buying beer at the store – whether it’s at a grocery store, a local market, or a specialty beer shop – always always always try to buy the freshest beer you can find. The single most common defect I see in store bought beer is oxidation, hands down, it’s not even a contest.  Even the tiniest amount of oxygen is bad news for beer, and although there are technologies and practices available which can limit it very well, it’s pretty much impossible to eliminate from production processes.  The problem really arises after the beer leaves the brewery.  During transportation, distribution, storage and sales the beer is aging, and the warmer it is the faster it ages.  For lighter colored craft beers (non-adjunct), 1 week at 85F is roughly equivalent (in terms of flavor deterioration) to a 4 month old refrigerated beer.   We’ll explore oxidation more later.  It’s an inevitability.

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What will be covered here?

Things I hope to bring you on this blog:

  • Profiles of beer flavors and/or defects. How they’re made, how they’re limited, what they taste like, threshold, etc.
  • Reviews of beers. Each week my panel blindly reviews competitor’s brands in a brief descriptive profiling session. I’ve got a lot of data from the past year or more and we taste 2-3 per week, so we can keep this going for awhile.
  • Explanations, commentary, and discussion on topics in the brewing industry in general.
  • Interviews with brewing industry professionals.
  • Tips, tools, and techniques for you to use to drink, understand, and brew better beer.
  • Whatever else I can think of that applies to beer, wonderful beer.

Please help me keep this blog a high quality one.  I welcome suggestions.

The Beer Flavor Wheel

One thing every beer taster should be familiar with is the Beer Flavor Wheel. Developed in the 70’s by Morton Meilgaard, it’s a good way to present some of the multitude of descriptors of beer flavor and defects, and helps show how they’re related. I remember a nice glossy paperboard hand-out version of these when I was at university, but when I searched for online versions I was met with low-resolution results. So I made my own in Illustrator based on one I found in a journal article. Today, I find beerflavorwheel.com, which has great examples. None of them are perfect; all of them have to leave some terms off and sometimes categorization of the terms involves compromises, but overall they are a great tool. Some of the terms on the linked page may be a leap for beginners (how many average beer drinkers know what ethyl hexanoate smells like off the top of their head), but some googling will either take you to an answer, or to another version of the flavor wheel (there are many) with easier terms (but more vagueness). Or, you can hang out here as we go along and you’ll learn as we go.

About this page

This page comes from a desire to help the general beer-drinking public understand beer flavor. The craft beer “revolution” is well underway and entering its sophomore phases with relatively steady growth, even with US beer sales down a bit in 2009. Along with the number of microbreweries and brewpubs still starting these days, it’s apparent that there is a growing interest in beer with more flavor. However, what is not apparent is an interest in learning why so much of this beer is bad. Whether its a brewpub with an infection, a microbrewery pushing out young beer because they don’t have the capacity to meet demand, a macrobrewer putting their beer in clear or green glass, a distributor leaving beer out on a warm loading dock, or an import brewer shipping their beer unrefrigerated, the list of causes of beer flavor defects is long and wide. And in general, unknown by those drinking the beer.

If we can bring a common understanding and vocabulary to describing the beer we like and don’t like, and start persuading beer handlers to better protect their beer, then we can all enjoy the benefits.

About me:

MS, Food Science and Technology (thesis topic: hop polyphenols and bitterness)
BS, Food Science and Technology
Minor, Chemistry
Option, Fermentation Science
Published, Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists

Current Job: Sensory Panel Administrator, American Regional Craft Brewery

For the sake of of myself and my employer, I will take every step to maintain our privacy and anonymity.

The views expressed in this blog are not those of my employer, whoever that may be.