What the Ale! Off-Flavored Beer? Gross!

A California-made beer without off flavors: Alvarado Street’s My Dad’s Boat Double IPA. Photo by Greg Nagel

At the CA Craft Beer Summit in Sacramento, one of the seminars blew my taste buds as much as my mind: off flavors. We’ve all had a beer in the past that we just couldn’t get through, but the question is why? Master cicerone Pat Fahey led us down a bumpy road of vurp-inducing liquids at 11 a.m., nearly putting me off grabbing lunch.

Using Sierra Nevada Nooner Pils as the control for evaluation, we dove into the following samples:

Barnyard (4-Ethylphenol or 4EP): This tasted noticeably like a smoked beer, a little bit ashy, but not super-unpleasant. In some wild-yeast saisons, this compound is great. In a beer where it’s not supposed to be, it indicates a wild yeast was introduced in the process and created the off-flavor.

Barfy (Butyric acid): This is something I come across quite often with newer breweries trying to make a fast kettle-soured beer. It smells like a fresh pile of baby barf or maybe like that one time you made out with a drunk person at a party. It’s caused by an anaerobic bacteria that can grow in the presence of oxygen.

Farty (Hydrogen sulfide): Most commonly found in lagers and some British ales, a little bit of fartiness is acceptable as it tends to blow off fast. If present in large amounts, it can indicate the brewery isn’t using enough healthy yeast during fermentation or adding too many sulfates in the brewing water.

You can learn more when the OC Brewers Guild hosts an off-flavor class on Sept. 29 at All-American Ale Works (5120 E. La Palma Ave., Ste. 103, Anaheim, 657-549-2140). Get more info at events.ocbrewers.org.

Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening this June!

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