Off flavour or off taste buds?

You’re probably all familiar with the usual suspects of off flavours in beer; cloves, banana, corn, plasters, nail polish remover, etc. And have a good idea at pinpointing the route cause, whether it be poor temperature control of fermentation, inadequate yeast pitch rate or possible infection from the crud in the tap of an FV. But, what about that strange flavour you can’t pin down? knowing that your brew-day went smoothly and your methodology was as best as you could control.

I recently brewed a split batch of beer, as in one brewday with the cooled wort being split between two fermenting vessels and inoculated with different yeasts. One batch of Kolsch and another of Saison (with further additions of honey and raspberries part way through fermentation). The Saison came out as designed, I was really happy with the result. The Kolsch….hmm! There’s that flavour again, the one in that batch of Phoenix Bitter from last year. The flavour I’ve tasted in commercial beers. It’s a flavour that takes me straight back to being an Industrial/Product Design student, in the workshop, making a design mock-up out of soft wood, matt primer and…that’s it, that’s the flavour…car body filler.

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It’s one of those smells you can taste in the back of your throat (especially in a room with 15-20 students using it). Solvent, but with something extra, Esters? Anyway back to the beer, it’s there and in an obvious way. Now, I’m happy to accept that my beer is flawed, I can critically analyse, learn and move forward. Here’s the rub, I took this beer to @leekhomebrew meeting, and without stating my observations it was met with a favourable response, no grimaces, no glasses being pushed away. What gives? Were they all too polite? Possibly, but I’m not sure, not Mike, anyway. As I’ve said, I’ve had this in commercial beers (yes they can have off flavours too) and even at a meet the brewer, sat around a table with other people drinking the same beer. Nothing, no similar observations. I say something, I get a slight, yet unconvinced response, then the brewer pipes up “this is a strawberry, loganberry Farmhouse Saison” prompting unanimous agreement on Strawberry coming through (Celt Experience Goddess Of The Spring , if you were wondering). Nope, I’m still getting Halfords finest and a sense of paranoia.

Additionally, when this first appeared in my homebrew, this flavour wasn’t picked up by my Dad and his mates, who all had a good crack at it. Interestingly, even for me, it died down to barely perceivable levels after around four weeks in the bottle.

In Tasting Beer, a very good book by Randy Mosher, there is an interesting section on the physiology of taste and aroma, which leads me to believe I’m sensitive to a particular compound, whether it be an off-flavour or there by design. The question is where does it come from?

Could it be a by-product from the yeast? I would have thought it wouldn’t dissipate though. A fruity ester from the hops would probably explain it disappearing, maybe a flavour compound associated with strawberries?

Would love to hear opinions on this and if anyone else has had similar experiences with off-flavours that only they can detect.

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