Saturday, May 9, 2009

fourth brew (Belgian witbier), part 9

I have at last, I think, solved the mystery of the Belgian witbier flavor problem. I was talking homebrew with a co-worker the other day, describing my coriander and orange peel tea experiment, and he mentioned clove flavors. At the time I did not think that clove was a good description of the witbier weirdness, but as I was tasting another today (and liking it more, actually) with that word in mind, it did seem to have some relevance. I reread Palmer's off-flavor descriptions to find the problem that causes a clove flavor and found this:
Medicinal. These flavors are often described as medicinal, Band-Aid-Like, or spicy, like cloves. The causes are various phenols that are initially produced by the yeast.... Wild (gusher) yeasts can also produce these flavors.
Band-Aid is exactly it!

So there we have a probable cause or two. He doesn't say any more, other than that chlorophenols can result from the use of incompletely-rinsed bleach. Not an issue for me.

This page on phenols in beer offers a little more. Since I used mainly malt extract it's probably not due to leaching from the husks of overcrushed grain. Bacterial contamination is of course a possibility and I don't know how I'd rule that out. It's true that I was a little more interactive with this beer than usual. But it's this note that causes me to want to gratuitously use the word Belgium in a screenplay:
Phenols are usually part of the flavor profile in Belgians and Wheat beers, however.
Well then. That may be true, but I can say that I've had plenty of wheat beers and now a fair number of Belgians, and have found the phenolic component to be nowhere near this strong.

However, taking another look at the description of Wyeast 3944 Belgian Witbier is enlightening:
Produces a complex flavor profile with a spicy phenolic character and low ester production. Phenols tend to dominate other flavors and dissipate with age.
Oho! Now that I finally have a first hand grasp on the meaning of "spicy phenolic character" it all comes together! I think this is exactly what's expected, and my impression today that the beer might be improving is probably spot on. This has been a most educational brew. RTFM, man.

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