Struggling to finish three articles this week, one of which is about beer defects, I figured I’d make that the topic for my seventh Top 10 list. To me, the curious thing about defects and identifying them for judging purposes is that everyone’s palates are different to some degree. Each person’s tolerances for different flavors and aromas vary wildly, making consensus very difficult, in some cases impossible. For example, I have a very high tolerance for diacetyl. For me to get that butterscotch or buttery character it has to be very concentrated. Other people I taste with regularly are very sensitive to it, making for lively discussions whenever a beer has marked levels of diacetyl. For that matter, some people really like the buttery character of diacetyl so for them it’s not a defect at all, but a desirable quality. Certainly, it worked for Redhook ESB. And of course, there are a few styles for which low levels are acceptable and even desirable. So who’s to say at what level it’s good or bad. While there are standards that have been agreed upon somewhat, the reality is that they can only be a guideline because of the variation in people’s personal palates. So while one might be tempted to believe that all defects are equal, in my experience that’s simply not true at all. Anyway, here’s List #7:
Top 10 Least Favorite Defects
|Vanilla I don’t dislike vanilla per se, just when it’s overdone. That’s a fine line to be sure, but I’m pretty sensitive to vanilla so even a little goes a long way for me. Many barrel aged beers take on that vanillan character and often times it’s too much as far as I’m concerned. The vanilla only works when it’s subtle and restrained.
|Catty People who I taste with regularly can usually predict my reaction to certain beers, so averse is my initial reaction to beers with cattiness — which I generally refer to as cat piss. I can appreciate the character in well-hopped beer, but it only works for me if the balance is there. Often, this is less a defect and more the choice of a particular hop or hops that imparts this character. Too much cat, and I scat.
|Cardboard Ugh, wet cardboard or paper, whether from age or oxidation, is hard to swallow. I can’t stand the smell when it’s actually wet paper, much less when it’s in my beer.
|Plastic I’m pretty tolerant here, so a beer has to be very phenolic for me to pick up on it, so by the time I do, it’s probably bad. Here, I’m referring to the phenolics that comes from the water used which gives it a very plastic, artificial taste.
|Vinegar I know people like vinegar on their fish and chips, but I’m not one of those people. I don’t like vinegar in anything. I don’t even like pickles to be even touching my food, that’s how much I hate vinegar. Of course, I had a traumatic incident in kindergarten involving a pickle, so my bias is probably not normal. Don’t ask me for the details if you’re planning on eating within an hour of hearing the story. It’s sort of like swimming after a meal.
|Cabbage I can’t stand eating cabbage, so I’m no fan of it in my beer, either. Plus, the idea of the bacteria contamination that usually causes Dimethylsulfide (or DMS) makes me queasy just thinking about it.
|Medicinal The band-aid or diaper aromas and flavor, the Chlorophenols of the phenolics family, aren’t always bad, but when they are too strong, boy they’re hard to overlook. It’s their artificial quality that I just can’t abide.
|Solvent This can also be described as acetone or laquer thinner, and makes me queasy just thinking about that smell, let alone when faced with it. Finding this strongly in the nose makes it hard to even take a sip of it. I once accidentally swallowed a small amount of gasoline when I was in my early teens — which I don’t recommend. That’s what a beer that’s overly solventlike reminds me of; yuck.
|Sulfur Who likes the smell of rotten eggs? Anyone? Bueller, Bueller? A sign of a serious problem of contamination, this is one of those pour-it-down-the-drain beers that usually leaves me wondering how it made it into the bottle in the first place.
|Skunky While arguably not as bad as some of the more process defects, lightstruck makes the top spot for me because it’s a problem that’s so easily fixed. All it would take to remove this problem is to use a can or a brown bottle, but marketing concerns are more important for those companies that continue to use clear and green glass. You just have to shake your head at the idiocy.
You already know why diacetyl didn’t make my list. What makes yours?
Also, if you have any ideas for future Top 10 lists you’d like to see, drop me a line.