Beer flavours we’ve sussed

Pints of beer at the Blue Anchor, Helston

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.

11 thoughts on “Beer flavours we’ve sussed”

  1. There is soooo much to learn about beer I think we’ll always be at it. Had a few instances recently spotting off flavours, which although not pleasant, did give a little quiet self satisfaction.

    Have you ever (or ever thought) of attending one of those tasting courses for judging etc? I may try one this year, just to try & boost personal knowledge really.

      1. Phil — if you go for it, let us know how you get on. We’ve never been tempted, but I’m not sure why. Probably because we’re quite happy bumbling along…

  2. Soft water is one of the first things I picked up. I have a strong reaction to sulphates and I realized I was picking soft from hard once I knew what was going on. Syracuse in central NY has a salt industry and a lot of CNY brews have a softer profile than you see here in Ontario.

  3. It’s good that once you know a flavour you can spot it much more easily. I’d be wary to trying to spot water though, it’s very easy to Burtonise brewing liquor nowadays.

      1. Sorry, that’s the point I was trying to make. Even in soft water areas I suspect most people will brew with hard water.

  4. Although I wouldn’t say I can identify the individual flavours, I have noticed that otherwise similar beers tend to be more interesting (tasty) when brewed with Windsor rather than Nottingham yeast.

    Is that what you mean by dusty hole? That the Nottingham somehow leaves the beer tasting slightly bland.

  5. I don’t think I ‘buy’ your black malt theory.

    Are alot of micros using dried Nottingham? its a very attenuative yeast. Needs some serious allowence made in the mash tun. Mash high, and look at the water.

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