What Makes a Beer Bad?
For those who are long time listeners, you may have heard about my early quarantine project last Spring. It was meant to be my first, non Mr. Beer kit, home brew. And it was gonna be a hazy NEIPA! It resulted in one growler exploding, and the surviving one emulating a volcano spewing green liquid right before going live on our second ever Hops News Hoppy Hour. It was beyond undrinkable. It was straight out of the exorcist. So what the hell went wrong? What makes a beer bad? As I researched, I discovered the possibilities are endless.
If you didn’t already know, I’m sure that story informed you that I am not an actual Beer Professor. I just play one on Hops News. Just a quick disclaimer.
During the Brewing Process
During the Brewing Process there are 5 main issues that can arise, and of course there are a million reasons under those 5 reasons because the more we learn here, the less anything makes sense. But I’ll try anyway.
This is the MOST IMPORTANT thing to pay mind to while brewing. Even if you want a sour beer with bacteria. You still need to control it and keep other bacteria at bay. Unwanted bacteria can cause many issues, such as mold and vinegar smells. This can happen at any point! Even after the beer has been delivered to a restaurant and they don’t properly clean their lines.
After you clean, you got to rinse everything thoroughly. Not fully rinsing the cleaning chemicals from your brewing equipment, can cause yeast to interact with the leftover chemicals and create some unwanted flavors like, band aid. I didn’t even know that could be a flavor.
Second, Fermentation Temperature Control
If your fermentation is too cold it can cause some yeast to go dormant. You need the right temperature for each yeast, so it actually gets active! You want to keep fermentation temperatures as consistent as possible. Too much change in temperature, can cause the yeast to slow, and not turn the sugar into beer.
If the temperature is too high while fermenting, the beer can make esters and phenolics. If this was not your intent, it won’t taste great. If fermentation is weak, hurried, or didn’t get a chance to finish (insert Feelin Lucky joke)…that is usually a result of messed up cooling temperatures at the end of fermentation, and it can leave diacetyl.This causes the beer to smell like extra butter microwave popcorn.
The possibilities of bad beer are truly endless during fermentation.
Third, Proper Yeast Management
Yeast can expire. Check those dates before brewing. Poor storage conditions can also cause yeast to be mostly dead, and then not even ferment. Depending on how the yeast has been treated can also depend if it needs to be warmed up to get moving.
Fourth, The Boil
This is the actual brew, so obviously a ton can go wrong. Temperature is huge here, and I think this is part of what went wrong with mine. I have since bought an induction burner, but have been scared to try again. I will though. Let’s just move on.
Fifth, The Recipe/Ingredients
Like when making anything for consumption, you never know what combinations are gonna work and which aren’t. You also tend to get better results with better ingredients. Just ask Papa John.
Some bad ingredients would be, high alkalinity water. You need good water. Just ask any New Yorker who thinks their bagels and pizza are the best in the world. Water matters. If your malt is old, it can cause metallic flavors. Improperly stored malt can build up moisture and cause a grassy smell. Overly toasted malt can give it an overly grainy flavor. Everything has to be perfect.
So after all of this, I seriously have no idea where the hell I went wrong, but now I know it really could have been anywhere. Ok, so what if you have zero desire to brew, and want to know what makes a beer break bad after it’s been brewed, and when it never came into contact with a dirty restaurant line. Now we talk…OXIDATION!
This is a word beer snobs love to throw around to sound smart. It’s probably the most common issue we poor beer consumers face. This is when the beer gets oxygen after the fermentation process is complete. This can be due to improper packaging or storage. Oxidation leaves you with a cardboard taste and the smell of old paper.
While you, as a consumer, can’t control oxidation during packaging, or distribution storage, you can once you have the beer. So how do you protect this precious liquid? Keep it in a dark cool place, and drink it ASAP. Light is bad for beer. The light, sun or fluorescent, can skunk it up.
This is a “result of a photochemical reaction with hop compounds and sulfur compounds.” This is why so many craft brewers use cans. It protects the beer from light better than bottles. Brown bottles offer some protection, but green and clear… not so much. Some of the big boys use processed hop extract, rather than hops in their wort, so the light/oxidation doesn’t become an issue, especially since you really never know what’s going to happen to your brew after it leaves your sight.
Heineken does not use hop extracts, so it has been rumored they intentionally allow their beer to skunk as a wanted flavor, since they use green bottles.
Well in the words of Dwight Schrute. FALSE.
Director of Quality at Heineken USA, Paul Van Der Aar has said, “For more than 150 years, Heineken has been brewing some of the world’s most popular beers, using a mix of traditional brewing practices and new, modernized methods. We never purposefully expose our wort or beer to sunlight. In fact, throughout the entire production process, our brewing team has measures in place to protect our beers in green bottles from exposure to light.”
If you’re still curious if this urban legend is actually false, just buy a bottle and can, and do your own little taste test.
In Conclusion! What makes a beer break bad? Literally anything, but mainly, wrong temperature, unwanted bacteria, and oxidation. SCIENCE BITCH!
Once last tidbit. Beer doesn’t technically expire but that doesn’t mean those drink fresh labels should be ignored. They are there for a reason. So, my personal professorial advice to you all, is drink whatever beer you have immediately. Unless it’s meant to be aged. Then do so in a dark cool place. And if you want to know more about the actual brew process, order the book How to Brew from John J. Palmer. My husband bought it for me after my exploding beer, and it’s pretty damn good. CHEERS!