Author: Daniel J. Leonard (Page 1 of 14)

The Impacts Of Freezing, Heat and Light on Beer

In the following experiments, we subjected a light beer (Corona Extra) to a barrage of separate extreme tests to measure the individual impacts of freezing, heat and light exposure.

The Impacts Of Freezing, Heating and Exposing Light to Beer

TASTE TEST PROCESS

We conducted repeated taste tests to see if any noticeable change could be detected using a kind of blind sensory method called a “triangle test”.  For example, when testing the effects of a certain factor like “beer exposed to light”, three unmarked samples of beer were poured, one of which was a sample that had been exposed to light, and the other two were unadulterated samples.

The testers were then asked to identify the sample they believed was different, and then the same test was repeated between 4 and 6 times to reduce the possibility that the testers were simply guessing correctly.  The tasters were not told in what way any beer had been altered.  Tasters were instructed to consider and describe the aroma, flavor, and carbonation level of each sample.

All beer samples were measured at three ounces each and served into snifter glasses at 50°F (10°C) in order to enhance the tester’s ability to detect any differences.

CHOICE OF BEER

The beer used in all experiments was Corona Extra, which was chosen in part due to its world-wide distribution making it more accessible to anyone who wanted to repeat any of these experiments on their own.  The other reasons a light beer like Corona was selected was because it’s said that it is easier to detect flaws in such light beers, and being bottled in a clear bottle makes the beer more susceptible to the effects of light exposure.  All beers purchased came from the same closed box (protected from light exposure), and were purchased from and subsequently kept in cold storage.  None of the control beers were determined to have any off-flavors.

THE EXPERIMENTS OF ICE, FIRE AND LIGHT:

THE IMPACT OF FREEZING BEER

It’s said that freezing and thawing a beer will reduce the level of carbonation in beer generating a “flatter” tasting beer.  Curious to see if a tasting panel could repeatedly identify a beer that had been frozen and then thawed compared to an unadulterated beer from the same case, a beer was frozen for two hours, thawed, and served immediately to a tasting panel who were asked to repeatedly identify the beer that was different.

The panelists were not told that the beer was frozen, but only to identify the beer that was different and describe what was different about it.

OBSERVATIONS

The tasting panel was able to correctly identify the frozen and then thawed beer with an accuracy rate of 75%.  The frozen and then thawed beer was described as slightly less carbonated and slightly less aromatic, and having a subtly duller flavor.  One taster noted a more “watery” character in the aroma.

The frozen and then thawed beer was also slightly lighter and hazy than the unadulterated beer as can be seen below (frozen and thawed beer on left, unadulterated beer on right):

Change in the Color of a Frozen Beer

To account for the minor difference in color, tasters were blindfolded, but were nevertheless still able to correctly identify the frozen and then thawed beer 75% of the time based on the aroma, flavor and carbonation level.

REFLECTIONS

The results of this test seem to reflect the commonly held ideas about the effects of freezing beer.  Interestingly, some tasters were able to correctly differentiate the beers by scent alone, while others could only correctly tell the difference by the different level of carbonation.  We approximate that the level of carbonation in the frozen beer was reduced by about 20-25%, resulting in fewer aromatics being generated for the nose to detect, and though no difference in flavor was noticed, folks did notice a difference in carbonation level resulting in what some described as a slightly duller beer.

Overall, the impact of freezing beer in this case was subtle and at times difficult to detect.

THE IMPACT OF HEATING BEER

It’s said that when beer is exposed to heat, it can reduce the shelf life of the beer by accelerating chemical reactions including oxidation. (It should be noted that aging certain styles of beer can be desirable as with certain Belgian sour beers and beers with higher alcohol concentrations.)

Curious to see if any noticeable change could be detected in heated beer, we wrapped a bottle of Corona Extra in aluminum foil to protect against light exposure, submerged the bottle in warmed water at a temperature range of 90-139°F  (32.22-59.44°C) for 24 hours, chilled to 50°F (10°C) and served immediately.

Heating a Bottle of Beer in a Pot

The general idea with this experiment was to approximate the effect of beer left in a hot car.  Although temperatures in a hot car can reach upwards of 172 F (77.78°C), we capped the testing temperature at 139°F (59.44°C).

For reference, below is a chart estimating vehicle interior air temperature v. elapsed time:

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time

OBSERVATIONS

Tasters were able to correctly identify the heated beer 90% of the time by scent alone, with some tasters accuracy rate at 100% over 6 repeated trials.  Tasters described the aroma of the cooked beer as somewhat sulfury with notes of hard boiled eggs, sulfury mud, raw grey clay, and cooked corn.  The heated beer was also described as having slightly lower carbonation, and was less crisp and less hoppy in both aroma and flavor as compared to the unadulterated beer.  No difference in color was noted, but less of an alcoholic kick was noted in the heated beer.

REFLECTIONS

The degree to which heat negatively affected specifically the aroma of the beer tested was striking.  Where one might have expected characteristics associated with oxidation in a heated beer such as cardboard, sherry, or apple juice, instead sulfur notes were detected.

However, the sulfury notes that were identified, especially in the aroma of the heated beer, might be explained by the fact that the hydrogen sulfide level in filtered beer consistently doubles after pasteurization, which illustrates that the level is not static, but is affected by various redox reactions that take place in the packaged beer.

We essentially pasteurized the beer multiple times when repeatedly reheating the beer to 122–140°F (50–60°C) over 24 hours, thereby increasing the potential level of hydrogen sulfide which has a low sensory threshold of only a few parts-per-billion.

THE IMPACT OF EXPOSING BEER TO LIGHT

When beer is exposed to UV light, particularly in the range of 350-500 nm, a reaction occurs in hops that can cause the beer to take on a “skunky” or “marijuana-like” character.  The particular offending chemical compound generated in this light-caused reaction is called 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, or “3-MBT” for short, and can occur in under 10 seconds resulting in what is referred to as a “skunked” or “light-struck” beer.  A potent compound, humans are able to detect 3-MBT at a threshold of around 4 parts-per-trillion.

The color of glass beer is bottled in can affect this skunking reaction, with brown bottles offering better protection, green bottles far less, and clear bottles none.  This is why folks might notice this phenomenon more often with beers like Heineken and Beck’s that are bottled in green bottles, and beers like Corona packaged in clear bottles.  Many brewing companies well-aware of this phenomenon continue to package their beer in clear or green glass bottles mainly due to marketing and branding priorities.

Some brewing companies such as Miller Brewing  avoid the lightstruck problem in brands such as Miller High Life by using specially formulated hop extracts that do not react with UV light to create 3-MBT.

To test the impact of UV light on beer, clear bottles of Corona Extra were left in direct contact with sunlight for 10 hours at a temperature range of 60-69°F (15.56 -20.56°C), chilled to 50°F (10°C) and served immediately along with two unadulterated samples.  We figured even though it’s said that a beer can be skunked in as little as 10 seconds, just to be safe we might as well leave it exposed for 10 hours.

OBSERVATIONS

After repeating the same test four times to minimize any doubt of lucky guessing, panelists were able to correctly identify the beer that had been exposed to UV light each time with a 100% accuracy rate and by scent alone.  Although a strong skunk musk aroma was immediately noticeable upon opening the bottle, once the beer was served, bonus aromatics were noted including rotten vegetables (rotten squash), water from a backed-up kitchen sink, burnt rubber/plastic, and dirty waste water from a wet vac after cleaning a carpet.

REFLECTIONS

While certainly a skunk-like aroma was expected from exposing a light beer to UV light, the additional aromas of drain water, burnt rubber, and rotten vegetables were not.  That said, the chemical produced by beer exposed to UV light that causes the skunk-like aroma is called 3-MBT, a kind of mercaptan, which has also been described as burnt rubber.  However there are actually a variety of mercaptans that may be found in beer, such as methanethiol (methyl mercaptan) which has been described as “like drains or rotting garbage”, descriptors similar to aromas noted about this ultra lightstruck beer.

In short, it seems this unfortunate beer was first struck by light, and then by a garbage truck.

That said, the worst of the offending aromas seemed to become somewhat muted after leaving the opened lightstruck bottles of beer out indoors at room temperature for about 24 hours, suggesting that some of the mercaptans are volatile or perhaps intermediary byproducts in a longer chain of chemical reactions.

By the way, if you’re interested in a more formal scientific analysis of the effects of lightstruck beer over the course of several days, here’s a link to a 1965 Japanese paper called Studies of the Sunlight Flavor of Beer”.

Sunlight never tasted so gross.


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Certified Beer Judge, Award-Winning Homebrewer and Cider Maker, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

 

Beer Syndicate Reviews Ommegang’s Game of Thrones-Inspired Beers (Final Season)

Back in December of 2012, Ommegang officially announced its collaboration with HBO to roll out Game of Thrones-inspired beers, with the first of its kind, “Iron Throne Blonde Ale”, released in March of 2013 just ahead of the series season 3 debut on March 31.

Fast forward to 2019, and as the eighth and final season of the popular Game of Thrones series draws to its dramatic conclusion, it also brings with it five limited-release GoT-themed beers, the latest and perhaps last in a total of fourteen different brews produced since the initial launch.

By the way, if you missed out on some of the GoT-inspired beers from seasons past, apparently Ommegang’s got Melisandre working some resurrection magic back in the brewhouse because a few of them are about to get brought back to life.   Recently announced on its Instragram account, Ommegang will be re-releasing three previously retired fan-favorite GoT brews (Take the Black Stout, Fire and Blood Red Ale, and Winter is Here Double White Ale) all in time for the holidays 2019 in a gift pack along with a GoT commemorative glass.

It’s still not confirmed if Ommegang will be releasing future GoT-inspired brews to accompany any of the upcoming GoT spin-offs, though our money is on yes they will.

But enough about the future and the past, let’s get back to the beers of right now.

Four of the five final season brews pay homage to four epic Game of Thrones characters who managed to survive to season eight, namely Daenerys, Cersei, Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister.  The fifth brew is a tribute to whoever the final occupant of the Iron Throne will be.

Speaking of which… In true Game of Thrones-like fashion, we at Beer Syndicate pitted each of the final five brews against each other in a brutal trial-by-combat taste-off to see which beer is most worthy to be placed in the built-in cup holder affixed to the Iron Throne.

And whichever character’s beer that stands victorious is our pick for who will take the Iron Throne.

Ready.  Set.  Dracarys.

Game of Beers

FOR THE THRONE: STRONG GOLDEN ALE FERMENTED WITH PINOT GRIGIO AND VIOGNIER GRAPE JUICE

BREWERY DESCRIPTION: Complex and compelling, yet delicate and refined, For the Throne is our tribute to the final occupant of the Iron Throne. This strong golden ale is co-fermented with Pinot Grigio and Viognier grape juices, then bottle conditioned with Champagne yeast.  The beer pours a striking golden copper with a fluffy white head. Aromas of honeysuckle and toasted grain mingle with notes of pear and apricot. The finish is clean and dry, with vibrant effervescence. For the Throne is an ale fit for royalty.

BEER SYNDICATE REVIEW: Sometimes referred to as an “oenobeer” (wine-beer), For the Throne conjures up aromas of sparkling apple juice, honeysuckle, pale malt reminiscent of angel food cake, a hint of Meyer lemon pith, peppery saison-like yeast and clean alcohol.  The palate is presented with a peppery saison-like character, fruity notes of pear and faint aged pineapple followed by impressions of cava, unoaked chardonnay, apple juice, simple syrup, grain husks, sharp young grappa-like alcohol notes which accentuate a certain minerally acidity in this medium-bodied brew with a fizzy cider-like carbonation, finishing with an aftertaste of yeast and salt.

SCORE: 82/100

SPECS
ABV: 9.5%
IBU: 30
FERMENTABLES: Pilsner and Carapils malt, dextrose, Pinot Grigio & Viogner grape juices.
HOPS: Bravo, Saaz.
YEAST: Primary: Ommegang house yeast; Secondary: Champagne yeast.

MOTHER OF DRAGONS: SMOKED PORTER & KRIEK ALE BLEND

BREWERY DESCRIPTION: Inspired by Daenerys Targaryen, this blend of a smoked porter and a Belgian kriek represents the smoke and fire that Daenerys has unleashed on her opponents during her ascent to conquer and rule the seven kingdoms. “Mother of Dragons” — a beer for Daenerys — is a richly complex blend of smoked porter and Belgian kriek. It pours a deep ruby-brown with alluring aromas of tart cherry, dark roast and hints of smoke.

BEER SYNDICATE REVIEW: Overall, Mother of Dragons is a tasty potentially dessert beer dominated by fruit-forward notes of candied raspberry and cherry that provide a mildly tart acidic balance to this medium-sweet milk chocolaty toasted (not smoky) porter.  Even at a minority blend ratio of 25% sour cherry beer (kriek) to 75% porter, fruity aromatics take the lead with notes of soft raspberry fruit snacks and mild cherry, followed by chocolate-covered raspberry jelly candy, and coco nibs.  Flavor-wise, fruity flavors of raspberry, goji berry, pomegranate and cranberry overshadow the medium-sweet milk chocolate character of this medium-bodied porter, leaving behind an aftertaste of Raspberry Tootsie Pops.

SCORE: 83/100

SPECS
ABV: 6.6%
IBU: 24
FERMENTABLES: Pilsner, caramel malt, Munich 20, Cara 20, chocolate malt, Special B and smoked malt barleys, midnight wheat.
HOPS: Saaz, Magnum, Hallertau.
YEAST: Ommegang house yeast, Liefmans mixed culture.
BLENDING NOTES: 75% smoked porter, 25% Belgian kriek.

QUEEN OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS: BLEND OF SOUR AND BLONDE ALES

BREWERY DESCRIPTION: A special blend of Belgian sour ale and Belgian-style blonde ale, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms reminds us that to Cersei, everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.

BEER SYNDICATE REVIEW: Rightfully billed as a blend of a Belgian Blonde and a sour, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms is brilliantly executed, though for a beer inspired by Cersei, one of GoT’s greatest villains, it’s somewhat easy on the sour for being a sour Belgian Blonde ale.  (See what Ommegang did there– Cersei. Sour blonde ale.  Yep.)

Queen of the Seven Kingdoms pours a formidable two thick fingers of billowing creamy pale tan head which gently recedes revealing an opaque golden-honey body while leaving behind a bit of delicate lace clinging to the interior of the glass.  Tempting aromatics include loquat, angel food cake, sweet pale malt, lemon Pixie Stix, grapefruit candy, stewed peaches and apricots, and pleasant Belgian yeast, but little suggesting this will be a strongly sour brew aside from a lemony hint of lactic acid.  Indeed, more tart and tangy than truly sour, this medium-bodied sour blonde offers up flavors of underripe loquat, cumquat, lemon tonic water, quinine, lemon SweeTarts, and signature Belgian yeast all balanced by a medium-sweet wheaty malt presence.

Nowhere near the intense sourness of a straight Belgian Lambic, the tart component of Queen of the Seven Kingdoms is approachably restrained allowing the Belgian Blonde component to shine through, ultimately resulting in a masterful success.

SCORE: 86/100

SPECS
ABV: 6.5%
IBU: 18
FERMENTABLES: Two-row, honey malt and aromatic malt barleys, flaked red wheat, dextrose.
HOPS: Styrian goldings, Saaz.
SPICES: Lemon peel, grains of paradise.
YEAST: Ommegang house yeast.
BLENDING NOTES: A blend of sour ale and blonde ale.

KING IN THE NORTH: BARREL-AGED IMPERIAL STOUT

BREWERY DESCRIPTION: A beer for Jon Snow – a dark and brooding imperial stout has always been bold enough for normal times, but now that winter is here, something bigger and bolder is needed for the long, dark night. Thus, we enlisted the help of barrels and time to produce King in the North, a rich, bold, barrel-aged imperial stout unlike anything we’ve brewed before.

BEER SYNDICATE REVIEW: Pouring a huge moosey khaki head over a pitch black body, King in the North is a straight-forward imperial stout delivering aromas of chocolate wafer cookie, marzipan, chocolate pudding skin, Grape-Nuts cereal, mild Bourbon barrel, and a hint of vanilla and root beer, all of which do well to mask an undercurrent of clean vodka-like alcohol.  Although not a viscousy, woody chocolate-bomb, flavors of dark chocolate are present along with dark roasty malt, a hint of vanilla from the barrel aging, root beer barrel candy, a touch of molasses and big alcohol in this medium-full bodied medium-sweet imperial stout which should only become smoother with age.

SCORE: 89.5/100

SPECS
ABV: 10.5%
IBU: 40
FERMENTABLES: Two-row, Cara 45, chocolate malt and roasted barleys, midnight wheat, dark candi syrup.
HOPS: Columbus, Styrian Goldings, Northern Brewer, Chinook.
YEAST: Ommegang house yeast.
AGING NOTES: Aged for 6 months in bourbon barrels.

HAND OF THE QUEEN: BARLEYWINE ALE

BREWERY DESCRIPTION: A beer brewed for Tyrion. As one who knows and loves wine above all, and as his court brewer, we would brew him one. Hand of the Queen is a big, bold barleywine fit for those who seek knowledge and truth, both great and small.

BEER SYNDICATE REVIEW:Certainly more of an English-style barleywine than a hopped-up American version, Hand of the Queen tantalizes with malt-forward aromas of oatmeal cookies, fruit cake, sticky prunes, crumb cake, candied cherries, pecan shells, Boston brown bread, marzipan, a hint of wholegrain banana bread, a touch of star anise, and mild alcohol.  The first sip is greeted with medium-high malty sweet notes of fruit cake, oatmeal cookie batter, dates, raisins, candied cherries and a hint of banana bread that act brilliantly to balance the warming bourbon-like alcohol that emerges mid-palate in this medium-full bodied simply outstanding example of an English barleywine.

SCORE: 92.5/100

SPECS
ABV: 10.7%
IBU: 31
FERMENTABLES: Two-row, Cara 20, Extra Special, Crisp Pale, chocolate malt barleys.
HOPS: Magnum, UK Fuggles, Kent Goldings.
YEAST: Scottish ale yeast.


So there you have it— The Hand of The Queen Barleywine Ale is that last beer standing. 

And if this taste-off death match is any clue as to who will ultimately sit on the Iron Throne, it’s the perhaps less likely candidate Tyrion Lannister.  But of course in the often jarringly unpredictable world of Game of Thrones, the unexpected is to be expected. 

[Beers scored according to BJCP Beer Style Guidelines.]


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for BeerSyndicate.com, Beer and Drinking Writer, Award-Winning Brewer and Cider Maker, BJCP Beer Judge, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

Selecting Apple Juice for Making Hard Cider: Lead, Mercury and Arsenic, Oh My!

When making hard cider at home, the general rule is the better quality of ingredients used, the better the potential results.  It’s true that some really fantastic cider can be made with fresh-pressed apple juice from the nearest apple farm, but if that isn’t the most convenient option, fantastic hard cider can also be made using store-bought juice. (By the way, if you want more ideas on how to make really great hard cider at home, feel free to check out the tutorial called “How to Make Great Hard Cider”.)

In the past, I had used Trader Joe’s brand Honey Crisp Apple Cider and Unfiltered Apple Juice as the base apple juice in making hard cider at home, never really considering the safety of the juice I was buying.

Trader Joe's Apple Juice

Then I came across an article from Consumer Reports released in January 2019 discussing its testing of several different brands of apple juice for heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and inorganic arsenic.

The results of the report showed several apple juice brands were identified as having potentially harmful levels of at least one of those heavy metals including Trader Joe’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice, which contained an average of 15.4 ppb of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, making it above the FDA’s 10 ppb proposed limit and well above Consumer Reports’ recommended cutoff of 3 ppb.  At 15.4 ppb, Consumer Reports advised of potential risk to adults and children if consuming as little as 4 ounces of the juice per day.  [Trader Joe’s Organic Apple Juice presented a potential risk to children if consuming 8 ounces or more per day.]

Although I hadn’t been using those specific brands of apple juice from Trader Joe’s, I decided to go with one of the twelve brands that Consumer Reports listed as “better alternatives”.

These twelve “better alternative” apple juices were:

1. 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods) Organic Apple Juice, 100% Juice
2. Apple & Eve 100% Juice, Apple Juice
3. Big Win (Rite Aid) 100% Juice, Apple Juice
4. Clover Valley (Dollar General) 100% Apple Juice
5. Gerber Apple 100% Juice
6. Market Pantry (Target) 100% Juice, Apple
7. Mott’s 100% Juice, Apple Original
8. Mott’s for Tots Apple
9. Nature’s Own 100% Apple Juice
10. Old Orchard 100% Juice, Apple
11. Simply Balanced (Target) Organic Apple Juice, 100% Juice
12. Tree Top 100% Apple Juice

Not interested in personally buying all twelve of those recommended brands for taste-testing purposes, I turned to the internet for help.

According to an apple juice taste-off conducted by The Mercury News of Silicon Valley, Whole Food’s 365 Everyday Value Organic Apple Juice was given the highest rating of the apple juices they sampled along with this description: “The crisp, sweet flavor of just-picked apples and balance of acid to sugar makes this a stellar choice.”

365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods) Organic Apple Juice, 100% Juice

At about $9.49 per gallon, the juice wasn’t the cheapest, but it tasted great, it was recommended as a safer option by Consumer Reports, and is sold in a one gallon glass jug which can be used as a fermentation vessel, saving about $6-$7 if I had to buy one from a homebrew shop.  Done deal.

The only drawback to this juice was that it was unfiltered (i.e. cloudy), which means we’d need to take an extra step if we want to clarify it, but that’s easily done with 1/2 – 1 tsp of pectic enzyme per gallon of cider.

Regardless if you choose 365 Everyday Value Organic Apple Juice from Whole Food’s or some other brand from wherever, it may be worthwhile to review the list of tested apple juice brands from Consumer Reports to make a better informed purchasing decision.

On a side note, Consumer Reports did contact Trader Joe’s about its test results, and according to Consumer Reports, a spokesperson from Trader Joe’s said “We will investigate your findings, as [we are] always ready to take whatever action is necessary to ensure the safety and quality of our products.”

Curious to see if Trader Joe’s investigated the Consumer Reports findings and what results they found, I emailed Trader Joe’s and received the following response: “All apple juice will have trace levels of arsenic as arsenic is a naturally occurring substance in soil.  Arsenic levels in apple and other fruit juices are tested and monitored. Trader Joe’s juice arsenic levels all test well below the maximum allowance set forth by the FDA. We are fully aware of the recent reports regarding apple and apple juice blend beverages.

Our products are also required to be tested and meet all U.S. government standards, as well as our very strict quality, safety and ethical standards. Please know that if we had any reason for concern, we would not continue to supply that product and/or use that supplier. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and crew, and the quality of our products.”

From what I read on the FDA’s website, the maximum allowance of inorganic arsenic set by the FDA is 10 ppb.  Consumer Reports found an average of 15.4 ppb of inorganic arsenic in TJ’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice.  Therefore I was a little perplexed at the response that “Trader Joe’s juice arsenic levels all test well below the maximum allowance set forth by the FDA.”  Maybe Trader Joe’s was talking about the juices that they tested themselves?  I’m not sure.

Meanwhile, perhaps it was a happy accident that I came across that Consumer Reports article because it led me to try out the 365 Everyday Value brand apple juice, and I’m glad I did because it resulted in a damn fine cider.  Now I’m anxious to see if the judges will also agree in the next competition I enter.


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for BeerSyndicate.com, Beer and Drinking Writer, Award-Winning Brewer and Cider Maker, BJCP Beer Judge, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

Yeast Nutrient: A Cautionary Tale for Beer, Cider, Mead and Wine Makers

Yeast nutrient can be helpful in ensuring a healthy fermentation in beer, cider, wine and mead making, but it can also present a risk if not used appropriately.  More on that in a moment, but first a little foreshadowing.

The first three lessons typically drilled into the heads of the beer, cider, mead and wine makers are: sanitation, sanitation, and sanitation. The importance of sanitation for those of the craft has been public knowledge at least since the second half of the 19th century when French scientist Louis Pasteur was called on by his government to assist the ailing wine industry (and later brewers) to determine what was spoiling their wine and how to prevent it.

Louis Pasteur’s Études sur le vin (Wine Studies) 1866

Among other things, solid cleaning and sanitation practices were recommended as a means of deterring unwanted microorganisms from contaminating and spoiling the libation-maker’s beverages.

Today, brewers and others have an effective array of food-grade sanitizers and cleansers at our disposal along with laboratory-produced pure yeast cultures to aid us in our efforts to produce a precise and consistent product.

But somehow even with all of these technological breakthroughs at our fingertips, libation-makers still make costly and stupid sanitation mistakes that end up ruining their products.

Take me, for example.

Despite a vast assortment of pure yeast cultures available in the market today, sometimes brewers such as myself look to capture a very specific yeast character that can only be obtained by culturing yeast from a bottle of a particular commercial beer.  (Perhaps the best beer I’ve ever made was created doing just this.)

For the brewer, this is one of those times that surgeon-like sanitary skills must be employed over several days to ensure no unwanted microorganism infects what we hope will be a pure culture of the yeast we’re after.

It is standard practice in these cases that granulated yeast nutrient is used to increase our chances of growing the very small amount of hopefully viable yeast found resting at the bottom of a bottle of commercial beer.

If the brewer’s efforts pay off, the desired yeast will slowly grow to the amount needed to ferment a batch of wort.  I had success culturing yeast in this way in the past, but not so much recently to the point that I had to dump the attempted yeast cultures and go with store-bought yeast.

It was evident that my recent yeast culturing efforts had failed because even without a microscope, I could smell and taste that the cultured yeast samples exhibited a peachy but otherwise unpleasant slightly sulfur-y character; certainly not the profile typical of the yeast I was after.

But that wouldn’t be the last time I encountered that peachy sulfur-like presence.

About a year later, I sourced some top notch apple juice for making hard cider.  As many cider makers know, apple juice doesn’t contain all of the nutrients typically found in brewer’s wort, and this can lead to a sluggish fermentation among other problems.  For this reason, yeast nutrient is typically added to the must, which of course I recently did.

And there is was again.  That unwanted peachy, slightly sulfur-y aroma emanating from my fermenting cider.

And then it struck me.  The yeast nutrient.

You see, unlike laboratory-grade hermetically sealed brewer’s yeast, yeast nutrient, isn’t necessarily sanitary, especially if purchased from a homebrew shop.  This is because homebrew shops will often order a larger quantity of a certain product, such as yeast nutrient, and then repackage those smaller quantities into smaller containers.  It’s during the repackaging phase that other unwanted microorganisms can get mixed in, which was the case for me.

Whatever the source, my yeast nutrient came loaded with some microorganisms clinging to the very nutrient that would help them grow and infect my yeast starters and spoil my expensive cider.  And this was even after the yeast nutrient was held in a freezer for years.

But you have to admit, what a lavish banquet those microorganisms in the yeast nutrient feasted on after being awakened from their icy slumber!  Fit for a king, I tell you!  Sadly though for those other microbes still lying in wait on the yeast nutrient in the freezer, they are in for a bit more of a warmer welcome when they awaken.  Boiling warm.

I suppose one might say the lesson to be learned here is to always boil yeast nutrient prior to use, as is sometimes (not always) printed on the packaging of yeast nutrient containers.  And certainly this is not a bad idea.  (If it’s not already on the packaging, it doesn’t hurt to write it on yourself.)

But there might be an even bigger lesson to be learned from my oversights.

For example, even though sanitation is one of the lessons beer, cider, mead and wine makers learn early on in our study of fermentation, it doesn’t mean that it should be taken for granted.  In other words, we can’t assume that just because the importance of sanitation was preached to us in the Kindergarten of our ferment-ucation, this must mean that somehow we then and forevermore mastered it in every aspect with no need to look back.

And this idea extends to other areas of brewing and beyond where we should be humble enough to acknowledge that even with X amount of years of experience, we might still make mistakes.  We might still not know everything.  As much as our trusted processes have led us to success in the past, we should never be too proud, trusting or dogmatic to question or improve them.

And though the technology we employ today aids us in preventing such infections (or whatever else), it doesn’t make the process foolproof.  I don’t mean to suggest that technology makes us necessarily lazy, but technology can make us overconfident.  Perhaps over-trusting, leading to a techno-blind spot, as it were.

In other words, even though we may have learned our ABCs in Kindergarten, it doesn’t mean we haven’t been repeatedly misspelling a few words along the way.  A few misspelled words that even spellcheck didn’t catch.


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for BeerSyndicate.com, Beer and Drinking Writer, Award-Winning Brewer, BJCP Beer Judge, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

The Beer Style Origin Quiz

The Beer Style Origin Quiz is designed to measure an individual’s knowledge about the origins of various beer styles through a series of questions of varying levels of difficulty: Normal, Challenging, and MENSA-Level.

At the end of the quiz, the individual’s score is tallied and a “Beer IQ” is calculated.

It’s recommended to begin with the “Normal” Quiz, and then proceed from there, however all three levels are provided below.

Good luck.

The Beer Style Origin Quiz (NORMAL)

The Beer Style Origin Quiz (CHALLENGING)

The Beer Style Origin Quiz (MENSA-LEVEL)


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for BeerSyndicate.com, Beer and Drinking Writer, Award-Winning Brewer, BJCP Beer Judge, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

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