Category Archives: Tools

Help Me Help You Find Fresh Beer

I’ve already mentioned, buying fresh beer is very important to me, and it should be for you. The problem is it’s so hard to find out whether the beer in front of you at the grocery store is fresh. Some breweries don’t label their beer with any production information, some put it in hard to find locations, some use a format which defies decoding, and some use a “Best By” date rather than a “Born On” date (which makes it difficult to tell how old the beer is since you don’t know what the brewery considers their beer’s shelf-life to be).

So what I propose, and it just may be a bit daft to try, is for us (you and I) to attempt to compile a collection of label information for various breweries. If we can get enough information gathered together, maybe people can start to find the fresh beer that they deserve. Of course, just because the label says it’s a young and fresh beer doesn’t mean it hasn’t been abused.  It doesn’t take long for elevated temperatures to adversely affect beer flavor; just a few days in the trunk of your car in summer is enough to trash something like a lager or pale ale (something like a stout or imperial IPA might hold up a bit longer).

More after the break…

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Jackpot! The Beer Fishbone Diagram

This PDF is a bonanza of information, enumerating the multitude of factors involved in all sorts of beer phenomena. It’s called a Fishbone Diagram, and the reason is obvious once you see it. I can’t even begin to explain everything that’s in here, I mean it would takes hours (days?) to pick it apart.

It’s pretty easy to interpret, although it is a bit of an information overload. Each page explains the various factors that influence a particular quality issue in beer. For example, below is a screenshot for the one of the pages [!] about how packaging and brewing issues interact to promote or limit beer oxidation. Other issues covered are controlling beer pH, fusel alcohols, H2S levels, foam quality, beer stability, yeast flocculation/vitality/viability, etc etc etc.

Brewing/Packaging Parameters and Beer Oxidation

You can find it here:
[see below]

Please excuse the rotated table of contents; I rotated the PDF so that the first page was the only one (of 42) that you needed to crane your neck to read. Better yet, print it out and enjoy it with a pint or two of your favorite beer. I’m going to go get a blonde ale out of the fridge right now.

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Edit, 1/6/11:  Looks like these fishbone diagrams were developed by Greg Casey, recently (currently?) of Coors Brewing.  I hope it’s OK that they’re posted here…

Edit, 1/2/13: I’ve recently been informed that the file on the host site disappeared, so I’ve rehosted it at another site. If it disappears again, shoot me an email and I’ll try to get it back up.

Edit, 1/23/13:  At the moment, the free file-hosting websites I’ve been using don’t seem to have much of a shelf-life.   Either that or Greg Casey has a Google Alert on “beer fishbone diagram” and every time he sees the file posted he submits a takedown request to the hosting site.

Anyway,  I’m going to do this on an on-demand basis.   If you’d like a copy of the Beer Fishbone Diagrams, email me (found on “About” page) and I’ll get you a copy within a couple days.  

The HopUnion Variety Book

One thing no homebrewer should be without is the Hop Variety Book (PDF) from our friends at HopUnion in Yakima, Washington. This wonderful book has information for dozens of domestic international hop varieties, including their alpha acid, beta acid, and essential oil content, and so much more including some decent aroma descriptors as well.

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.