If you want to play along at home, you have 4 options for making your own flavor standards. Let’s get this out of the way: three “official” ways of doing this are not cheap. But you pay for convenience, because while the third choice is generally cheaper, it’s also more labor intensive and in some cases not possible. With the resources available at The Company, I have the option of combining a fourth option with the first ones. So what the heck am I talking about? Read on…
Option 1: FlavorActiv capsules. This is the least palatable option for those without the budget, particularly because they are based in the United Kingdom which ups the price a bit. They are, however, extremely convenient. They come as color-coded capsules each signifying a particular beer flavor or defect. The list of available flavors is long, but they all run about 40-80 British Pounds for 5 capsules. Each capsule provides for 1 liter of beer at a concentration of 3X the threshold value for that flavor. You can adjust the concentration by using more or less than 1 liter, but at 3X you have about enough to serve 15-30 tasters, depending on how much they need to drink. The convenience comes in dosing: open the capsule, dump the crystals/powder in the beer, swirl to mix and serve. 43 flavors available.
[April 2016 Edit: Aroxa runs a similar outfit to FlavorActiv (in fact the man who set up FlavorActiv with their product split off and started Aroxa). Similar in scope and price to FlavorActiv]
Option 2: The Siebel Institute has a couple of flavor kits as well. This next option is also not cheap, but it is based here in the States, so shipping and currency exchange aren’t problems for our US readers. Two sets are available: $180 for 1 vial each of 24 flavors (1L each, same as above), or $180 for 4 vials each of 6 flavors. Dosing is similar to FlavorActiv: open it up, dump it in and mix it. 24 flavors available.
Option 3: Essentially, the grocery store. Cheaper, but more difficult to assemble and many can’t be added to beer. But, we’ve got a shopping list to work from: The ASBC Sensory Committee’s “Additional Flavor Reference Standards”.
- Acetaldehyde (green apple, solvent, paint) – germinating barley
- Acetic (vinegar, sour) – Heinz distilled white vinegar
- Alcohol (fusel, solventy) – Brandy heads (distillation by-products; be careful) 8ml into 355ml
- Astringent – 1% alum / water solution
- Bitter – Sigma-Aldrich Caffeine (FCC) 1g/L
- Brown sugar – C+H brown sugar, 8g into 40ml light beer, mix
- Chlorophenol (antiseptic) – Chloroseptic throat spray, non-flavored
- Citrus – Lemon zest, Langers Ruby Red GF Juice, 0.25g and 6.5ml into 12oz beer, respectively
- Coffee/Roasted – Tully’s Roasted ground coffee, 1.3g into 50ml water, boil, filter, 7ml of filtrate into 12oz beer.
- Diacetyl (butter) – McCormick’s Imitation Butter Flavor
- DMS (corn, canned veggies) – canned creamed corn or black olives
- Ethyl acetate (solvent) – Fingernail polish remover, on cotton ball in jar. Do not add to beer (and drink)!
- Floral/Geraniol – rose petals
- Hoppy – hop tea
- Isoamyl acetate (banana) – Durkee imitation banana flavor
- Isovaleric (cheesy, sweatsock) – Aged hops in jar
- Lemon – McCormick Pure Lemon Extract, lemon zest
- Lightstruck/skunky – Bottled Corona, leave out in sun for awhile (or not, there’s plenty already).
- Lychee – Cho canned lychee, 4ml syrup in 50ml beer
- Malt character – Grapenuts, malt extract (liquid or dry)
- Dark malt / burnt – burnt toast, chocolate malt (extract chocolate malt by steeping 100g in 150ml boiling water, filter)
- Meaty/brothy – Marmite, Vegemite, Knorr’s Beef Bullion
- Meaty/soy sauce – Kikkoman Soy Sauce
- Molasses – Muddy Pond Sorghum
- Onion/garlic – McCormick’s Dehydrated Onion or Garlic Bits
- Orange – Durkee Orange Extract
- Oxidized/aged – Packaged beer, 3 days at 114F or 10 days at 100F (this will likely give papery flavors, especially if it is light beer; find older, colder beer for other oxidized flavors)
- Papery – Wet cardboard
- Eugenol (spicy) – Non-brand whole cloves
- Stale fruit – dampened dried pineapple
- Sulfury – burnt rubber band in jar, Ogilve Home Perm solution (might be hard to find, newer versions have modified aroma)
- Sweet – Splenda, 1packet in 100ml H2O, then 2ml into 12oz beer.
- Vanilla – imitation vanilla flavor
- Vinous/winy – Dry sherry, port
- Vegetable, cooked – Rolling Rock beer (?! – should be lightstruck), cooked cabbage water
- Vegetative – canned green beans and green olives, 10ml bean juice, 5ml olive juice into 12oz beer
- Yeasty – RedStar Active Dry Yeast, 1g into 10ml H2O, set aside for minutes, 8g of mixture into 12oz beer (crown – will foam!), mix.
Option 4: Spike your own. This is what I do at work, but I also use some FlavorActiv capsules since not all flavors are available at Sigma-Aldrich’s Flavors and Fragrances section (or similar departments at Givaudan, Bell Flavor, etc). This isn’t a terribly cheap option, but many of the flavors are offered in “sample” sizes which often go for $40. Most of the time, these are enough to spike well over 1L of beer (already beating FlavorActiv and Siebel’s kits in terms of value), as long as you use as accurate (and small) dosing systems. I use pipettes which allows for very accurate spikes down to single-digit microliters, but if you use an eyedropper and stock solutions (water or ethanol, depending on the solubility of the compound) you could probably do fine without them. Some of these flavors are intensely powerful with low thresholds, so start low and work your way up. Get a hand-crowner from a local homebrew supply store so you can spike into bottles and re-seal them – very handy (with a limited shelf-life, less than a week or so probably, which is still more than the liter you pour out with the first two options). I’ve also created a handy Excel file which calculates spiking amounts with controls for purity, stock solution concentration, and final volume. It works great for me, cutting out a lot of the math.
I realize that some of these options are barely within the budgets of even some small brewers, so there’s not much chance for your average beer drinker to be able to afford more than Option 3. One option is to split the cost between friends; if you have 8-12 friends you could assemble a few times a year for a “training panel” where you pitch in for the flavors and the beer (and maybe the administration responsibilities). You might be able to keep the prices down if you do a few flavors at a time and spread the cost over a number of people.
We’ll go over some of the specifics of the flavors of interest in future posts, but you can probably get enough information by following some of these links and googling a bit until then.