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Old 07-17-2009, 11:29 PM   #1
marubozo
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Default Trying to Troubleshoot a Lingering Bitter Aftertaste

Hey gang, got a n00b question here. I'm just now starting to crack open an occasional bottle of my cream ale and it's wonderful except for one little nagging thing. There is a lingering bitterness that hangs out at the very back of your tongue after taking a drink. When you taste it, it's actually very balanced and you don't get much bitterness at all, but as soon as you swallow the back of your tongue holds on to something and it detracts a bit from the refreshing quality. It's still very good and very drinkable, but I'm curious as to what could be causing it. My wife couldn't even notice it, but I do.

Basic procedure:

1.042 OG
1.009 FG

Basic light extract with some specialty grains. 1 oz. cascade (7.1%) at 60 min and 1 oz. cascade at 3 minutes. Did a 4.5 gal boil and then topped off. No late extract addition. Made a n00b mistake of pitching yeast starter a bit early and it was 75 degrees. I then quickly cooled the fermenter down to 67 by the time visible fermentation signs were showing. Sat in fermenter for about 3 weeks, bottled, and it's sat for another 3 weeks at 69-71 degrees or so.

Curiously enough, this bitter aftertaste has persisted ever since I tasted the first hydrometer sample. At the time I just figured it would just work itself out, but now I'm not so sure.

I know 3 weeks in the bottle is still on the early side, but it's also a quite low gravity beer. And I have tasted a bottle here and there throughout the conditioning process to try and learn how the flavors change as it matures, and it's clearly matured quite well other than the aftertaste.

So, I'm just trying to gain a better understanding of what might cause this. Is there a glaring error on my part? Is it something that could still mellow out as it sits in the bottles longer? I haven't jumped in head first and started drinking it yet and plan on letting them sit another week or two before handing them out to friends, but as long as I'm learning the ropes I might as well see if this is something I can fix via my brewing process, or really still just green, etc.

Either way, I'll drink the **** out of it because it's damn good



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Old 07-18-2009, 01:30 AM   #2
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Is the bitter aftertaste dry and almost powdery feeling? Did you either boil the specialty grains or squeeze out the bag after steeping? Either one of those can lead to tannin extraction and the aftertaste you describe.


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Old 07-18-2009, 01:40 AM   #3
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I would go with the let it sit another 2 weeks then try it again. This advice has worked for me on numerous occasions.
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Old 07-18-2009, 02:50 AM   #4
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I was testing a new beer from one of the larges breweries in Iceland.
It's called "Polar Beer" and it to has this bitter aftertaste that lingers on the back of your tongue.
Its a lager beer and I'd like to know what the heck it is that's causing it

Sorry I didn't mean to hijack or anything :]
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Old 07-18-2009, 06:48 AM   #5
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I'm also a noob and was having this problem. I spoke with the guy at the home brew store and he echoed exactly what Hagen said.
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Old 07-18-2009, 02:01 PM   #6
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I am having the exact same problem. My beer is great until just after I swallow. I wish I could end the experience there. See this thread:
http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f12/help...ooting-127428/

I had a theory (not proven), but marubozo's recipe reminds me of another possibility. My original theory is that the water you're brewing with contains high levels of both sodium and sulfate. From Palmer's How to Brew, regarding sodium:

{At levels of 70 - 150 ppm it rounds out the beer flavors, accentuating the sweetness of the malt. But above 200 ppm the beer will start to taste salty. The combination of sodium with a high concentration of sulfate ions will generate a very harsh bitterness. Therefore keep at least one or the other as low as possible, preferably the sodium.}

The reason why this is a problem for us is because we're using extract. When you use extract, you obviously get the salts from your water, but you also get the salts from the water that the extract was made in. For example if your water contains 150ppm sodium and 150ppm sulfate, and the water that the extract was made in contains 150ppm sodium and 150ppm sulfate you get a total of 300ppm sodium and 300ppm sulfate. I have no reason to believe that these levels wouldn't cause a harsh bitterness.

Now the numbers I gave are a bit high, but they are possible. My water contains 200ppm sodium and 160ppm sulfate. If I were to assume that the extract I used contained 75ppm sodium and 100ppm sulfate (middle of the road numbers), that would bring the total to 275ppm and 260ppm respectively. I'm almost positive that is where my harsh bitter aftertaste is coming from. I've been planning to do a small scale brew to prove this theory, but haven't gotten around to it. Maybe I'll do so this weekend. I would need to pick up a growler, a couple of bungs, an airlock, and some hops. If I do, I will definitely report back in a new thread.

Another thing that marubozo's recipe has in common with mine is cascade hops. Does anyone know if the cascade could be causing this for some reason?
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Old 07-18-2009, 02:30 PM   #7
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Hmm, that's interesting. I didn't boil the steeping grains or squeeze the bag so it probably isn't an astringency associated with that. We do have well water and it's usually quite hard so we use a water softener, which I'd assume adds noticeable sodium to the water.

What do people use to test their water? Is there like a standard water testing kit everyone uses or something?
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Old 07-18-2009, 02:44 PM   #8
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Ward Laboratories, Agricultural Testing, Consulting, Kearney, Nebraska

I haven't used them because I got my water report from my town, but I saw another person recommend them.

About the water softener, that really starts to support my theory. Also from Palmer's How to Brew:

{Sodium can occur in very high levels, particularly if you use a salt-based (i.e. ion exchange) water softener at home. In general, you should never use softened water for mashing. You probably needed the calcium it replaced and you definitely don't need the high sodium levels.}

If you haven't read Chapter 15 of How to Brew, I strongly recommend you do. It talks about mashing mostly, but I think the water chemistry really does affect the extract brewer quite a bit.
How to Brew - By John Palmer - Understanding the Mash pH

I need to get testing this theory.
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Old 07-18-2009, 08:08 PM   #9
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Thanks for the info jescholler. I hate to jump to conclusions and will still give the beer more time, but at the same time if this is a water issue I want to nip it in the bud before making any more. It's bad enough that I have 4 brews going right now that could very well all end up with this issue.

I just glossed over that palmer chapter when I read the book because I assume the "if your water is good to drink, it's good to brew with" and that until I got into mashing it was less of an issue.

Just for grins and giggles I popped open a bottle of my amber ale that I know isn't done yet just to see the flavor profile so far, and the exact lingering characteristics of a bitterness is there also. I'll be pretty bummed if this doesn't clear up on its own.

I guess I should just get a water test anyway to see what's up and in the meantime use bottled water for any upcoming brews for a comparison.
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Old 07-18-2009, 09:29 PM   #10
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I was also fooled by the "if your water is good to drink, it's good to brew with". That's the main reason I didn't give my water further criticism. Palmer knows his stuff, so I'm not sure why he would lead us down that path. Maybe he just didn't want us to get too burdened with the water aspect, and just brew beer. In the end, it isn't that bad and I'll still drink mine.

On a positive note, I just purchased the equipment and ingredients for my experiment. I have 1lb. of Muntons Amber DME. I'm going to split that between 2 <0.5 gallon batches fermented in 0.5 gallon growlers. Both batches will have a 60 minute addition of Hallertau to get 37IBUs. For one batch, I'll use all tap water, and maybe add some gypsum to bump up the sulfate level. For the other batch, I'll use all distilled water, and go with the extract's water profile. If my theory is correct, the tap water batch should have a harsh bitterness and the distilled water batch shouldn't (hopefully the extract isn't high in sodium and sulfate). Keep an eye out for the results.


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