Wednesday, May 2, 2018

OC Beer Week 2018

Well, it’s over. OC Beer Week has come and gone and my liver couldn’t be happier. (Ha!) 


What a week it was. There were so many events and meet-ups this year it made it very difficult to choose which ones to attend. I had a great time chatting with friends (including brewers, reps, beertenders, etc… You’re all friends to me) anywhere I went. I kicked things off by visiting Asylum and congratulating them on their 1st year anniversary. Had a chat with Bob at Backstreet, I hung out at Smoqued with Left Coast, drank tasty beers with folks from Green Cheek, Good Beer, Gunwhale, and The Bruery at Provisions Market, and payed a visit to some of my locals such as Bottle Logic and Stereo.


The Invitational was so much fun!! Although the OC Brewers Guild might not have been able to get out of the red on this one, the outcome was some short lines, ample amount of space to walk around, plenty of food, and of course, plenty of beer for everyone! The lack thereof are the biggest complaints or some of the most recent beer festivals and I don’t blame those that voice concerns when a festival becomes a test in patience and disappointment. Not at all the case for this year’s Invitational. There are reasons for the intimate attendance number, but that is something I will not get into at this time, especially because, as an attendee, I feel that was the perfect number of fest-goers.


But what about the beer? Oh, yes. There was beer and there was some outstanding stuff. Worth mentioning are: Table Beer by Benchmark Brewing (San Diego), American Craft Lager by Mike Hess Brewing (San Diego), What Gose Round by Boomtown (Los Angeles), and Murk IPA by Pure Project (San Diego). But my favorite beer of the Invitational was Kona Espress by Hoparazzi. What a mix of flavors and balance! Coffee and tartness sounds off-putting, but the contrast works like magic in this beer. Well done!


Tustin Brewing Company’s (TBC) Beer Dinner was my absolute highlight of the week. The food was amazing, the beers are already tasty, and together was nothing short of incredible! Jerrod Larsen, TBC’s Head Brewer, and General Manager/Head Chef Robert Sentina (with Lead Chef Ivan Perez) put together this impressive dinner in a relatively short order. With the wonderful help of TBC’s hard-working bartenders, dedicated wait staff, and talented kitchen crew, Robert and Jerrod showcased their brilliance at the dinner table.


The cheese and salad pairings were my personal favorites. With three cheeses to choose from and two beers to accompany them, the guests were encouraged to explore and experiment with flavor interactions. I preferred the bitterness of Old Town IPA cutting through the rich, mouthcoating triple cream French cheese and providing a sharp contrast to the pungent blue cheese. Old Town also brought out the spice from the peppercorn cheese with its assertive hop bite and lively carbonation.

For the salad, Jerrod surprised us all by bringing out and aged version of his award-winning sour ale, Jon Flanders. What a treat this was! The salad was crisp and refreshing with a nutty element to provide some contrast. Jon Flanders provided some dark fruit while it balanced the acidity of the champagne vinaigrette and pickled onions and provided a pleasing complement to the bitter greens. Spectacular!

It was a fun week and I thoroughly enjoy seeing so many of us beer lovers out supporting our local breweries in our backyard. Here’s to hopping next year will be just as awesome as this year.

Cheers!
-Gilbert “Charlie” Perez, Certified Cicerone®

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Beer Bubble - Has it Busted?



Has the beer bubble busted? Is there a bubble at all? Perhaps, but perhaps not. That’s a tough question to ask a community of vocal and brash opinionated individuals. We may have our individual vested interest to answer one way or another. Whether you are in the industry or not, if you are reading this, odds are you love beer as much as I do and appreciate the people associated with it. We know brewery owners, brewers, beertenders, and reps by first names and are some of the best friends to have. We love brewers and their passion, there’s no question about that. Especially those that are approachable and are willing to at least shake your hand. In my eyes, they are the real celebrities of this industry. It’s understandable to fear that fast-approaching sharp object if we feel we’re part of the bubble.

So, has the bubble popped? It depends how you look at it and who you ask (as is the case with almost any subject). I believe it's a complicated recipe of over-saturation, rapid expansion of individual breweries, a dash of not enough education/quality control, boiling with vocal consumers, and topped off with a sprinkle of poor business decisions.

Some breweries start off small and grow at a faster than the expansion of the universe. Ill-advised decisions might be the culprit in these cases. Others begin out of the gate with large, multi-million-dollar facilities yet don't produce a quality product to put their money where their beer is. Yet, they release it anyways. There is only so much shelf space, even at specialty bottle shops. The “big guys” already take so much space and bigger, independent breweries are doing the same exact thing. We all know what happens when there is too much of a good thing. In other cases, breweries start off strong, large or small, only to have their beers slowly decline in quality and can’t get out of their funk (sometimes, literally!). This is also where some not-so-wise business decisions may take place.

All too often breweries release products with off-flavors and the average consumer has no idea they are consuming a flawed beer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by faulty beers with defects such as Diacetyl, Acetaldehyde, a variety of Phenols, and even some truly nasty stuff like Butyric Acid or Mercaptan/Autolysis. This is not exclusive to the new ventures, either. I’ve experienced this at some well-established breweries, too. The problem lies when the tasting room staff, owner, and/or the brewer does not realize there’s an issue with the beer. Granted, most of the time the beer is pulled off and the problem is corrected at breweries where there is at least an understanding of brewing science (or they are actively learning about it, which is fine). In many of these instances it is a simple case of inexperience and unawareness. Most brewers will embrace beer education and experience over time will improve their art skill.



We do indeed have amazing breweries with fantastic beers and worthy of their popularity and expansion. Most of these breweries have a few things in common: Knowledge in brewing science (even if it’s only applied science), good marketing, and provide tasty beer. Even breweries, and those labeled as a “blendery,” skillfully inoculate ales with bacteria and wild yeasts (sometimes experimenting with spontaneous fermentation) to produce unique products. We applauded their contributions to this amazing industry.


How I would like to see this playing out is with more inclusion of beer education, specifically with quality control. Both consumer and producer benefit from gaining knowledge, but the burden falls on the producer. Unfortunately, the consumer will choose what to buy with the information given to them and to meet their individual taste. However, if a brewery makes an effort to release quality beers the consumer will find even more value in what they are drinking and is more likely to be a repeat customer. On the flip-side, a knowledgeable consumer can identify flaws, praise exemplary samples of a style and appreciate esoteric offerings. I believe it’s a two-way street and a little goes a long way. If you are an experienced taster (and even those that aren’t), most have no issue pointing out mistakes or dislikes. But please don’t be afraid to put the snobbery aside to congratulate a brewer on a job well done on that Helles or a beertender on handing you the perfect pour of a Pale. This is part of the two-way street.

I see the beer industry as an entity that is evolving to meet market needs. Unfortunately, the market is so saturated that it has become more of a fluid than a bubble. You, the consumers, not only have way too many choices, but quality is not consistent. Yes, this is a problem with any industry and here is where you come in. As mentioned above, you have the power to respectfully demand quality just as much you tend to be vocal and opinionated about Hazy IPA’s and Pastry Stouts. If the brewery does not know their product is flawed or lacking flavor, they will keep producing it as is. The brewers will listen, trust me. At least the ones that take pride in making a quality product and respect the opinions of their patrons will listen (even if it’s only to take it into consideration). Respect is also a two-way street. Couple that with some solid business plans, steady and appropriate growth, and you have a good recipe for a hearty beer industry.

I don’t believe there’s a bubble. Consolidation, mergers, buy-outs, and/or the dreadful closings are all part of this crazy game we call business. We are too strong of a culture to let mass-market consolidation happen again anytime soon. I believe that the industry is fine so long as we as the consumer: drink local, support local, and support beer education (for consumer and producer alike!). And the brewers/owners/beertenders/reps: make good decisions, produce quality, and love what you do as much as we love you!

But, that is my opinion and my personal observation. What’s your take on this?


Cheers!!

-Gilbert “Charlie” Perez, Certified Cicerone®

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Do Good, Be Good, Beer is Good (Even Non-Alcoholic)


Recently, I was witness to something that reignited my faith in the beer industry. Like many of you, I am part of a couple beer discussion groups on Facebook. Most of these groups are well-monitored so "trolls" and all-round nasty people are either called-out or removed from the group. Not too long ago, a group member braved to show his beverage of choice for the day as a non-alcoholic (NA) beer. "Oh no... Here come the haters and people that are going to shit on this poor guy," I thought. To my surprise and delight, it never happened!

On the day when participating members post their beer of choice for the evening, usually being an IPA of some kind, a rare sour, a big barrel-aged beer, or something else to show off, this user posted a popular German brewery's NA products. The user stated due to medical reasons he could no longer have alcohol and this was the only beer he know about that was NA and tasted good. Amazingly, within minutes the comment section was inundated with suggestions of other NA beer options, NA cocktails, and words of encouragement and cheers to this man. There were some jokes, but all were in good taste and quickly followed by, "But seriously, good for you, buddy!" "Cheers to you!" "Here are some other NA's for you to consider..." or something along those lines.

I was flabbergasted. With so much shit-talking we see around our amazing beer industry, it was great to see a small community of beer lovers, most of which have never met and live in different parts of the country with some international members, show this act of kindness. Even when it's as simple as an encouraging comment, it can mean the world to those that may be risking possible backlash.

Bravus IPA
Image Credit: Bravus Website, Link Below

Now, depending on your reasoning, be it medical condition, health consciousness, or whatever it may be, there are some flavorsome options available for us here in the Orange County neighborhood. Bravus, with production based in Santa Ana, CA has either a great tasting IPA or an Oatmeal Stout currently available. In development, an American Red (cleverly named "CaliforN/A Red") that I'm sure will be tasty as well. Owner and brewer Philip Brandes worked with other specialists to develop a proprietary technique to fully ferment these beers without producing ethanol thereby negating the need to filter out the alcohol and thereby keeping as much flavor as possible. Bravus recently changed its branding and can be found at various retailers or you can order on-line via their website! It is not uncommon for Philip's office to have dozens packing slips printed out waiting to be filled and shipped. Fingers-crossed Philip will be able to open a Bravus tasting room soon.

H2Ops Bottles
Image Credit: H2Ops Website, Link Below

Another locally based operation is H2Ops (Sparkling Hop Water). This a refreshing product that is exactly what you'd expect it to be: Sparkling hop water. H2Ops has zero carbs, zero sugars, zero calories, and of course, zero alcohol. The only ingredients are sparkling water and hops. That's it. Owner and brewer Paul Tecker keeps improving and enhancing his proprietary technique to hop the water and add the minerals so the finish is fresh and snappy and no vegetal characters or harsh bitterness. There is no yeast providing the B2 vitamin Riboflavin, so pay no mind to the green bottles; Lightstuck/skunking cannot happen since the precursor is not present. (Click here for more info on that!) Although it may not be advisable to leave the bottles out in the sun for other flavor factors, skunk will not be one of them. If NA beer doesn't tickle your fancy, then a tasty hop water may be just the ticket. Crisp, slight hop fruit notes, refreshing minerals, and "bubbles" to round out the taste. To locate them, visit their website for a store directory.

I am not a doctor or an addiction specialist. I cannot stress this enough. I can't tell you what you can or cannot drink if you have a specific condition or health factor that prohibits alcohol. Perhaps there's an addiction past to consider, in which case you'd need to consult the proper advisors and advocates to help you with your choices. However, if these are options available for you, rest assured that there are more of us here in the beer industry that will accept you than there are those who will try to put you down. I for one will never put anyone down for drinking NA beer or NA cocktails or other NA beverage options. Additionally, it is encouraging to see some local tasting rooms offering either craft and/or commercial sodas and even some locally roasted and/or brewed coffee. We are all family here. Drink up, my friends, even if it's NA. Remember to be good, do good, and beer is good.


Cheers!
Gilbert "Charlie" Perez, Certified Cicerone®


Bravus website: Here!
H2Ops website: Here!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Holy Firkin Chit... It’s a Firkfest!!

Photo by Jessica Rice McNew from Beer and Baking

(Click here to check out last year’s collaboration with Jessica from Beer and Baking)

Held at the Packing House in Anaheim (my hometown!!), this was the 4th year Greg Nagel had coordinated Firkfest. I’ll be the first to admit, year one was filled with plot-holes and pitfalls. However, the very next year the event improved 100% and each year has been better than the last. This year was no exception. What is Firkfest? The best way to describe this event is bringing together the tradition of cask-conditioned Real Ale from the UK and the creativity of the craft beer industry (follow the link above for more information about Real Ale in England). This year, the addition of a “Tiki” theme added an extra layer of fun. Lots of sunshine, amazing beers, and hundreds of beer lovers in one place. If you have never been to this event, you are missing out!


Greetings fellow beer lovers!

Now it’s time for my completely meaningless and intangible awards for this year’s Firkfest. Although there were some flops to my taste, it was tough to choose some stand-outs among so many awesome casks. Here are my winners...

Best Beer Name Award: Dole Hole


For the second year in a row, the honor goes to Tustin Brewing Company and their Dole Hole. Stop chuckling, that's not what I meant! This is a take on their Old Town IPA made with Pineapple. Bitter and tropical, the beer also fit the theme of the festival. This was just one of the pineapple beers available at the event.

Most Unique Cask Award: Kalua Porker


Riip Beer Company's Kalua Porker. Holy chit! This was impressive. Porters are a great beer paring for unique preparations of pork. This cask creation by Head Brewer Trevor Walls (formally of Pizza Port) takes that concept one step further… put the damn pork in the beer! Sweetness of Kalua, roast and acrid porter, and finished with umami and savory pork flavors. It was actually quite tasty!

Most Stylistically Correct Award: The King's Taxes - 60 Shilling


Wow, this was a close one to call. I almost give this award to a new-comer Inland Wharf Brewing Company’s English Bitter dry-hopped with EGK (East Kent Goldings). It was a session beer with a wonderful woody hop presence. A beautiful mini-pint of ale. However, MacLeod Brewing Company always brings their A-Game to festivals with multiple pins on a mobile stillage. As expected, MacLeod’s did indeed have some tasty real ale and their 60 Shilling takes my crown for Most Stylistically Correct (as a general Scottish Ale, not necessarily a 60 Shilling/Scottish Light). Not only is it a rare style outside of the UK, but it was perfect for the day! Low ABV and refreshing, this malty, earthy yet dry brew kept me returning for another pour. Well done, MacLeod’s!

Runner up! A fine English Bitter.

Styles lesson bonus: I’ll keep this brief. A 60 Shilling ale, or Scottish Light according to the BJCP 2015 Guidelines, is the lightest of three nearly identical styles, each of which increases in strength and character as you move up the latter. These Scottish Ales are more commonly referred to as Scottish Light, Scottish Heavy, and Scottish Export. Think of these beers as the Scott’s response/equivalent to the Ordinary, Best, and Strong Bitters from their southern British neighbors. That’s not to say Scotland didn’t have a brewing tradition. In fact, their brewing traditions mirrored the English rather than copy. Historically, the Scottish Ales were created via what is called “Parti-gyle” brewing where a single mash would create several beers. This was achieved by the brewer running off the initial, carbohydrate-rich sweet liquid (wort) from the mash, and adding more water to the grains to extract more sugars. Repeat the process a few times, and you have a parti-gyle, although each sequential run off would have less fermentable carbohydrates. The third runoff of the parti-gyle would have the least amount of sugars and this wort is what would eventually become the Scottish Light, or 60 Shilling. Oh, and the Scotts were brewing pioneers. The almost essential practice of “sparging” (rinsing the grans during mash runoff) was invented by the Scotts.

Most Valiant Award...


I cannot end this review without mentioning Valiant. This was one of the last times (if not THE last time) we will see Valiant Brewing Company at a festival. Sadly, they will be closing their doors at the end of this month. It was great to see them there with a “cute” little beer cocktail, complete with a cherry on top. Rather than closing this article on a somber note, I’ll end it with awarding this year’s final award for this event to Valiant… to the entire brewery! You truly have been the most Valiant. Thank you for being a part of our beer lives!

Adding the cherry to Valiant's
Hop You Like a Hurricane

What else can I say about this event. Call it luck, call it planning, call it timing, call it serendipity; the beers were beautiful, the attendees were some of my best friends, and the weather was perfect for a tiki-themed cask ale festival. This is my second year reviewing this event. Greg, thank you for allowing me to spew my love for Firkfest. Keep up the great work, my friend!

Cheers!

Gilbert “Charlie” Perez, Certified Cicerone®

Photo by Jessica Rice McNew from Beer and Baking

For more official photos, check out Firkfest’s Official Facebook Page here.
Official Firkfest website here.
Additional photos by Beer and Baking here.
Official Beer and Baking page here.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Aged like a fine... Beer?

Yes, we are talking about aging and cellaring beer. What? You’ve never heard of aging beer?! Yes, it’s a thing. And it’s a wonderful thing! By the way: for the purpose of this article, “aging” and “cellaring” are used interchangeably. Beer cellaring is far from cut & dry. Follow me down the cellar. Watch your step...

(Photo source below)

What Beers to Age and How:

Possibly the most common question regarding beer aging is: what beers should I age? In his book Tasting Beer, Randy Mosher says, “Ales are, primarily, with bottle-conditioned ones preferred, as the yeast provides a bit of a protective effect.” Although it does not have any preservative properties, yeast does add character over time and helps provide longevity in the form of unique flavor development. Take care to not store bottle-conditioned beers in excess heat. This will cause the yeast autolysis (the death of yeast: rupturing the cell-walls releasing an array of compounds into the beer) and completely ruining your efforts. More on this down below. Speaking of temperature...

Recommended cellar temperatures are about 50° – 60°F. Some publication say 55° – 65°F. Basically this is the range a typical cellar. So when you hear someone say “cellar temperature” this is roughly the range they are talking about. Extreme temperature fluctuations should be avoided. Humidity might be a factor when regarding corked bottles. However, there is humidity inside the bottle, so this shouldn't be a problem as long the environment isn't extremely dry. A bit more on corks in the following section.

I once had a 3-year-old Corona which was kept unrefrigerated in an uninsulated garage where temperatures exceeded 110°F during the summer. Yes, I tasted this on purpose. Why? For science! There was also a fresh (well, recently purchased) bottle of Corona there for comparison.

I took the first sample. It was awful! Next, I proceeded to sample the 3-year-old Corona... (*taps microphone* Is this thing on? Ha!) Seriously though, the flavors of the aged Corona were astonishing. Think rancid apple juice mixed with vinegar and skunk spray. Yummy, right?

Besides the ridiculous heat, a Corona isn’t exactly a poster-child for the suggested beers to age. Typically, most will say to keep the ABV at 7% or higher and I tend to agree with this statement. Ethanol (the alcohol found in beer) is great for stability. Usually, darker colored beers tend to age better, too. As beer ages there’s bound to be some oxidation. In lighter beers this oxidation will cause paper/cardboard flavors in your beer. On the flip side, when aging darker colored beers, this same oxidation happens, but the highly kilned malts used will to evolve into a nutty, port and/or sherry-like characters and possibly some anise notes to add unique complexity.

Hops aroma and flavor will degrade and drop out followed by bitterness. Highly-hopped beers are usually not suitable for aging because of this.

Beers stored upright in a temperature-controlled fridge

Bottle Orientation:

Now for the bottle orientation. This is where the most vocal opinions reside on this subject. Most will say always keep your bottles upright while some say to lay them horizontal on a rack. Here’s the debate: Corks kept in a dry environment have to potential to dry out and shrink. Notice I’ve said "potential." There are many factors that I won’t get into here, but it CAN happen. That DOES NOT mean it ALWAYS happens. A solution would be to lay the beer on its side to keep the cork wet. However, this may cause a compound known as 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) to add its musty flavors into the beer since the fungus thought to cause TCA thrives in corks.

With that said, sour and wild beers in corked bottles are what I believe to be the driving factor in this debate. Souring organisms are usually still present in a wild ale. Under aerobic conditions (presence of oxygen), the souring organism Acetobacter will begin to produce Acetic Acid essentially turning the beer into vinegar. Therefore, if the sour ale is bottles with a cork, there is argument towards laying these beers down to keep the cork wet keeping oxygen out. The downside: beer contacting the cork increasing the chances of TCA imparting its musty cellar traits.

My suggestion? Keep non-sour or non-wild beers upright, and lay down corked sours/wilds. If you do lay down your beers, turn them upright for a day or so to allow any sediment to drop and collect at the bottom of the bottle.

Vertical tasting of 2006 through 2015 Stone IRS
(Photo by Chris Scott)

Off-Flavors:

Off-flavor development is quite common with aged beer, although they are not always negative, depending on concentration. Autolysis (as mentioned above) can impart a broth-like aroma to a beer when it’s in small quantities, yet it can be absolutely disgusting in high concentrations. Imagine rotten garbage water. This is caused by all the Mercaptan compounds released during autolysis.

Oxidation is caused by the formation of the compound Trans-2-nonanal. As mentioned above, this adds a sherry or port quality to beers made with dark and specialty malts. In light beers or in extremely high quantities, it tastes like wet cardboard.

Diacetyl can also form in ages beer. Click here for my previous post about Diacetyl to find out more.

Acetaldehyde adds a green apple/sour apple, or even latex paint aromas. This compound is produced during normal yeast metabolism and is reduced into ethanol. Over oxidation can convert ethanol back to acetaldehyde.

Acetic Acid is caused by the bacteria Acetobacter under the presence of oxygen. See section above.

Big hoppy beers are best enjoyed fresh. As highly-hopped beers age, those intense hop aromas and flavors drop out and make way for the compound Beta-Damascenone. This creates a berry-like aroma and flavor that may or may it be pleasant.

There’s a slew of other compounds which degrade, arise, and may degrade again making way for even more complex compounds during beer aging. The chemistry is complex and it is tough to know the end result will be desirable or not.

Notable Exceptions:

Lambics are complex! The blended Lambics, Gueuze, are low in ABV (usually under 6%) and quite light in color. Yet, they can age for many years! This already complex style gets weirder under the right cellar conditions. These artisan and ancient beers are the only remaining beers to be spontaneously fermented by the natural airborne microflora (bacteria and fungi from a particular habitat) found in the outskirts of Brussels, Belgium. Garrett Oliver says in The Oxford Companion to Beer, “Because of the interactions between its complex microflora, the aging of lambic is unique among beers… In lambic, the microflora represent the biggest influence over the period of aging, but other factors are at work as well.”

Vintage bottles of Gueuze
(Photo by Ralph Turner)

Double and "triple" IPAs are very popular. As stated above, these intensely floral, aromatic, bitter beers are best fresh. However, there are some who believe an aged Double IPA or Imperial Red morphs into Barleywine-ish beer over time. It's an interesting thought and worth experimenting. It will not always work, but it can. Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA can age gracefully. It's not the same beer when aged, of course. The abundance of malts used and the elevated ABV makes for a splendid beer when cellared properly. I’ve had more disasters than successes when aging hoppy beers. Proceed with caution should you choose to age a big Double IPA.

Pigmentation:

When an aged wine is finally uncorked, white wine develops color leaning towards a golden shade, and red wine fades down to a strange redish-brownish color. Beer does the same thing, only with different color shifts. Aged lighter colored beers will gain shades of copper, while dark and black beers lighten up a bit. In my experience, the lightening up of dark beers is not as noticeable as the darkening of paler beers.

And there you have it!

In the end, it is entirely up to you if that bottle you have in your fridge should be opened now or later. By now it should be safe to say not all beers are meant to be aged. Don’t be afraid to experiment and ask questions. Many times, the beer label itself will have suggested aging timeframes and recommended caller temperatures. Start with that and then move on to experimentation.

I’ll leave you with this. A good friend of Terms of Enbeerment and much respected beer guide, Ed Heethuis, shared some words of wisdom on beer aging. This sums it up perfectly. “Aging beer is like making croutons. Since beer is basically liquid bread, and croutons are made from old bread...one has to choose wisely. Just like not all old bread produces great croutons, not all beer ages well.”

Let’s make some croutons! Choose your bread wisely.



Cheers!

Gilbert “Charlie” Perez, Certified Cicerone®



*Resources and Helpful Links:

http://focusonthebeer.com/2013/01/cellarmanship-part-2-how-to-store-your-hoarded-beer-properly.html/

http://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/101/store/

http://www.craftbeer.com/craft-beer-muses/cellaring-craft-beer-to-age-or-not-to-age

http://www.dogfish.com/community/blogfish/members/justin-williams/5-things-you-should-know-about-aging-beer.htm

http://draftmag.com/cellaring-technique/

http://draftmag.com/cellaring-evolving-flavors/

http://draftmag.com/the-great-cellaring-myths/

Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher

The Oxford Companion to Beer

Cellar Photo credit: pixabay.com

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The "D" Word: Diacetyl


Remember when we were young and we were taught never to say bad words? I apologize in advance for all the obscene language I'm about to say.

In the beer world, there's no greater profanity than saying the "D" word. And even worse is putting that "D" in your mouth. (Get your mind out of the gutter! ...That's not what I meant!)

I am referring to Diacetyl.

Pronunciation aside (die-ASS-a-teel, DIE-a-see-till, or die-assa-TEEL), this compound causes a movie popcorn, almost rancid butter-like flavor and aroma in beer. Although Diacetyl is produced by all yeast strains during normal metabolism, its quantities are greatly affected by many factors. The main factor is the amino acid Valine and how much of it is present in the wort. Regardless of this, Diacetyl is always produced at some rate during the first few days of fermentation.

*Warning! Chemistry up-ahead!*

2, 3-Butanedione (AKA: Diacetyl)

During the initial stages of fermentation, the yeast cell creates Valine as part of its metabolism cycle. Along this pathway to create the amino acid, the compound α(Alpha)-Acetolactate is also produced. A non-enzymatic oxidative decarboxylation of α-Acetolactate (I know, right?) occurs outside the yeast cell and is converted to 2,3-Butanedione, the compound we know as "Diacetyl."

The presence of Valine is directly related to the amount of Diacetyl produced because the enzyme that produces α-Acetolactate is deactivated when the wort contains high quantities of Valine. We know Valine is an amino acid and amino acids are the building-blocks of proteins. In turn, we can assume the high concentration of proteins in wort should significantly reduce the amount of Diacetyl produced. High protein levels could cause some other problems in the finished beer, so large protein quantities is not a viable solution to control Diacetyl.


Another compound called 2,3-Pentanedione is created via an separate pathway. This compound is also sent outside the yeast cell and will end up in the finished beer if not properly reduced. 2,3-Pentanedione is believed to have similar buttery flavor and aroma properties (sometimes described as honey-like), however this compound is not produced in very high quantities as 2,3-Butanedione is.

For you chemist out there, these two compounds are Vicinal Diketones. "In chemistry-speak, 'vicinal' essentially means 'adjacent', and 'diketone' means that there are two ketone functional groups (a ketone is an oxygen double-bonded to a carbon in the middle of a carbon chain)." (Beer Sensory Science)

As fermentation wraps up, most of the previously produced 2,3-Butanedione and 2,3-Pentanedione is reabsorbed by the yeast into its cell. Through more enzymatic activity, they are converted into 2,3-Butanediol and 2,3-Pentanediol, which have a much higher threshold for us humans. In other words, Diacetyl is turned into something we can't taste.

For you brewers out there, this is typically referred to as a "Diacetyl Rest." Brewers usually aid the reabsorption of these compounds by raising the temperature during the last day or two of fermentation. This rise in temperature excites the yeast and can more easily and vigorously convert Diacetyl into the non-flavored compound.

If Diacetyl is detected in your beer, it is usually an indicator of rushed production or improper fermentation practices.

Another common contributor to Diacetyl is a bacterial infection. The most likely culprits are the little bugs called Pediococcus and/or Lactobacillus. Both of these lovely bacteria create lactic acid and can produce Diacetyl as part of their fermentation products. While they may be a welcome addition to some wild ales and artisanal sour beers, it is quite unpleasant when found in dirty draft lines that haven't been maintained or cleaned sufficiently. Infections can also occur in many stages of the fermentation process, but dirty draft lines seem to be the biggest contributor for Diacetyl via bugs.

One more discovery is Diacetyl production during beer aging. Although the levels of Diacetyl in aged beer may be undetectable because of low levels or hidden behind the veil of oxidation compounds, Diacetyl could be nonetheless present.

In very small quantities, Diacetyl can be a contributing factor to the overall flavor and aroma profile of certain styles. Most English and Irish beers tend to have some detectable levels of Diacetyl adding a pleasant buttery undertone. An interesting fact is Diacetyl is one of the differentiating characteristics between a German Pilsner and a Czech Pilsner (Czech Pilsners are expected/accepted to have low levels of Diacetyl). However, in high quantities this compound can impart a butterscotch, movie popcorn, or a rancid butter flavor and aroma.


Another interesting fact to point out is while a great number of beer drinkers might be able to detect Diacetyl with ease, there are an equal amount of us that are completely blind to it. On that same note, some are very sensitive to Diacetyl while others will only find it detectable in extremely high quantities. Should you fall under any of these parameters, it is perfectly normal since it is simply genetics.

I think that's enough foul language for one lesson. I need to go wash my mouth out with some beer... Er, soap. And put a coin in the tip jar... Er, swear jar.



Class dismissed,

-Gilbert "Charlie" Perez, Certified Cicerone®




Photo Credits:
A big thank you to BeerAndBaking's Jessica Rice McNew for her amazing photography in this article!!

Resources:
-Beer Sensory Science
-Janux Chemistry of Beer Course Materials
-White Labs
-Oxford Companion to Beer

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

*Beer Education - Ale vs. Lager*

Ale and lager. Which of the two is better? Before we can even begin to think about how to answer this question, we must first have a clear understanding on the differences between ales and lagers. The answer is not as clear-cut and dry as one would think.

Perhaps the question we should ask is: What is an ale and what is a lager?

The short answer is... nothing! Well, that is if we consider only the end product, which is still beer. But if we dissect this, there are only a few differences. The main few are yeast species, fermentation temperature, aging temperature & duration, and fruit character.

Yeast

This is the only real physical difference between ales and lagers. There are two types of yeast that brewers choose from. Ale yeast (also known as "top-fermenting" yeast) is called Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. This species of yeast has many different strains. Lager yeast (also known as "bottom-fermenting" yeast) is called Saccharomyces Pastorianus. As with ale yeast, this species also has many different strains. They both act the same in terms of basic fermentation metabolism and end product. Reasoning for distinguishing them as bottom or top-fermenting seems to correlate with the amount of kräusen found at the top of the fermenter.

FYI: Kräusen is the fluffy stuff that develops at the top of the fermenter that is made up of yeast and proteins and other materials frothed up as a result of yeast metabolism.

Fermentation Temperature

In general, ale yeast is usually slated to ferment at higher temperatures (65°F to 70°F, on average with some strains reaching even higher) and thus results and a vigorous, relatively quick fermentation and development of a large cap of kräusen. Lager yeast typically ferment at cooler temperatures (48°F to 58°F, on average). Because of this cooler temperature, fermentation is less violent, takes much longer, and there is less kräusen.

Aging Temperature & Duration

Ales are generally not aged for very long and are usually cold crashed (significant drop in temperature to about +/-40°F) after fermentation to allow the yeast and proteins to drop out. Dry-hopping (adding hops into the fermenter after fermentation is complete) is done at this time. Typically, an average ale is ready in as little as two to four weeks.

Lagers ferment at cooler temperatures and therefore take longer to complete. Fermentation can last a few weeks and up to a couple months in some cases. Once fermentation has finished, lagering can start. The word "lager" is the verb "to store" or put away in German. Combined with cool fermentation, lagering at about 33°F helps to further clarify the beer and allows the flavors to round out. Lagers can take many months to complete, from brew-day to packaging. Depending on the beer, lagering alone can last upwards to 6 months to a year, although 3 months is average.

Fruit Character

The aforementioned items are production-based distinctions. All of those aspects result in the one piece of evidence we can detect in both flavor and aroma: Fruit character. Ale yeast produce many fruity esters due to the quick fermentation, generally higher temperatures, and short aging. This is acceptable and desirable. Lagers on the other hand, are clean and show no fruit character. The slow fermentation caused by low temperature and long lagering times result in a malt and hops focused beer.

There will be more explanation further below, but the same can be true with beers fermented cold with ale yeast strains, which will produce very little esters. Interestingly enough, lager strains used to ferment beers at ale temperatures will indeed produce more fruit esters than they would usually do if fermented cold.

Bonus: Myths About Ales and Lagers

"Lagers have lower alcohol than ales." ...FALSE!

Being an ale does not necessarily indicate a higher ABV. True, the high-alcohol beers are usually an ale of some kind, there are also lagers available that can reach ABV's above 10%. Eisbock is one example.

"Ales are dark." ...FALSE!

Cream Ales and American Blonde Ales are quite pale in color.

"Lagers are always light in color." ...FALSE!

Doppelbock, Dunkle, American Dark Lager, and Baltic Porter are examples of lager beers that are dark brown to almost black in color.

"Lagers have more carbonation." ...FALSE!

Have you ever popped opened a bottle of Duvel? That's a Belgian Golden Strong Ale. Try to pour it without a producing a foam head at least 3 fingers high. Just try it.

Curveballs

This is probably the most important part of this article. We have hybrid beers out there to throw us a off-course and shows off how far we have come in our understanding of what used to be a clear line between ale and lager. These hybrid beers are a blend of ale and lager, usually using lager yeasts fermented at the lower end of ale temperatures and/or often involve lagering for a period of time regardless of yeast strain or species. Examples of these hybrids include Cream Ale, California Common, Kölsch, and Altbier.

California Common and  Cream Ale use an adapted lager strain to ferment at the low-end of ale temperatures (too high for some lager strains) and results in clean lager characteristics. This is historically true for Cream Ale, but is currently not that common. Kölsch and Altbier are examples of an ale yeast strains fermenting at the high-end of lager temperatures (too low for some ale stains) used to produce lager characteristics. They also go through a period of cold conditioning although the duration varies by style. Those are some examples of styles which create clean, lager-like beers using non-traditional methods.

A word on lagering: It is not uncommon for a beer fermented with ale yeast to undergo a cold-conditioning phase or for a "bottom-fermented" beer to be aged at room temperature. The resulting beer may differ from the traditional expectations, but could still be enjoyable if done correctly.

Other cuveballs are beers fermented with other organisms and/or wild yeasts. These organisms and wild yeasts (such as wild Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Acetobacter) all have their own properties in regards to optimum fermentation temperatures. However, most of the beers we see inoculated with any type of "bug" or "wild" yeasts/organisms are typically kept at room temperature (68°-72°F) or higher. So, by the explanation above, these wild and sour beers are widely accepted as ales.

And there you have it!

To recap, ale yeast (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae) and lager yeast (Saccharomyces Pastorianus) is the only physical difference between them. The flavor differences between lagers and ales are small, but noticeable. Lagers are clean, little no no yeast character with and no fruity esters, fermented a cool temperatures, and are submitted to extended lagering. Ales tend to have fruit character, fermented at higher temperatures, and not aged as long by comparison. There are exceptions with hybrid's using lager strains at low ale temperatures or ale strains at high lager temperatures.

Hope you learned a thing or two. Thanks for reading!

Cheers,

Gilbert "Charlie" Perez, Certified Cicerone®