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Old 11-18-2008, 03:20 PM   #1
john from dc
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Default sweetness and dryness

hi all,

this came up in another thread so instead of completely derailing that one i thought i'd start another. apologies in advance for the wall of text.

sweetness, and conversely dryness in beer are qualities that most of us understand on a qualitative level. in addition, there are certain methods employed during the brewing process that have been proven to make the finished beer sweeter or drier. mashing temp, yeast selection and additives seem to be the big ones.

but the components of a finished beer that make it sweet or dry are a little less obvious. clearly, unfermented sugars and dextrins will add to sweetness, and i'm of the opinion that higher alcohol flavor adds to a perception of dryness.

other flavors like maltiness and fruitiness can enhance the perception of sweetness and hop bitterness can cover it up.

mashing low creates high amounts of short chain sugars and those sugars are metabolized by the yeast leaving less residual sweetness in the finished beer. but residual sweetness is a tricky thing, because the longer the chain of dextrin, the less sweet it tastes. it seems like there's a sweet spot (no pun intended) where the molecule is long enough to be unfermentable, but still short enough to sweeten the final product. in practice, these molecules seem to be favorably produced when mashing in the high 150s farenheit.

i've seen charts that assign different levels of sweet or dry to ranges of final gravities (1.003-1.008 very dry, etc.) but final gravity seems to be more of a guideline than a reliable measure. a beer with a ton of alcohol and residual long chain dextrins will be drier than a low alcohol beer whose final gravity consists mostly of unfermented short(ish) chain dextrins, and it's quite possible the two could have the same fg.

i guess i'm just wondering how people think about sweetness and dryness, and what other methods folks might employ to change the sweetness of their finished beer.

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Old 11-18-2008, 05:13 PM   #2
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The higher alcohol would add to an "impression" of dryness along with the lower body.

Ex. Dry white wine. Thin crisp body with a astringency that puckers or "dries" the pallet.

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Old 11-18-2008, 07:19 PM   #3
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The only way to control dryness is controlling the fermentability of the wort. Mashing can help accomplish this. If you want a REALLY good understanding wort fermentability, check out the Brew Strong podcast on enzymes. (search brew strong on itunes store, its free).

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Old 11-18-2008, 07:31 PM   #4
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will do, thanks for the recommendation!

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Old 11-18-2008, 08:03 PM   #5
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Besides the component of residual sweetness on the tongue we should also consider "mouthfeel" which adds to the impression of sweetness without being sweet (does that make any sense?). The long chain sugars will contribute to this impression. Also astrigency will work counter to this impression (tannins). And I would have to go out on a limb and say that I feel higher alcohol actually contributes to a softer mouthfeel - ie enhances sweetness.

Try this : make a very dilute lemonade: just a bit of lemon and sugar. Taste it and now add a bit of vodka (one once per 350ml glass say): the mouthfeel becomes more soft and "sweet"

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Old 11-18-2008, 08:21 PM   #6
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i'll try it tonight. for science, of course

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Old 11-19-2008, 02:09 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by giligson View Post
Besides the component of residual sweetness on the tongue we should also consider "mouthfeel" which adds to the impression of sweetness without being sweet (does that make any sense?).
I definitely experienced this with my last batch of beer. I mashed way low on accident, 148F and the wort fermented all the way down to 1.006. Granted I've only tasted it just before bottling, but it has some residual sweetness, but almost no body to the beer. Hence me renaming the beer to Dry Guy Ale.
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Old 11-19-2008, 04:21 PM   #8
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i just tasted my recent belgian pale ale last night and i have to say WOW what a pear flavor! i use the duvel yeast, and i knew people had said that it has a pear character but i expected some aroma and maybe a hint of flavor. no way, it's a distinct unmistakeable pear flavor that tastes like i poured some pear juice in my beer. it wasn't unpleasant and the beer is still young so it'll probably fade some, but safe to say i was taken off guard. (for those who are curious, the ambient temp in the room was 68 degrees the whole time, i figured that'd be low enough to keep the esters from getting out of hand).

the other thing i noticed though, is that despite the reasonable alcohol content ~5% and the rather low fg 1.008, i definitely percieve a sweetness even though the pear flavor is more of a tartness. although by the numbers this would seem to be a dry beer, it definitely doesn't taste that way. my girlfriend even kind of likes it, and she doesn't like beer hardly at all!

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Old 11-19-2008, 04:45 PM   #9
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Dry, as I use it, refers to the finish. Nothing cloying, nothing stick sweet on the pallet, but a nice crisp clean drying finish that makes you want to take another drink would puckering your lips.

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