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What’s That Flavor?

December 25, 2020  |  By CBT Staff

In this blog, we’re going to talk a little bit more about the Beer Tasting Wheel included in the booklet. The wheel breaks down each aspect of the beer tasting process, and the flavors or textures you might come across when tasting a beer. The first thing you may notice is mouthfeel, or the literal textures and sensations you experience inside your mouth when you drink it, like carbonation or viscosity

Next, depending on the beer style, you may get some fruitiness. Fruit flavors are created by compounds produced by yeast during fermentation, from specific grains and/or hops (for example, the hop ‘nelson sauvin’ is known for tasting like white grape), or it can be created by adding actual fruit to the beer. In this final case, the added fruit would be considered an adjunct, or something that is added to the beer during the brewing process that isn’t malt, hops, yeast, or water. 

Beer tasting wheel

Hoppiness is another flavor you might get, which often tastes floral or citrusy, but different varieties of hops have different flavor and aromatic characteristics. As mentioned above, some may produce fruity flavors, while others may produce earthy (nutty or woody) notes. Wet hopping, or adding freshly harvested hops (rather than the standard dried hops), can also produce unusual flavors and aromas to a beer. 

Hoppy tastes and aromas can be mostly credited to the hops that are added near the very end of the brewing process, late in the boil. These are referred to as aroma hops. For an extra punch of flavor and fragrance, some beers might also be dry hopped, which refers to adding hops during fermentation, after the brewing is completely done. Bitterness, on the other hand, is mostly the product of hops that are added early in the brewing process. 

Malty or caramelized flavors are mostly a product of the malt (grain) used in the beer. Malt flavor will depend on how the malt is kilned, or roasted. The darkest malts are going to bring out those roasty flavors, like coffee or chocolate, because they are roasted the same way as coffee and chocolate. Lightly kilned malt will likely leave you with something more akin to the original flavor of the particular grain used, which will often have a cereal, biscuity, or bready flavors. 

Off flavors are exactly what they sound like: flavors you get when something in the beer is off. The wheel uses vinegar or buttery tastes as an example of off flavors. While the presence of these flavors can sometimes be a natural part of a beer’s flavor profile, it can also be the sign of unwanted bacteria afflicting the beer. 

There are, however, dozens of off flavors. “Catty” (aka, cat piss) is an off flavor caused by contamination of the raw materials, like the hops or malt before the brewing process even begins. “Skunky” flavors are a tell tale sign of lightstruck beer, which is one of the reasons cans or amber bottles are preferred when packaging. Taste a hint of mustiness? Well that could be a sign of mold or fungus contamination from improperly cleaned equipment. Even over-sweetness can be an off flavor! 

As you can see, beer tasting is a vast and diverse world. Welcome to the infinite world of craft beer, and to the 12 Beers of Christmas Experience!

Give the gift of a City Brew Tour this holiday season! Check out our locations to get started!

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