Ask Mr. Wizard

Tasting Fermentation


Zack Rowland • Boise, Idaho asks,

Would you recommend tasting your homebrew towards the end of fermentation to see where it’s at in the process to ensure quality? Do professional brewers taste along the way?


Hmmmm, let me think about this for a nanosecond . . . yes and yes! I absolutely recommend tasting beer while “in process” and professional brewers certainly taste their beer as it moves through the brewery. I could write a book on tasting throughout the process but don’t have the space or time for such an endeavor. I will give you a few reasons for tasting while beer is transformed from wort to beer.

The first basic reason for tasting beer before bottling day is to spot problems that can be fixed. For example, if you taste your beer during aging and smell diacetyl or acetaldehyde you can easily respond to this by extending your aging process (assuming that you don’t want diacetyl or acetaldehyde in the finished beer).

In contrast, if you filter this hypothetical batch of beer and do so prematurely there is no remedy. Let’s say you’re brewing a batch of IPA and you have really beefed up the bitterness in the kettle and plan to balance the hop bitterness with a big hop punch from dry hopping. But you messed up and did not add enough hops during aging to get the aroma you desire. The brewer who tastes during the process easily spots the deficiency, adds more hops and ends up with a really nice beer. These are pretty obvious examples; brewing is not so complicated, and if you think of how to use your senses to monitor brewing you will discover all sorts of really good uses, including the application of the most useful of senses . . . common sense.

Another check during process that I like to remind new brewers to keep an eye on is specific gravity. Too, too many homebrew recipes are written in such a way that implies that fermentation happens like clockwork. “Ferment for seven days and transfer to the secondary” — these types of directions really should not be followed literally. If you follow a recipe without doing any tasting along the way your chances of disappointment increase with every key point that is not checked.

Brewers also want to taste along the way to spot problems that cannot be solved. Whether you are a homebrewer or a professional brewer there is no sense in shepherding a batch of beer through the entire process if it isn’t good. You want to spot the certain loser as soon as possible and cut bait.

Another consequence of not spotting errant batches is the potential that the cause of the problem was more than bad luck. If you have a systematic problem, like bad yeast, or a problem with your cleaning regimen that recently popped up, you really want to identify the problem and get it solved before you end up with lots of bad beer. This attention to in-process detail is diligently practiced by the world’s best brewers — from Anheuser-Busch to Sierra Nevada.

One very real note of caution is not to contaminate your batch by using poor sampling methods. Another thing to be careful about is the temptation to over sample, especially for those batches that are really showing promise. You don’t want to wake up to bottle that great batch of IPA only to realize that your yield is a
case short!

In conclusion, yes, do taste your beer during fermentation and throughout the brewing cycle and use the data you collect to make decisions to move the beer through the process.


Response by Ashton Lewis.