Though we still struggle to confidently identify specific hop varieties, we have, we think, learned in the last year or so to spot a couple of specific flavours in beer.
First, there’s an acidic, bile-like tang that we’re pretty comes from an overdose of black malt in an otherwise relatively pale beer. It’s not especially nice — like a trailer for the indigestion yet to come. John Smith’s has it.
Secondly, there’s the taste of Nottingham yeast. In the wake of our yeast epiphany, we’ve become ultra sensitive to its effects. Nottingham is a fairly neutral strain and leaves, for want of a better phrase, a kind of ‘dusty hole’ (fnaar) in the flavour of the beer. It’s not exactly unpleasant but any beer brewed with it, we’re beginning to think, needs the hop and malt channels turned up louder to compensate.
It helps that, increasingly, brewers are open and honest about their ingredients and processes, giving us the opportunity to test our guesswork.
Next to pin down: a suspicion that we might be able to guess, with a bit more practice, whether a given British ale is brewed with soft water. Our water in Penzance is extremely soft and the beer we brew here, on the same kit, tastes quite different to the stuff we were making in London. There’s a certain sweetness in it now, regardless of how many hops we throw in.