Last night we had the second and final part of our beer flavor exploration. It was a great evening, and very pleasurable as this time we did take a closer look at the 'good' flavors. This are flavors that are usually wanted in certain beers, but if present in large amounts or in other styles of beer signs of trouble (infection, poor yeast health, or problems with brewing technique/equipment). A lot is determined by personal taste as well.
One of the main factors that determine flavor and aroma are called esters. Typically fruity, they are produced inside the yeast cells, and then leak out into the beer, imparting with typical flavors. A famous one is called Isoamyl Acetate, and gives that typical aroma and taste of bananas. Typically found in weizen beers and some other heavier beers (Westmalle Tripel, for example), it can signal problems with yeast health, fermentation temperature or oxygen supply in the beer if found in large amounts or in beers that should not typically have this flavor. Another common flavor was 4-Vinyl Guaiacol. As a metabolite of ferulic acid, it is formed by fermentation of barley malts by certain top-fermenting yeasts, but could also be produced by wild yeast as well. It has a characteristic taste of cloves, or a hint of phenolic, and gives beer a more 'spicy' touch. Another flavor discussed was Ethyl Hexanoate, another ester, but this one imparts hints of aniseed or ripe apples to the beer. It is also a pheromone to certain insects, including the fruit fly (drosophila).
The blind taste test at the end of the evening proved challenging, as some of the flavors were very subtle. Jessie DiNizio won this blind tasting test as the only person to reach a perfect score, congratulations! She won a cool key chain bottle opener from Beers Not Bombs, a group that makes jewelry and bottle openers from bronze. The bronze has a very unique source: the copper needed to make it comes from disarmed nuclear weapon systems! "Beating swords into ploughshares" is a great ideal, but beating nuclear missile silos into bottle openers, now that is just excellent! Of course certified radiation free...
Anyways, another great event discovering new ways to look at beer and to enjoy beer. If you need a drink today to help you cool down in the heat wave currently hovering above the US, may I propose either a Paulaner Heffeweisen or a Sly Fox Royal Weisse? Very refreshing, and I am sure you will be able to pick up some of the flavors described above... Cheers!