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-   -   Do Vanilla Beans Cause Phenolic Flavors? (http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f12/do-vanilla-beans-cause-phenolic-flavors-254918/)

ChiechiBrouw 07-04-2011 05:24 AM

Do Vanilla Beans Cause Phenolic Flavors?
I recently brewed a "vanilla caramel cream ale" from this very forum and it is delicious. However, after one week of fermentation, one month in the secondary, and a week in the bottle, there are some very strong phenolic flavors.

I brewed another vanilla beer a while ago, using vanilla extract, and the phenolic flavors were unbearable. For this vanilla caramel cream ale, however, I added only vanilla beans soaked in vodka (two chopped beans in ~100 mL) to the secondary, and still wound up with phenolic flavors in the beer.

My question is: does vanilla always lead to phenolic flavors? One caveat: I happened to bottle this beer 24 hours before three days of near-record heat, so for a couple of days these bottles were standing at ~30 C as opposed to the normal 18-22 C in my beer closet.

I want to brew this beer again, because it is very tasty, but if phenolic flavors come along for the ride with vanilla, I will just leave them out next time.

lordbeermestrength 07-04-2011 06:45 AM

Vanilla should not automatically lead to phenolic flavors. What kind of vanilla did you use the first time (extract/whole beans/other) and how did you add it to the beer (secondary/vodka extracted/other)?

What kind of yeast did you use? Sometimes it can be caused by the yeast, or the temps at which you ferment (seems most likely to me).

Here's a good resource for your particular problem: http://www.winning-homebrew.com/phenolic-flavors.html

SethMasterFlex 07-04-2011 01:16 PM

I highly doubt it. From my mead experience, vanilla is an ingredient that helps blend everything together. It might just be amplifying and bringing to the forefront flaws that have already been present in your beers, but you just haven't noticed them before. I would take a look at your process from start to finish and make sure that you're properly sanitizing everything each step of the way.

ChiechiBrouw 07-05-2011 11:10 AM

I used (re-pitched) American Ale yeast, at 16-18 C, for two weeks in the primary; fermentation took off like a shot and more-or-less finished after about five days. There were ZERO off flavors coming out of the primary (before vanilla). I soaked two chopped beans in vodka for one month before adding them (and the vodka, ~100 mL total) to the secondary, which then sat at 16-20 C for one month. Coming out of the secondary, there were some phenolic notes, but nothing serious; it wasn't until after bottling (which, as I mentioned happened during a 30 C heatwave) that the flavors became really present.

The only flavor issues I have had in countless extract and partial-mash and about a dozen all-grain batches was with another vanilla beer, only with that one I used half vodka-soaked beans and half extract. That beer was undrinkable (the only one to date), but I think it was the extract, which was not clearly labeled (i.e., it may have been artificial vanilla flavor--yuck).

That is why I ask if vanilla beans are known to lead to phenolic flavors--the only two beers in which I have encountered phenolic flavors (or any significant off flavors, really) were conditioned over vanilla. From what you are saying, I trust that the beans themselves were not the source of the flavors, so I will try another batch with vanilla (and hope that a couple more weeks in the bottle will mellow out the current batch).

What frustrates me is that, sans the phenol taste, this beer is amazing.

NOTE: When I say "phenolic flavors" I mean that it literally tastes like it has phenol in it--i.e., C6H5OH. For those who do not know what phenol smells like, it is best described as "medicinal."

lordbeermestrength 07-05-2011 04:13 PM

Please don't think that I'm treating you like an idiot (because the reality is I'm the idiot and I have no idea what's causing the phenols) but have you considered it might be the extraction method of the vanilla?

On the next one you might try adding the beans to the primary after most of the fermentation has subsided, then racking off the beans to secondary when you think it has enough vanilla flavor.

If you're worried about contamination, you could try extracting with a more pure solution: Get a bottle (if available) of Everclear (or something similarly neutral) and diluting with bottled water to about 20%, then using that to extract the vanilla.

What kind of vodka did you use? Top shelf or cheap?

I still think it was some sort of bacterial infection, because it seems strange that phenols would come out more predominately after heating the bottles. 30c is pretty hot, it's possible it could have been a yeast infection as well, since that's a temp where yeast tend to go crazy. It would be interesting to see what the flavor is like after another week. You could try keeping one bottle in a fridge and another out at room temperature and see if there is a substantial difference between the two.

ChiechiBrouw 07-06-2011 08:31 AM

If anyone is an idiot, it is generally me :)

I used Belvedere vodka to extract the beans. I have read around and people expressed concerns over chucking the whole beans into the beer (bacteria, etc.), so I chose to go with the vodka route, but others reported that adding the whole beans directly worked for them. I think that next time I will try adding the vanilla to the primary, and then adding more in the secondary only if needed... Now that you mention it, a month may simply have been way too long and perhaps I started extracting nastiness from the beans.

This weekend I will put a couple of bottles in the fridge, and leave the rest out. Next weekend I'll do a side-by-side and see if there is any difference.

Speaking of my idiocy, I just realized that I got the bottles for this batch from a friend, who is not a brewer and they had all kinds of nasty in the bottom. I think I got it all, using caustic cleaner followed by iodine, but that is an obvious source of infection that didn't even cross my mind. I did use a few "tried and true" bottles, so I will also open one of those for comparison.

lordbeermestrength 07-06-2011 10:00 AM

That was another thing I forgot to mention, depending on the vessel you used to soak the beans, you could have gotten some plastic-ness off of it. I used glass cups before for a chocolate stout, but they had plastic tops and I got some flavors off the plastic from the alcohol vapor.

I really don't think there should be much of a problem with adding them directly to the beer, especially if it's a fairly big one, but I completely understand being worried about contamination. Maybe you could try spritzing the beans with vodka before adding them, that way you keep the contact with vodka as short as possible.

Keep us informed as to what happens, this interests me because I've only done maybe a half dozen batches of beer with fruit/spices/etc added and I have never been completely happy with any of the methods I used.

lordbeermestrength 07-06-2011 10:02 AM

Thats one thing about using vodka that sucks too: if you use the cheap stuff, you get nasty flavors. But using top shelf seems like a waste. I don't even like vodka but for the price I'd rather drink it than use it in a beer.

ChiechiBrouw 07-07-2011 06:15 AM


Originally Posted by lordbeermestrength (Post 3063455)
Keep us informed as to what happens, this interests me because I've only done maybe a half dozen batches of beer with fruit/spices/etc added and I have never been completely happy with any of the methods I used.

See, that right there is my problem as well: every time I have added anything but hops, malts, water, and yeast, I have been disappointed.

lordbeermestrength 07-07-2011 03:52 PM

I hear ya. I have had others pretty happy with my results but never been satisfied myself. I used the vodka soaking method probably 3 times and every time I have been able to taste some strange compounds(I don't know what to call them, tannins? phenols? burnt rubber?) in the finished product. I really don't like the vodka extraction method.

A friend made a bourbon vanilla porter once and he put oak chips and vanilla in a bourbon bottle for 4-5 months. When he poured it in the beer it was almost gelatinized, but it tasted like heaven.

I really think that the problem with vodka or any other clear liquor is that there is still impurities from the distillation process present. With aged liquors, most of those impurities have either been broken down into less obvious/more benign compounds, or filtered by the charred oak.

That wouldn't help with the vanilla cream ale you mentioned, because you likely wouldn't want bourbon in that. I don't know, just thoughts... it would be interesting to know the science behind it.

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