Another weekend, another round of beers and I have to say that sweetness in a beer can be overdone.I am not talking about under attenuation, when the yeast give up on eating the sugars that produce alcohol, leaving the remaining brew a bit syrupy and thick.That can be used to great advantage in some higher gravity beers, like imperial stouts, barleywines and double IPA’s where you need some residual sweetness to balance out all the alcohol and hops (and roast malts in the case of the imperial stout).I’m talking about sweet ingredients: fruit juices or syrups, raw sugars, chocolate and so forth.I had “banana stout” yesterday that was so sweet, I couldn’t finish the 5 ounce sample.In the same brewery there was also a key lime wheat (tasted like pie) and a peanut butter stout, which were all over the top sweet.
Brock Wagner, the owner of Saint Arnold Brewing Company in Houston, Texas has an interesting criteria that has served him well when evaluating a test batch of beer for production.He will drink a pint of the beer and if he wants a second pint after finishing the first, he has a winner.(He never said what he does if he wants more than two pints of a test batch, but it’s probably safe to assume that beer gets pushed to the front of the production list and the brewer gets a bonus!)It’s a fundamental human trait that we respond to sweetness favorably.(Which makes hop heads like me something of an aberration, I guess...)Newborn babies have a built in reaction to liking sweet foods and rejecting anything that’s bitter.If you think about it, this makes perfect sense.How many sweet foods can you think of that are dangerous to eat (apart from becoming diabetic or rotting your teeth over time, that is?)Now think about all the poisonous things out in the world that try to warn you they aren’t good for you by tasting bitter?
Ultimately, in beer it comes down to balance.Sweet can be very cloying and hard to drink much of, while bitter can also prove problematic if there’s not enough residual sweetness to keep the beer in balance.Everyone’s going to have a preference, but when a beer crosses the line into soda-pop territory, that’s where I tend to draw the line.Word to the wise:Next time you see that improbable Jolly Rancher Green Apple Wit or the Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Valentine’s Stout on the menu, ask for a taste before you spring for a pint.You can thank me later!
Bev Blackwood II is the Southwest Brewing News Contributing Editor for Texas and has been covering Texas beers for 17 years An award winning home brewer, Bev has also brewed professionally at St. Arnold Brewing Company and was part of the team that brought home Saint Arnold’s first Great American Beer Festival gold medal in 2007. A long time member of Houston’s premiere homebrew club, the Foam Rangers, Bev teaches their Beer Judge Certification Program course and has also taught at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.