A homebrewer’s worst nightmare is when a batch of beer turns out to have a bad flavor or smell. Even the most experienced brewers can have batches that don’t quite turn out right. You can easily identify and prevent ‘off-flavors’ and smells in homebrew beer.
Worst-case scenario, you end up with some pretty bad homebrew. Best-case scenario, you discover what can go wrong so you can avoid it next time.
Once you open the bottle of your homebrew, you will start to notice things that you might not have noticed before. You might start to notice bits and pieces of flavors you didn’t expect in your beer, or you might even start to notice off flavors you weren’t aware of.
These off-flavors are not necessarily a bad thing, but they can be distracting. Most of the time, these off-flavors come from a variety of different factors, including incorrect temperatures during the boil, oxygen getting into the bottle, and even sediment in the bottle.
This article is intended to help you identify problems with your beer before they become big problems. We’ll look at some of the common reasons for “off-flavors” and “smells” in homebrew, and offer some solutions so you can prevent them from happening again.
Ways to identify and prevent off-flavors and smells on your homebrew
Beer flavoring agents
If you’re having issues with off flavors or smells in your homebrew, the first thing to do is check your flavoring agents for anything that might be causing it. Flavors like vanilla and fruit are fairly common, but sometimes people add ingredients that can cause problems: protein powders, for example.
One way you can prevent off flavors and smells in your homebrew is to use the right flavoring agents. If you’re using extract, make sure it’s been boiled for at least 10 minutes before adding it to your brew.
Extracts that are not boiled could produce a soapy taste or smell. Additionally, if you’re adding any spices to your beer, make sure they have also been boiled first.
Spices and herbs
One of the most common causes of bad smells in homebrew is from spices or herbs. It’s best to use whole spices or fresh herbs when possible.
For ground or dried spices, buy them in small quantities and use them up quickly so they don’t cause an issue for your beer.
The most common cause of off-flavors in beer is spices and herbs. If you use spices, be sure to boil them for at least 10 minutes before adding them to your wort or mash. Remember: You can’t boil hops.
Drying herbs and hops
One of the best ways to prevent off-flavors is not to introduce them in the first place. There are a few things you can do before brewing that will help prevent bad smells and flavors.
For example, try drying your hops and herbs before use. This way, they won’t be adding any flavor to your brew.
If you’ve dried your herbs and hops before brewing, make sure you bring them back to life before using them. If they’re too old, they won’t have the correct flavor or aroma.
Improperly steeped hops
The first, and most common, issue is improperly steeped hops. As you know, hops are added to the boil for their bittering properties. They also provide aroma and flavor.
If your homebrew has an off smell or taste, chances are your hops were not properly steeped. The first sign of this is often a skunk-like smell or flavor in your beer. To avoid this issue in the future, steep your hops for 15 minutes before boiling them.
The most common cause of off-flavors in homebrew is improper steeped hops. The most common way to identify this issue is by noticing a bad, bitter flavor in your beer.
When you’re steeping hops, you want to use hot water that’s around 160 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. This will ensure that the delicate oils and compounds in your hops are extracted fully and not lost.
Hops can have a distinct smell
One of the things you’ll want to pay attention to is hops. Hops can impart a strong smell and taste, so it’s important that you pay close attention to them when brewing.
For example, if your homebrew has a distinct hop smell and taste, you might have added too much hops or used the wrong kind. If the hop flavor was too strong, you can add less next time or use hops with less flavor like Hallertau. The goal is to brew a beer that tastes great.
The hops in your beer can create off-flavors and smell as a result of oxidation. To prevent this issue, try to keep the hops out of direct contact with air. If you’ve been using pellet hops, avoid opening the bag until you want to use them.
When you do open the bag, take care not to touch or inhale too deeply. You don’t want the oils from your hands on the pellets to come into contact with oxygen and cause off-flavors or smells in your beer.
Now that you know how to identify these issues and ways to prevent them from happening in the future, it won’t be hard for you to enjoy great homebrew beer
Yeast strains and ester production
What do you think of when you hear the term “off flavors?” If you think of a sour, funky smell or flavor, then your yeast is likely producing too many esters. Esters are compounds that are created by yeast in the fermentation process.
They give beer fruity flavors and aromas, but if your yeast is producing too many, they can also produce off flavors. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to reduce ester production in your beer.
- First, make sure you’re pitching the right amount of yeast for the gravity of your wort. If you need help determining what that number is, consult with a homebrewing expert or use brewing software like BeerSmith to help determine how much yeast to pitch.
- Second, make sure that your fermentation temperature is within range (usually between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Lastly – and this should go without saying – check your fermentation lock often and keep it filled with water to avoid oxidation.
A yeast strain’s ester production is a major contributor to off-flavors. The amount of esters produced during fermentation is dependent on the type of yeast that’s used.
For example, UK ale yeasts tend to produce more fruity and floral esters than US ale yeasts, which typically have a cleaner flavor profile that produces less fruity and floral esters.
Even if a homebrewer only adds hops at the end of the boil, they can still experience off-flavors due to yeast strains. Different yeast strains will produce different flavors in your beer, so there are two steps involved in preventing off-flavors:
- Choose the correct yeast strain for the style you want to brew
- Follow proper yeast pitching rates
Improperly carbonated beer
One of the most common off-flavors in beer is improperly carbonated beer. This happens because they don’t add enough priming sugar to their batch. When you bottle your homebrew, a change in temperature can cause the beer to not fully carbonate after the initial fermentation process is completed.
The best way to fix this is by adding more sugar and giving it an extra week or two before bottling. This will help give your beer the extra kick it needs to be properly carbonated.
It can be difficult to tell if your beer is over or under-carbonated, but there are a few signs that might give you a clue. If there is no head on the top of your beer (or it has a thin layer) and the bubbles in your beer seem weak, it might be under-carbonated. If the bubbles in your beer look big and foamy, it’s more likely over-carbonated.
The solution to this issue is simple: just add more priming sugar! The typical ratio for priming sugar to water for bottling at home is 1/2 cup of corn sugar per 5 gallons of homebrew. Make sure you mix it thoroughly into the fermenter before bottling it for an even distribution throughout the batch.
Bad yeast starter
This is a fairly common issue, but more often than not you can avoid it from happening in the first place. If your yeast starter has an off smell or taste then discard it and try again.
A bad yeast starter will give your beer a sour taste. You can prevent this by using a yeast starter calculator.
Off flavors from bacterial contamination
Off-flavors in homebrew are often caused by bacterial contamination. If you’re noticing any off flavors, you may want to consider making a starter with a yeast nutrient, like DAP. This will help ensure that your yeast is healthy and can handle the additional growth needed for fermentation.
Additionally, if your beer tastes sour or has a buttery flavor, it’s likely due to lactic acid bacteria. Sour beers are often desired by the homebrewer but if this is not the desired flavor profile, you should add an alpha-acetolactate (ALA) inhibitor to kill off the bacteria.
Be sure to use an ALA inhibitor like Sorbistat or Fermaid-K to kill off these bacteria before they ruin your whole batch of beer!
If you’re noticing off-flavors that come from bacterial contamination, the first thing you should do is make sure your equipment is sanitized. Make sure to thoroughly rinse all of your equipment before use and make sure you sanitize it with a proper sanitizer.
Another way to prevent bacteria from contaminating your homebrew is to use boiled or bottled water. If you don’t have access to either, store your fermenting beer in a well-sealed container like a plastic bucket with an airtight lid. This will reduce the risk of contamination and help keep oxygen out of the brew while it ferments.
Wrapping bottles properly
One of the best ways to prevent off-flavors in your homebrew is to wrap bottles properly. If you don’t wrap bottles properly, you’ll run the risk of trapping oxygen inside.
This will lead to oxidation and a “cardboardy” flavor in your brew. Wrap them carefully in paper towels or newspapers and store them on their side in a cool, dark place.
One of the easiest ways to stop off-flavors in your homebrew is to wrap bottles properly. The two most important things you’ll need are a bottle tree and some corks. Your beer should be bottled in champagne-style bottles, which have concave openings.
If the bottles are wrapped too tightly, the pressure will eventually escape and your beer will go flat. If it’s not wrapped tightly enough, the beer will be exposed to oxygen and go bad. A good rule of thumb is to wrap the bottle loosely so there’s no air space between the neck of the bottle and the cork.
Which flavors off-flavors are typically a result of contamination by wild yeast or bacteria?
Off-flavor caused by wild yeast or bacteria is typically a vinegary flavor or an extremely sour flavor. These flavors are usually due to a lack of sanitation in the brewing process.
This can be from using dirty bottles, unpasteurized fruit juice, and even contaminated water. It’s important to pay close attention to the smells and flavors of your beer.
If you ever experience these off-flavors, it’s time to take steps to avoid them in the future by maintaining careful hygiene practices and following proper sanitation procedures during all stages of the brewing process.
Why does my homebrew smell bad?
The most common cause of off-flavors and smells in homebrew is contamination. This can strike your beer at any point but is most common during the brewing process itself.
Contamination can come from a variety of sources: unclean equipment, dirty tank water, or unclean hands. It can also come from the yeast—if it’s contaminated with bacteria, for example (which happens if you’re using cheesecloth to strain your wort rather than a filter bag), then it will impart an undesirable flavor on your beer as well as create off-flavors that are hard to identify.
Other causes of off flavors include improper fermentation temperature and adding too much dextrose to your fermenting wort.
What does homebrew smell like?
On brew day it’s sweet, spicy, and generally pleasant. On active fermentation, it’s a yeasty, fruity aroma. On finished fermentation, the beer will have an earthy, bread-like aroma.
As homebrewers, we know that smell is one of the most important factors in craft beer. Homebrewers are acutely aware of any off flavors or smell in their wort and beer.
We need to be vigilant about any changes to the specific aromas of our brews so we can fix them if they happen.
What does off beer smell like?
Off flavors in your beer are often associated with the four main aspects of taste: Sweet, Sour, Bitter, and Salty.
If you’ve ever had a cup of coffee that was too acidic or a piece of bread that was too sweet, you’re familiar with these four tastes.
The same is true for beer. If your beer is too sour, it has an off flavor. Or if your beer smells stale or like an old book, it has an off flavor.
What causes phenolic flavors in beer?
Wort spoilage bacteria can cause a number of flavors in beer. These flavors are often characterized as “phenolic” and can be caused by bacteria interacting with the malt or hops in the wort.
Phenolic flavors can also be caused by the yeast, either because it is contaminated, or because it has been stressed by too high a fermentation temperature.
Why does my homebrew taste like vinegar?
The first, and most common, cause of off flavors in homebrew is contamination. This can happen if you’re not careful with your brewing process or when you store your beer. You may have bacteria or wild yeast in your beer that’s causing the vinegar taste or smell.
Why does my homebrew smell like eggs?
If your homebrew smells like eggs, it’s likely because of hydrogen sulfide gas. Hydrogen sulfide is a byproduct of active fermentation, often produced during the process of yeast processing the sulfur from kilned malts and hops. This gas is often described as having the scent of rotten eggs or sulfur.
There are a few things you can do to limit this issue in your home-brewed beer:
- Make sure your starter wort (the wort that will be fermented into beer) is not boiled before cooling. Boiling the wort creates more hydrogen sulfide than when it is simply cooled after boiling and before pitching yeast.
- Make sure you have an adequate amount of yeast nutrients or other forms of additional nitrogen in your wort when pitching. Nitrogen helps maintain healthy cells which reduce hydrogen sulfide production.
- Make sure you monitor your fermenting temperature carefully, as warmer temperatures create more hydrogen sulfide than cooler ones. There are several ways to do this: Keep a stable fermenting temperature by adding ice packs or boiling water if need be. Monitor your basement or garage temperature with a thermometer, and keep it between 68-74 degrees Fahrenheit most of the time for optimal fermentation conditions.
- Be diligent about cleaning and sanitation around your brewing area, as this can lead to unwanted bacteria growth that produces off flavors in homebrewed beer.
One of the most frustrating things for a homebrewer is to pour a glass of beer and get that unpleasant smell. It’s important to be able to identify these “off flavors” in your beer. If you can, then you can take steps to correct or prevent them from happening again.
What does an “off flavor” taste like?
An “off flavor” comes in many forms, and some are more obvious than others. If you can smell it, it often has a sour or vinegar-like smell. If you taste it, it will have a sour or rotten egg taste. You may even experience an aftertaste that is unpleasant or lingering.
How do I know if my beer is infected?
If you’re using proper sanitizing methods and your homebrew still tastes off, then your best bet is to contact your local homebrew supplier for help. They can provide you with helpful information on tasting and identifying “off flavors” and smells in your beer.
What are off Flavours in beer?
Off flavors are a problem in both commercial and homebrewed beers. Common off-flavors in homebrews include butyric acid (baby vomit), diacetyl (buttered popcorn), dimethyl sulfide (canned corn, cabbage), and mercaptan (rotten vegetables, skunk). Others include Metallic (metal, blood), Oxidation (cardboard), and Hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs)