Aroma, Tasting, & Flavor Terms

The flavor , aroma and taste in beer are connected. What aroma comes from the beer influences just how we taste the beer. Depending on the style of beer, the flavor and aroma can vary tremendously from florals, pepper, citrus, bread, raisin, chocolate, pine, grass, toffee, banana, earth, nuts, biscuit, coffee, cloves, tropical fruit, etc. The list goes to describe various flavors, aromas and tastes you experience.

AROMAS

Almond (benzaldehyde) is a bitter almond, marzipan, or cherrystone like flavor and aroma that can occur in beers. Almond notess can be produced during the wort production and modified by yeast during fermentation. It is also released during beer aging of beer in package. In the case of fruit beers, benzaldehyde can also be imparted to the beer by specialty raw materials, e.g. cherries.

Biscuity is a malt like, biscuit or grainy flavor that occurs in beers. A normal flavor that occurs in beer this is generally seen as a positive attribute, but at higher concentrations this can become an off flavor. Not to be confused with biscuit malt.

Since beer is generally made out of the same ingredients as bread — with the exception / addition of hops — many beers can taste bready, depending on the grain bill (different grains contribute different flavors). Such bread-like flavors are common in lagers (particularly German lagers), some Belgian styles, as well as malty British beers.

Cacao nibs (theobroma cacao) give you the distinct natural bitter-sweet coco aroma and will provide a subdued coco or brownie-like, nutty, roastey flavor. Cacao nibs are the crushed pieces of the cocoa bean that has been fermented, dried, roasted, and hulled: the first steps on the way to becoming chocolate. Each nib is roughly the size of a barleycorn and can be used directly in the mash, the boil, or suspended in conditioning beer like hops or spices.

Depending on the combination of the specific yeast and ingredients, a number of spice-like aromas may occur, in particular a clove like flavor. The characteristic clove flavor is very appropiate in some South German wheat beer, Hefeweizen, and arises from phenols produced during the fermentation process.

A hint of coffee flavor is common for stouts and porters. Suggestions of coffee can be produced by dark malts alone, but “coffee stouts” are a common sub-style brewed with actual coffee. This will generally be made clear by the name of the beer.

Dark Caramel is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

A noticeable dark chocolate flavor and aroma is created from the use of darker, more aromatic malt that has been roasted or kilned until it acquires a chocolate color. Although chocolate malt alone will not necessarily create a beer with a chocolate-like flavor or aroma, many of the beers that use a chocolate malt will have a flavor and aroma that is best compared to chocolate.

Bearing the scent or taste of plums, figs, dates, cherries and/or grapes.

Nutty aromas most often associated with ales made from well-toasted crystal malt. Examples include English style Brown Ales that tend to be particularly nutty.

Possessing flavors of or akin to honey; common in lambics, weissbier and gueuze.

A sweet, coppery-colored malt. Caramel or crystal malt imparts both color and flavor to beer. Caramel malt has a high concentration of unfermentable sugars that sweeten the beer and, contribute to head retention.

Some malt flavor is present in nearly every beer, but it can be diminished or insignificant in some — light, super-hoppy IPAs, for example, or super dry sour beers. Other styles are composed of almost nothing but malty flavors: think Scottish ales, strong ales, barleywines, Oktoberfests, dunkels, and many German lagers. While “malty” implies some degree of sweetness, as malts are responsible for contributing sugar in the first place, a beer can retain clean malt flavors without tasting rich, or overly sweet. Various malts can create varying flavors, some of which will taste sweeter than others regardless of residual sugar content.

A typical flavor and aroma from the use of several hop varieties. It also can arise from some ale yeasts. The flavor is positive if it does not overwhelm the beer.

A beer with the aromas and flavors reminiscent of dried grapes. Typical in beers made with very dark malts and to a high alcohol content, such as in imperial stouts. This flavor develops during fermentation.

Tastes or scents of almonds or (slightly sweeter) marzipan. Almond (benzaldehyde) is a bitter almond, marzipan, or cherrystone like flavor that can occur in beers. Almond flavors can be produced during the wort production and modified by yeast during fermentation. It is also released during beer aging of beer in package. In the case of fruit beers, benzaldehyde can also be imparted to the beer by specialty raw materials, e.g. cherries.

Toffee Caramel, buttery scents or tastes that are evocative of English toffee. Toffee flavor is a malt characteristic, especially in Vienna-style Marzen, and Octoberfest amber lagers. The flavor is very appetizing if it does not overwhelm the beer.

Vanilla is perceived as a custard like, cream soda or ice cream flavor. Vanilla is normally a positive flavor to some beer styles, e.g. ales and stouts, however it can also have formed during ageing. This flavor is one of a number of phenolic compounds that can occur in beer. Vanilla is caused by the breakdown of barley cell wall materials. It can also be formed due to the breakdown of phenolic flavor components during beer storage.

The use of oak and beech woods in flavoring beer has recently become popular again with brewers. Oak is the most commonly used flavoring, and imparts the sense of vanilla, butteriness, sweet spice, diacetyl, toasted flavor or woodiness. Oak flavoring is associated with darker, older beers such as English and some Scotch ales such as Old Ales, Stouts, Porters, Browns, IPAs and some Bitters.

TASTE

Hops impart bitterness, and hops are one of the main ingredients of beer, therefore bitterness is one of the main flavor components of beer. Bitterness can be either harsh or smooth, depending on the hop varieties used for bittering. However, bitterness can be distinct from “hoppiness” — a beer can have strong hoppy flavors and aromas without tasting particularly bitter, or vice versa.

The ‘perception’ of sea air is a very valid tasting note, even if there isn’t actually a raised salt level in the beer. Additionally, when sodium (and to a lesser extent potassium) is present –similar to using salt in food– it enhances flavors, making them bolder and deeper. Can occasionally be found in beers made using natural mineral water sources.

Sour beer — an own styles these days, with multiple sub-styles — is beer that has undergone a unique fermentation process involving yeast and bacteria different from those typically used in brewing. Sourness, or acidity, is a mouth-puckering flavor enhanced by the fact that these beers are typically bone-dry. Very little malt character remains in most sour beers; comparisons can be made to kombucha or even extremely dry white wine. Fermentation and dryness will bring out subtle fruity flavors, while some sour styles (like fruit lambics) will use actual fruit to compliment the beer’s ripe, tart flavors. Nonetheless, sourness is a process and can therefore be found to different degrees in different beers; varying fermentation techniques will also result in varying types of sour flavors. Beers brewed with a sour mash, for example, tend to be less bitingly acidic, and less complex.

Sweetness generally implies a profile both high in residual sugar and rich malts. The maltier the beer, the sweeter it is likely to be. Some styles, such as imperial stouts and barleywines, are inherently sweet due to the massive amounts of malt required to create them. However, sweetness can be masked by various factors, such as hops or fermentation (highly attenuative yeast), allowing for a beer that tastes malty but not overly rich.

Umami was first identified in 1907 by Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University, and confirmed as the fifth flavor by Oxford University in 2000. Umami is a savory, ‘meaty’ flavor that only really applies to aged beers, which are nearly always strong in flavor.

An aggressive beer has a boldly assertive aroma and/or taste.

Balanced simply means that the malt and hops are in similar proportions, and the flavor has an equal representation of malt sweetness and hop bitterness — especially at the finish.

The body is the sensation of fullness, or viscosity, of a beer on the palate, ranging from watery to creamy. Beer is generally described as thin-, light-, medium-, or full-bodied (strongsimply refers to alcohol content).

Complex means the beer is multidimensional, involving many flavors and sensations on the palate (the opposite of simple).

Crisp means the beer is highly carbonated or effervescent. Beers regarded as crisp are typically on the drier side as well.

Hoppy means the hops have earthy, herbal, spicy, or citrusy aromas and flavors.

Malty describes flavors derived from malted grain. Malty beers have a more pronounced malt richness and sweetness.

Mouthfeel is the tactile sensations of alcoholic warmth, carbonation, dryness, and the like. Body is also part of mouthfeel.

Roasty/toasty describes the malt (roasted grain) flavors.

Robust describes a rich and full-bodied beer.

Robust describes a beer with subdued smolder, spicy & meaty tastes or flavors.

OFF-FLAVORS

A flavor and aroma of fresh-cut green apples, which can be compared to grass, green leaves and latex paint. Typically it is reduced to ethanol by the yeast during the secondary fermentation, but oxidation of the finished beer may reverse this process, converting ethanol to acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is generally present in green beer or if the beer is prematurely removed from the yeast.

Alcoholic is a desirable property in some beers such as barley wines & bocks, but undesirable in most other styles. Detected as a hot, slightly spicy flavor, it manifests in the nose as a fragrant vinous aroma, warming prickly sensation on the lips, tongue & back of the throat. Primary cause is from Ethanol, though other alcohols may be present as well; collectively these are called fusel oils. They can be produced from high temperature and/or excessive ferments – in which case imparts a more solvent-like character. It can also be created by excessive fermentable sugars via malt or adjuncts. During mash, lower temperatures can produce more fermentables that convert to alcohol. Age may also contribute to production as live yeast in the beer continues to mature.

Bitterness is a desirable flavor characteristic in beer, whereas astringency is not. Where bitterness is perceived in specific areas of the tongue, astringency is perceived throughout the entire mouth. It is a dry grain-like, mouth-puckering, tannic, vinegarish-to-intensely-tart sensation that is deduced entirely from taste & not from aroma, & akin to chewing on grape skins. Though astringency may arise from bacterial contamination & subsequent formation of acetic or lactic acid, it is more commonly associated with ill-considered formulation or processing. However it should be noted that excessively-hopped over-attenuated pale beers display astringency (from hops) more so than from sweeter richer styles.

Excessive bitterness, is perceived as a harsh dry taste mostly on the back of the tongue, usually due to over-hopping, especially with high alpha hops. Roasted malts and a high concentration of magnesium and sulfate ions will also add to the overall bitterness. Bitter flavors are also produced as a result of oxidation or contamination by wild yeast, typically there are usually other off-flavors present. High levels of hop bitterness are appropriate in IPAs and barleywines, while bitterness due to roasted barley/malt is appropriate in robust porters and dry stouts.

Diacetyl is recognized as a buttery or butterscotch flavor often accompanied by a “slickness” on the palate. Low levels are appreciable & desirable in some styles of beer. It is generated as a fermentation byproduct that may be reabsorbed, depending on process and strain, or as a bacterial infection. Extended warmer temperatures during fermentations tends to reduce diacetyl. Worts with high ratios of adjuncts tend to produce higher diacetyl levels. Additionally diacetyl removal is affected by the constituents of the wort. Early fermentation cooling may result in higher diacetyl levels by virtue of Time verse removal mechanisms in contact with beer. Agitated ferments reduces diacetyl by increasing surface area over Time (rousting), however care must be taken not to facilitate production of acetaldehyde!

Dimethyl Sulfide is a volatile sulfur-based organic compound which, if present in excessive amounts contributes a flavor & aroma akin to cooked canned corn or celery. Source of contamination can come from “wort bacteria”, and/or relating to process, such as the presence of precursors due to malting, infected yeast that is repitched, long lag time before fermentation, chilling fermentation too soon, or too high initial fermentation temperature. Treatments include proper sterilization of equipment, boiling wort for at least an hour – especially with canned extracts, & following proper fermentation practices.

Esters are aromatic compounds identified as fruity and estery at high levels, and may include descriptions such as banana-, apple-, and pearlike or grapefruity. It can be desirable in some styles of beer. Aside from the obvious fruit addition, Esters are typically a byproduct of fermentation and characterized by the yeast strain, some being able to produce more esters than others. Higher gravity beers will tend to produce more esters than lower gravities. Aeration at the beginning of fermentation high fermentation temperatures, and excessive trub will produce more esters. They may be reduced with time and age to closely related fusel alcohols and solvent-like acids.

This is the flavor and aroma of freshly cut grass or green leaves. Responsible compounds include the aldehydes hexanal and heptanal, which are produced by the oxidation of alcohols in the finished beer or the deterioration of improperly stored malt or hops. Some English and American hop varieties produce grassy notes if used in large quantities, but this flavor should not be a significant part of the profile.

This may be perceived in both the aroma and the taste and is reminiscent of the flavor of spent grains. Possible causes include overcrushing, oversparging or sparging with hot or alkaline water. Long mashes may also leach these flavors from the grain husks. Grainy flavors can also be contributed by highly toasted malts. Cold conditioning the beer for a month or two will often cause these harsh compounds to settle out with the yeast.
Light-Struck, or sun-struck, is a strong aroma that also imparts on flavor best described as skunky or catty, and is a sulfur-based corruption of hop flavor due to light exposure. Sunlight and particularly fluorescent light are particularly damaging to beer, especially if bottling with clear or green glass. Classic examples of skunky beer is Corona, Rolling Rock, St. Pauli Girl, Moosehead, Heineken, Becks, Samuel Smiths, and even Pilsner Urquell. Some breweries protect their beer against light damage by using pre-isomerized hop extract which are less prone to breaking down into skunky aromas than regular hop products such as Miller Genuine Draft which comes in clear glass.
Phenolics are more prominent as an off-aroma, but also are imparted in the flavor of beer. It is described as medicinal, band-aid-like, smokey, clove-like, and plastic-like. Except in certain styles where small amounts are appropriate – clove-like, vanilla-like or slightly smoky flavors and aromas in Bavarian wheat beers and some Belgian ales – phenols are hugely unacceptable. High levels of phenols are generally produced by bacteria or wild yeast, both of which indicate a sanitation problem. Phenols can also be a byproduct of overcrushing, oversparging or sparging grain husks with hot or alkaline water.
The undesirable metallic off-flavor is produced by certain chemicals that are harsh & unpleasant akin to the aroma & taste of a rusty nail, & may make beer undrinkable in extreme cases. Other metallic descriptions include tinny, coinlike, & bloodlike. Primary control metallic off-flavors would be to eliminate all sources of contact with beer & iron/aluminum surfaces, such as unplated mild steel, aluminum & cast iron. Look for high iron concentrations in brewing water (example: Clackamas County, Oregon) & treat or replace accordingly. Furthermore, cleaning stainless steel or copper without passivating (oxidizing the surfaces to form a protective layer of oxide on the metal) can also cause this, especially with new equipment. Lastly, use quality malt products & store them in correct containers under proper conditions.
This is a stale aroma and taste associated with the oxidation of malt compounds in the melanoidin family. This oxidation can occur in the mash or boil by way of hot side aeration or by exposure to air when racking or bottling. The responsible compounds may be later transformed to their reduced state by oxidizing alcohols into aldehydes. Musty flavors are generally not desirable, but may be found in some cellared beer styles such as Bière de Garde.
Oxidation manifests as stale, sherry-winey, rotten-fruit or vegetable, cardboard, & papery. The characteristics are perceived in either aroma & flavor or both. Primary causes are old beer, extra oxygen introduced via bottling/kegging, & controlling temperature throughout the process. Avoid too much airspace in the bottle, warm temperatures, & excessive aging; drink your beer when it’s still viable!
This is the aroma and taste of dry sherry and is often accompanied by hazelnut or almond notes. The responsible compounds are oxidized members of the melanoidin family. This flavor is one of the few positive flavors attributed to oxidation and adds complexity to barleywines and old ales. Sherry-like flavors are considered a defect in most other styles, particularly low-gravity ales.
Soapy flavors can caused by not washing your glass very well, but they can also be produced by the fermentation conditions. If you leave the beer in the primary fermentor for a relatively long period of time after primary fermentation is over (“long” depends on the style and other fermentation factors), soapy flavors can result from the breakdown of fatty acids in the trub. Soap is, by definition, the salt of a fatty acid; so you are literally tasting soap.
Solvent off-flavors have a pungent, acrid aroma followed by a harsh, burning (not warming) sensation on the back of the tongue that persists in bad cases. The most common cause is from ethyl acetate wherein ethanol is esterified by acetic acid from higher temperature fermentations, though wild yeasts may also impart production of ethyl acetate. Prevention includes proper sterilization of equipment and avoidance of excessive ferment temperatures.
Though appropriate for Lambics, Sour & Acidic flavors are considered contaminants for other styles. They are perceived as a sour aroma, tartness or vinegarlike flavor on the sides of the tongue (such as with lemon juice). The primary causes are Enteric, Lactobacillus, & Pediococcus bacteria which produce lactic & acetic acids. The production of these acids are enhanced by addition of too much refined sugar, citric or ascorbic acid.
Cooked vegetable is an off-flavor described best as cooked corn, cabbage or broccoli. It is caused by low levels of sulfur-based compounds primarily perceived in aroma & to a lesser extent in flavor. Primary source is from malt or malt extract. The first corrective step would be to purchase better quality product. If flavor persists, engage in longer boils to drive off those nasty volatiles. Bacteria may also produce sulfur compounds responsible for cooked vegetable via wort and/or yeast infection. Reuse of yeast without proper controls may introduce bacteria that eventually causes flavor degradation.
Sulfur flavors and aromas manifest in a variety of ways, from very low levels that are imperceptible to very high levels that is best described as rotten eggs. Sulfur-dioxide (SO2) is produced in very low amounts from mashing, but is driven off by a rigorous boil, otherwise the character imparts a sharp, biting flavor and aroma that is accentuated by oxidation. Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) is created in the boil in the presence of copper and is driven off by both aggressive boiling and warmer ale fermentation by escaping CO2, which explains why lager fermentation is more susceptible. Mutant yeasts that have defective metabolic pathways can produce excessive amounts of H2S that may linger enough to contaminate the flavor of the beer. Light-struck beer can create sulfur compounds because of corruption of the hop flavor. Formation of DMS is also a source from either malting or as a yeast by-product. Enteric bacteria can cause DMS-producing critters, but can be held at bay by good sanitation and by the natural lowering of pH though a healthy ferment by adding sufficient yeast. For larger breweries, recovering the CO2 can result in accumulation of sulfur compounds without proper scrubbing and filtration. Lastly, sulfur contamination can occur from allowing the beer to sit too long on the yeast, thus resulting in the breakdown of yeast walls though autolysis.