I’ve been having a blast working at the brewing laboratory at VTT, and today I thought I’d try a couple of beers brewed at work. The first two are research-related, while the third was brewed in honor of VTT’s 70th anniversary. The first two beers are related to a project that attempts to shorten fermentation time, without affecting the quality of the final beer. I can’t reveal any details, but I’ll give some general information on the beers. Both beers, the ‘control’ and the ‘treated’, were fermented with the same yeast (S. pastorianus) and wort supplied by a Finnish brewery (usually we use our own wort and yeast for experiments). The ‘treated’ beer finished fermenting over 24 hours before the ‘control’ beer, and both reached similar attenuation and had similar concentrations of aroma compounds and vicinal diketones. The real test will be whether they taste the same, so let’s try them out. I asked my girlfriend to pour the beers into three glasses (2+1), so I could attempt a blind triangle test. The beers should be quite standard ‘bulk lagers’, so am not expecting anything mind-blowing.
Appearance: The beer pours with a crystal clear golden-yellow color. A small foam head sits on top of the beer, but it disappears really quickly. All in all, the beers look identical.
Aroma: The beer has a very light and clean aroma. A sweet, grainy almost bready maltiness is all I can pick out. Maybe some slight apple-like tones in the background?
Flavor: The flavor is also light, and it focuses mostly on a sweet grainy maltiness. The flavor is not as clean as the aroma, as there are some slight solvent-like tones present, which could be caused by higher alcohols or esters. I can’t detect any buttery tones from vicinal diketones. The finish is quite dry and crisp, and the bitterness level is low. A quite typical ‘bulk lager’, that is a little less clean than the primes of the style.
Mouthfeel: The body is light and the beer has a medium carbonation level. Easy to drink.
Appearance: Similar to Glass 1.
Aroma: The aroma of this glass is also very clean and light. As good as identical to Glass 1, with a sweet grainy maltiness dominating.
Flavor: Similar to Glass 1, but it feels like the flavor is a little more malty, there might be just a minor VDK presence, and there is a little less solvent tones. Could this be different from Glass 1? As I return to the glass later, I start to question my initial thoughts, as these are so similar.
Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is similar to Glass 1, but it maybe is slightly creamier.
Appearance: Similar to Glass 1. Maybe just slightly more head retention.
Aroma: Again, very similar to the other two. I can’t tell apart any of the beers on aroma basis at least.
Flavor: Again, very similar to the other glasses. A grainy maltiness, with slight solvently off-tones.
Mouthfeel: Very similar to the other glasses.
I’m having a very hard time telling these apart, and I feel at least Glass 1 and 2 are different from each other, but I’m having a difficult time deciding on Glass 3. My final guess is that Glasses 1 and 3 are the same, while Glass 2 is different. I slightly preferred Glass 2, but as I said, these were very similar.
The correct answers were:
Well, that means that I at least wasn’t able to correctly tell them apart. This is a good result for us, as this means that our technique for speeding up the fermentation process doesn’t influence flavor considerably. I repeated the tasting for my girlfriend (who had poured up the beers for me, and also initially tasted them while I was tasting them), and according to her there was a noticeable difference between them. As I try the beers again, knowing what beer is what, I can sense a slight difference between them, as the control beer features a slightly more ‘slick’ mouthfeel, while the treated beer has slightly more solvent-like flavors (as I thought I noticed during my blind-tasting), especially during the aftertaste. All in all, this was a very interesting experiment, and the beers were really similar (enough to fool me).
The next beer of the evening is the 70th anniversary lager. This beer is a standard ‘euro lager’, brewed for as wide of an audience as possible. I helped out with brewing and gave some tips for recipe formulation. The beer has been brewed with pilsner, pale ale and vienna malts, and hopped with Northern Brewer, Perle and Saaz. The bitterness level came out a little lower than expected, and is around 15-20 IBU. The beer was fermented with S. pastorianus strain A-63015, and alcohol level has been adjusted to 5.0% ABV. We also recently brewed a 70th anniversary ale (amber ale), with pale ale, vienna, crystal 150 and chocolate malt, and we hopped it with Northern Brewer, Perle and Cascade (huge amounts of late hops). The ale is currently maturing, and am really looking forward to trying the final beer. The ale was brewed with more demanding beer drinkers in mind. But let’s see how the lager tastes!
Appearance: The beer pours crystal clear (it has been filtered before bottling) and with a golden-yellow color. A slight fluffy white head is formed during the pour, but it collapses very quickly leaving no lacing along the glass. I wish the beer would have had a little better head retention.
Aroma: The aroma is light and clean, with some tones of a grainy and bready maltiness, and a really small amount of almost apple-like esters. Nothing mind-blowing, but it fits the style well, as there is no diacetyl or other off-smells present.
Flavor: The flavor is quite light as well, spinning mostly around the slightly sweet and grainy maltiness, that features a very light touch of biscuits and caramel as well. A very light floral hoppiness is present as well, which is joined by the same esters present in the aroma. The finish is quite dry and not very bitter. Again, the flavor is very clean, with maybe a slight hint of diacetyl and some fruity esters being present.
Mouthfeel: The beer has a light and crisp body, and a medium carbonation level, making it very easy to drink.
Overall: I wasn’t expecting much before trying the beer, and the beer wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but I was positively surprised over how clean tasting this beer was, as making a light lager requires skill from the brewer. I would maybe up the bitterness just a notch, throw in some more late hops to increase the hop presence (as it was non-existing at the moment), and try to increase the head retention (by adjusting the mash schedule or throwing in some wheat or carapils malt).
Really looking forward to returning from my winter holidays and continuing research!