In the pursuit of perfect homebrew, failure still makes beer.

BABES in Boston: Off-Flavors Education for the Masses

What kind of fellow, in his right mind, would pay a local club good American dollars to drink bad-tasting beer? The kind of fellow that has had his fair share of home-brew shortcomings, and would like to learn more about what certain flavors mean in a beer. I had the opportunity to drink some Siebel Institute samples with the BABES club – Boston Area Beer Enthusiast Society.

Buncha thugs

Buncha thugs

Now, even though this was a ladies club event, my pleading and prying to get into this event was met with great zeal – of course I can come support their cause of ladies drinking beer! This was a fantastic change of pace, since most often its me and my ugly mug buddies burying ourselves in craft brew while trying to wingman/score with ladies who sip nothing but Long Island Iced Teas and Mich Ultras. Sometimes wearing ugly sweaters. And taking over bars in December.

I was especially excited about this event because it presented me with a unique opportunity as a home brewer. Everyone who has even tried a homebrew from their “crazy friend” knows the “homebrew” taste: off. Just doesn’t taste right. And any homebrewer knows the depressing feeling of waiting 3 weeks for your lovingly-crafted brew to come out of the fermentor, into a nicely carbonated bottle, pop the top with a flourish, present it into a perfectly clean tulip glass, raise it to your lips, sip from the nectar of the gods wrung from the labors of your hands… only to cough it up, solvent band-aid, oily slick, or excessively alcoholic, back into the glass and dread the other 49 beers you have packaged in the corner.

To be able to identify the off-flavors in your own beer, and then know the corrective actions in the brewing process to prevent them from ruining another batch of your beer, is a critical skill for the budding homebrew expert. This is what I came to Tavern in the Square Central Square for this night. The Siebel Institute provides a kit of light lagers laced with the same chemicals produced by stressed yeast, bacterial infection, and improper handling and storage. Using the guides developed by Siebel, the BABES led us through a blind taste test of the 6 samples of “crap.” We were given Coors Light as a palate cleanser (thank you very much) and I made sure to order a Notch Session Pils to reward myself for the palate-wracking treatment I was putting myself through.

Here are my personal tasting notes from the 6 beer samples I tasted:

  1. Flat, astringent, dry ending. cidery on the nose, sour at the end.
  2. Buttery sweet, popcorn in the nose, butterscotch flavor.
  3. Acidic, sour milk (possibly the worst flavor of the night), steamed veggies
  4. Lemon Pine Sol scent, acidic citrus nose, super banana smell, lemon tart and grapefruit flavor, quinine
  5. Paper bag band aid aroma; oxidized, wet hay flavor.
  6. Sour, tart, vinegary nose; puckering dryness, sour bitterness, unpleasant

Sounds delicious, right?

Now, let’s see if you can match the conditions to the flavors without reading. I’m just kidding, I’m just going to tell them to you. I’m more of a giver. In the order described above:

A summary of several common off-flavors you can have in your beer.

A summary of several common off-flavors you can have in your beer.

The club focuses on a noble area of craft beer enthusiasm, introducing and supporting women in beer culture and the industry. Founding Mothers Kristen Sykes and Brandi Groft hold that the organization focuses primarily on women in craft beer and home brewing enthusiast circles, all genders are welcome at their meetings. From their Facebook page:

The goal of BABES is to introduce women to new beer styles, food and beer pairings, beer professionals and all things related to beer. We also support women in the beer industry and promote the positive image of women who enjoy beer. We take our beer seriously but don’t take ourselves too seriously and overall have aim to have fun! Men who support women who love beer are welcome.

After putting our palates through flavor acrobatics for an hour or so, they were able to sit down with me to talk beer and the consumer industry with me for a little bit while gleefully sipping their reward beers. Both were eager to thank me, a humble possessor of a Y-chromosome, for my attendance, in true support of the last clause of their mission statement. I also asked them why in hell they would ask money from people so they could taste examples of crappy beer. OK, maybe I was a bit more tactful in my presentation, but the question garnered a very positive response:

(Kristen) One of the more interesting parts is the idea that some of these flavors can be considered “off” in one style of beer, while in other styles there are acceptable and sometimes hallmarked. I think that an event like this builds both an appreciation for the complexity of beer and the art of professional brewing. Homebrewers will attend an event like this and maybe immediately figure out what they did wrong in their last batch.

(Brandi) Even though this event was geared more towards the homebrewer, it’s always good to identify what some glaring off-flavors taste like if you purchase a beer at a bar. For the hobbyist, it’s very useful to know how a mistake on the brewing side affects the flavor profile of the beer you brew.

With tasting events, pairing dinners, and “meetings” at great Boston area watering holes like Meadhall, BABES is certainly doing its part in opening an accessible route for women to dive into the world of craft beer. And their lucky husbands get to tag along too.

As far as the SIEBEL tasting is concerned, if you and your friends can get your hands on some of these calibrated vials, and have an afternoon to commit to improving your homebrewing craft, it’s worth splitting the cost. it may be a nerdy alternative to your run-of-the-mill beer sharing party, but you’ll learn something while drinking – which is a great time to learn something, and an easy way to legitimize beer consumption.

You know. It’s for science.

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