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Old 02-11-2013, 03:41 AM   #1
svenalope
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Default Acetaldehyde?

Hey guys! I'm pretty new to beer, but been making fruit/vegetable wine for a while. I made my first batch a couple months ago, a barleywine with homemade base malt. It fermented pretty well, although I was worried in the beginning because I had some heavy vegetable smells, which I decided were probably from the ****ty homemade malt.
Anyway, I've been sampling it, about a bottle a week, to see if it's carbonated well. It finally has, and today I had a brewday and had some friends over to celebrate the beermaking process. It's the first time anyone besides me has had this barleywine, and nobody liked it at all. My pal who also brews immediately called me out on 'off flavors' and I took a taste of it and noticed it for the first time. The stuff I'm used to making has some weird hot flavors and that really works for a lot of it, and I'll drink anything, but after having it pointed out to me, this is a pretty disagreeable thing to have in my beer.
We looked through John Palmer and couldn't nail it to anything besides acetaldehyde. I've been chalking it up to the massive hopping that comes with barleywines, although it is really very different from any hop flavor I've tasted. Anyway, it doesn't really taste like green apples or any of the flavors I've seen acetaldehyde described as, so I'm not sure if that's what it is. It does taste kind of chemical and also quite bitter, and slightly astringent. So, here are my questions for you cats:
Do you think it's acetaldehyde? What are some other things it could be?
I know barleywine has to age a long time (this guy was 1.090 OG, which is a bit low for my taste, but pretty high for beer I guess), and this has been bottled for like a month. Does acetaldehyde condition out? I have no doubts that the beer in general will get better with age, but I really want this flavor gone now that I've had it pointed out to me.

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Old 02-11-2013, 04:19 AM   #2
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Cheap whiskey, I think, is the flavor that I'm tasting. Not the ****ty ethanol/solvent flavor, but another one that doesn't exactly taste like things not fit for consumption. Just.. offensive, and something that could probably be considered a style.

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Old 02-11-2013, 04:44 AM   #3
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The best description I got for acetaldehyde (from a Master Cicerone during a class) was "the smell that really drunk people have on their breath". Being an ex-cop, I instantly made the connection to every really bad DUI/PI I had ever hooked up.

Judging by your comment of "cheap whiskey", Im going to say that your friend is spot on.

Something to remember about acetaldehyde is that it is an intermediary between ethanol and sugars. That is, when sugar is turned to alcohol, it passes through a stage as acetaldehyde (and vice-versa when the body breaks down the ethanol in the liver, thus why it is what I was associating it with really drunk people).

As an off effect in beer, it is most easily cured by a longer fermentation, as the yeast is not done making it into ethanol yet. The only concern would be if you had reached the alcohol tolerance of the yeast strain you were using, in which case you might have to pitch something with a higher tolerance to finish the beer.

side note: The Cicerone class that I took was VERY interesting. I learned more about off-flavors and common brewing errors in 3 hours than I had learned in a year of brewing/researching beer making. If your not familiar, its a program Ray Daniels started to certify beer servers/experts in the same way Sommeliers are. Worth checking out.

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Old 02-11-2013, 06:45 AM   #4
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Well, a barleywine for one of your first batches is pretty adventurous. The majority of how a beer turns out is fermentation/yeast control and most people don't get it right their first time. Hence, the ample amount of off flavors.

It most likely isn't due to massive amounts of hopping.

Chemical/plastic to me means chlorinated water. So first step is make sure the water you are using isn't chlorinated.

The cheap whiskey, well maybe some hot alcohol flavors are going with the inherently high alcohol. Hot alcohol flavors can arise from warm fermentation temperatures. What did this beer ferment at?

Left over acetaldehyde can occur also as a side effect of an unhealthy fermentation, so sure there can be some acetaldehyde in your batch.

1.090 is a big beer. You absolutely need to do well with the yeast for a beer that big. In the future, check:

1. Yeast count. Use Mr. Malty for the proper count. If you can't make a starter for liquid yeast, use the correct amount of dry yeast.

2. Aerate your wort. Yeast need the oxygen to undergo a healthy fermentation. Some people say dry yeast don't need the aeration, but it doesn't hurt. Invest in a pure O2 injection system.

3. Fermentation temperature. Ferment on the cooler side for a cleaner profile (Low to mid 60's actual, not ambient, for example for WLP-001 or US-05). If you can't get it that low and stable, look into making a fermentation chamber.

If you take control of these 3 things, I guarantee you will notice much better beer.


My advice is to start off with a smaller, simpler beer (of course choose a style you also enjoy) and nail down your process before moving on to the bigger beers. I also hope your friend is helping you out rather than just "calling you out" on your off flavors. If hes been doing it a while, he should be able to help your next batch out a lot!

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Old 02-12-2013, 03:13 PM   #5
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If you made a 1.090 Barleywine a few months ago, I would expect it to have a fusel alchohol bite at this point. That's normal for a young Barleywine or anything of that high OG at this point.

This beer is going to need to age more like 6-12 months to condition into a smooth Barleywine. Higher ABV = exponentially longer conditioning time.

What you are tasting is NORMAL for a 2-3 month old barleywine. It's just not done. I wouldn't expect acetaldehyde unless it shows up in the FINAL conditioned beer. There is no point in opening, tasting, and trying to critique a beer that's not anywhere close to fully conditioned yet. Put it in a closet and forget about it until about June.

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Old 02-12-2013, 04:11 PM   #6
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Acetelaldehyde tastes like apples. Really bad cases can taste like apple cider. If it's really bad I don't think it will go away, but in my experience, a faint taste will recede with an extended cold conditioning.

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Old 02-13-2013, 11:48 PM   #7
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Thanks for the advice guys!
JWood - I think I aerated it pretty well just dumping from bucket to bucket - it foamed up pretty good. I also made a sufficient starter I think, a smack pack in honey and molasses, which they really seem to like. I'm not sure about fermentation temperature, been meaning to get one of those stick on thermometers but haven't gotten around to it. Does a few degrees really make a big difference?
TopherM - Good point. I'll just calm down and assume it's going to taste like nectar in a year.

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