Fermentation is one of the most important factors to get right if you want to produce quality beer. But what about tasting beer while it’s fermenting, can you do that, is it unhealthy, should you actually do it, and are there any benefits to it?
In this article, I will be answering those questions as well as what beer tastes like during fermentation, what off-flavors are and how to identify them, and more.
So, without any further ado, let’s get started!
Can you taste beer during Fermentation?
Tasting beer during fermentation is completely fine since it’s not going to be harmful in any way, although the taste may be quite different from what beer generally tastes like once it’s finished. But not only can you taste it, you also should, since it will teach you more about each stage of brewing.
I would recommend that you give it a taste every time you take a gravity reading, that would be the most practical way of doing things and you will also learn how the taste evolves over time and what beer generally tastes like once it reaches the final gravity.
What does beer taste like during fermentation?
At the beginning of the fermentation, it will be tasting quite sweet and have a little hint of yeast to it, plus the bitterness from the hops is also a lot stronger at this stage. As fermentation keeps moving forward throughout the days, the yeast will consume all of the sugar, reducing the overall sweetness, and the taste of hops will start to mellow out, reducing the overall bitterness.
This, however, is a very broad statement since the taste is highly dependent on the specific recipe you’re using and will vary a lot whenever you brew a batch that uses a different one. For example, the batch I just made smells and sort of tastes like a Radler beer. Basically, sweet and with a very sweet-ish smell to it.
What to do when tasting beer during/after fermentation
I mentioned that it’s beneficial to taste the beer throughout the fermentation process to learn more about how the taste changes over time and what all of that means, but you could also use this time to gauge whether or not some off-flavors are present, if the beer has gotten infected, and you can even add hops and fruit at this stage as well.
Look for Off-flavors while you’re tasting it
Another benefit of tasking beer while it’s fermenting is to look for any off-flavors or to check if the beer has been infected since any funky or sour flavors in it will be noticeable pretty quickly which lets you know if something went wrong or not.
There are a multitude of off-flavors, each one means something different and they are caused by the buildup of different chemical compounds or contamination usually caused by poor sanitation and brewing practices.
Note: Info taken from learn.kegerator.com.
An off-flavor is considered a flavor that is “faulty” or “off” when found at a certain level, or any level in some cases, in beer. It’s worth noting that some of these flavors are present in almost every beer to some degree but start being considered off-flavors once their presence gets too high.
Here’s the list of the most common off-flavors and how they are perceived as:
- Diacetyl (2,3 butanedione): Perceived as Buttery, buttermilk, oily.
- Mercaptan (ethanethiol): Rotten vegetables, drain-like, or rotting garbage.
- Lightstruck (3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol): Skunky, sunstruck, sulfury.
- Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S): Rotten eggs, sulfury, sewer.
- Caprylic (octanoic or caprylic acid): Goatish, tallow-like, vegetable oil, waxy, goat cheese.
- Butyric (butyric acid): Rancidity, Baby vomit, cheesy, putrid, spoiled milk or butter.
- Grainy/Husky: Fresh wheat, grainy, harsh, “green”, nutty, like raw grain.
- Banana (Isoamyl Acetate): Fruity, Estery, Bananas, Pear, Peardrops, nail polish-like at higher levels.
- Metallic (ferrous sulfate): Blood-like, Iron, Bitter, harsh, inky, rusty, coppery.
- Sour: Tart, Sour Milk, Acidic, Citrusy.
- Catty (p-menthane-8-thiol-3-one): Tomcat urine, catty, black currant leaves, tomato plants.
- Cheesy (isovaleric acid): Old cheese, rancidity, old hops, goaty, dirty socks, sweaty.
- Sweet: Cloying, sickly sweet, oversweet, syrupy, jammy, candy.
- Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS): Sweetcorn, Creamed Corn, Cabbage, Canned/Cooked Vegetables, Oysters Sea Vegetables, Tomato Sauce.
- Acetaldehyde: Bruised apples, green apples, squash-like, latex paint, rough, jolly rancher.
- Oxidation: Sherry-like, Papery, like cardboard, stale.
- Phenolic: Bitter, spicy, herbal, drying, tea-like, clove-like, smoky, band-aid, medicinal.
- Musty (2,4,6-tricholoroanisole)(TCA): Old cellar, damp, earthy, moldy, wine cork, mushroom-like, beet-like.
Add Hops or Fruit to your beer and keep tasting
Dry hopping, which must happen post-boil for the hop oils to retain their delicate volatile compounds, is the process of adding hops to the beer after the boiling process and generally occurs during secondary fermentation, although it’s becoming more and more common to add hops into the primary fermenter once fermentation has subsided, and in some cases, brewers add hops while the primary fermentation process is ongoing.
Depending on the type of beer you’re making you can add hops and even fruit into the primary fermentor to introduce different flavors and aromas to the beer.
It’s worth mentioning that doing this requires you to sanitize everything; The fruit (which needs to needs to be heated first to kill all of the bacteria), and the hops as well.
Over the next few days, you’re going to want to keep tasting the beer to see how the hops or fruit start affecting it as well.
Is a taste test indicative of the end result?
A beer that tastes good during the fermentation process or after fermentation is complete is not necessarily an indication of the final product’s quality. However, the more you taste beer throughout the different brewing stages, the more you will be able to determine if everything is going according to plan or not.
Not only can you taste beer during and after fermentation, but I’d encourage you to do it since it’s going to allow you to learn a lot more about brewing in general and, over time, you’ll be able to easily gauge whether or not your batch is going to come out alright or not.
To finish the article, here are answers to some commonly asked questions:
How do I know if my beer is fermenting? Airlock bubbling and the formation of Krausen are generally indications that fermentation is working, but the only definitive way of determining whether the beer is still fermenting or not is by measuring the specific gravity. Two identical readings 48hs apart indicate that fermentation has stopped.
What should beer look like during fermentation? During fermentation, a light creamy-colored foam known as Krausen which is made out of yeast and wort proteins will start to form on top of the beer in the primary stages of fermentation, and this indicates that the fermentation is healthy and moving forward as planned.
Can you taste your beer before bottling? Tasting beer right before bottling is perfectly fine since it’s not going to be harmful in any way, although the taste may be quite different from what beer generally tastes like once it’s finished, but not only can you taste it, but you also should, since it will teach you more about each stage of brewing.