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Opinion: Why "Tasty" is Subjective

Opinion

Have you or a loved one ever tasted a beer that reminded you of overripe fruit, gym socks, or moldy cheese? Did you like it? If so, you may have contracted a moderate to severe case of Funkitis.

Kidding! Beer is a strange, wonderful world of flavors, and what may delight or intrigue your palate doesn’t necessarily mean your drinking buddy will dig it too. (And it doesn’t help that our taste buds are fickle little beasts with little consistency between person to person.)

There are common “off-flavors” in beer that signify the emergence of unwanted chemicals in the brewing process. Some common notes that tell us a beer is contaminated are green apples, plastic, iodine, rancid butter, or astringent, metallic flavors. But contamination isn’t what we’re talking about right now: instead let’s go on a sensory journey through the unexpected and oddly pleasurable flavor possibilities of beer.

With the amount of experimentation in brewing, there’s a gamut of unique, off-the-wall flavors out there that are completely intentional. Brettanomyces (or simply Brett if you’re more the informal type), the primary “funk-maker” culture in fermentation, is used in a huge variety of styles -- but that doesn’t mean its particular brand of odorous musty charm works its magic on everyone. Its kinda like how cilantro tastes like soap to some people: different strokes for different folks, simple as that.

Here at Tavour, our team collectively tastes enough beer in any given week to get an Orca drunk (ok, admittedly I haven’t run the numbers on this, but it’s probably at least an approximation of the truth). We experience so many vivid flavors, from delicious to downright weird, that sometimes the subjectively “bad” are the ones that stand out the most. I’ve rounded up some real quotes from our staff highlighting some select unforgettable tasting notes, for better or for worse:

  • “Smells like armpits, but not the good kind. I usually like armpit, but not this armpit.”

  • “It’s not necessarily hot, but the spice is there. Kinda like chili-lime Takis or some other bottom shelf gas station spicy snack.”

  • “This smells like caramel diesel but tastes like bitter lettuce.”

  • “It’s like a pour-over with old coffee grounds and a bunch of compost on top.”

  • “Red pepper aromas… woody. Like slightly burnt pizza crust bottom. Tastes like caramel and creamy char.”

  • “Tastes like a pickle sandwich!”

  • “Like moldy fruit run over by a car. Smells like a Goodwill. Old man hats and an uncleaned bowling bag.”

  • “Vinegary mangoes and Indian pickles.”

  • “There’s some real meaty thing going on. Like, chocolatey roast beef.”

  • “The aroma is pretzels and rubber… some tomatoes and apples. Tastes like dry boozy pretzels. Weird.”

  • “This tastes like a pocket full of coins.”

  • “It’s a bit sickly sweet, odd. JUST LIKE VANILLA YOGURT.”

Even though brewing is a science, there’s certainly artistry and unforeseen magic involved too. It can’t always be perfect. And even if it’s perfect to your palate, it may be an unspeakable atrocity to the person sitting next to you at the brewery. So whether or not you’re a fan of funk, a supporter of sulphur, a benefactor of butter, or an ally to astringency, we should all celebrate the colorful spectrum of flavors in the vibrant world of beers, and toast to those we won’t forget -- or couldn’t, even if we wanted to.

Written by Sigmund Steiger

Featured image from Evil Twin Brewing Facebook page

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