Don’t be afraid to start brewing your own beer. Many have fears that their beer will taste bad or just not be up to the standards of their friends. Don’t think the time sink of all grain brewing might be a prohibiting factor in increasing the quality of your beer. You can create delicious beer with extract and not have any off flavors or “twang”.
Homebrew extract twang is a caramel and syrup taste created from sugars becoming unfermentable. Dry malt extract, or DME, is thought to be superior in preventing twang because it prevents scorching. Scorching will create burnt unfermentable sugar leading to homebrew twang.
Homebrew extract twang is sort of a cover all for issues when it comes to brewing with extract. Anything that makes your beer have an sugary caramel off flavor is the culprit here. It can even happen to all grain brewers, so how do you prevent it?
Preventing Homebrew Twang
The simple solution to preventing homebrew twang is to just move directly to DME or dry malt extract. But this isn’t always an option. After all many homebrew kits come with liquid malt extract or LME. This makes it difficult to avoid, but there are many ways to prevent your homebrew from becoming just another twang brew.
Make Sure You Are Boiling
Its important to maintain a consistent rolling boil. This way the LME does not stick to the bottom and scorch. Most of you will be using a stove-top for this, but make sure you are using a large burner that a large pot can fit over.
The rolling boil will keep the LME from sitting at the bottom. But you also need to make sure you are consistently stirring to keep the sugars from hitting the bottom before fully absorbing into the water. Any sugars that scorch on the bottom will become unfermentable.
You also need to be careful of scrapping up the LME once it does hit the bottom of the pot. That sugar is already lost to the homebrew gods, scraping it up will only lead to burnt sugar mixing with the water and making it into the carboy for fermentation. Ultimately this will make it into the finished beer attributing to that caramel off flavor even when its not intended.
If you look at the directions from Northern Brewer’s extract kit, it specifically notes that you need to leave any thick sludge at the bottom of the kettle. Homebrew twang is likely the reason for this.
Purchase from a Reputable Company
I’m all for supporting your local homebrew shop, but they need to make sure they are employing proper business practices. You need to buy fresh product. Imagine if you were go to the store and purchase 5 year old expired product. Its unacceptable!
The very same goes for purchasing extract for your homebrew, you want fresh quality ingredients. Old ingredients will lead to clumping and hardening. Think about that brown sugar that had access to some air. Its not great for baking. The same goes for LME in your homebrew.
If you are purchasing poor quality product, all the skill and precision you have won’t save your homebrew from the dreaded twang. Make sure you are sourcing properly.
This is the most difficult part of homebrewing, its also the most passive, so its often forgotten. When you are fermenting you need to make sure your yeast is consistently at the temperature range its most happy at.
A lot of yeast becomes unhappy past 75 degrees. So you will need to make sure it never goes above that. It can be difficult in hot climates so make sure this is followed.
Alternatively make sure the yeast you are using does not have a lower temperature range. Many lagers need to be fermented at much lower temperatures. Sometimes they need to even have their temperature adjusted. In these cases it is highly recommended to have temperature control.
Masking Extract Twang
Not everyone experiences the extract twang when brewing with extract, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still exist in the beer. They could just be masking it with other flavors so its almost nonexistent in the flavor profile. To the untrained tongue its like it isnt there.
Some ways people have managed to mask their home brew twang is by dry hopping and steeping specialty grains.
Dry hopping can add to the aroma and taste by adding the fruity and spicy notes in the hops. While specialty grains can add flavor to the overall beer giving it a deeper flavor that could mask the off taste.
You might even be able to use fruit or spices to mask the twang, but it could create a very overpowering and off balanced beer.
Dry Malt Extract
Dry malt extract tends to have a better shelf life than liquid malt extract. Because its only about 2 percent water it keeps better. But as soon as its exposed to the air it begins to take on moisture.
DME might be best utilized in smaller portions rather than purchasing in bulk for this very reason. If it can be kept dry it might not become an issue though.
Its been reported that many people seem to get rid of the off taste twang by purely switching to dry malt extract. There may be a few reasons for this but probably two that are most notable.
- Dry Malt Extract Lasts Longer.
- It’s easier to add to a boil.
Local home brew shops typically have lower product turnover, especially i more rural areas. This leads to lower quality ingredients. Since DME lasts longer its probably more profitable and has better turnover within its life span.
This could lead to the thought that DME is better, when its actually just inventory turnover, and expiration dates that are truly to blame.
Since dry malt doesn’t clump and can be spread into the boil much more easily it leads to less scorching and unfermentable sugar. Its low moisture also means it has less of a problem with temperature fluctuations in storage leading to an overall cleaner product being added to the boil.
Even All Grain Can Experience Twang
The other day my buddy had his homebrew evaluated by a local microbrewery. The Microbrewer commented that it was delicious and didn’t have any off flavors.
The off flavors he was referring to was that butter/caramel taste that homebrews often have. I wondered, if he brewed all grain why would this even be a problem?
Homebrew can often experience a buttery off taste often associated with Diacetyl in the beer. This can commonly be associated with “green” beer or beer that has not undergone a long enough period bottle conditioning.
You can’t judge a beer on this until it is at least a few monthes old. But this off flavor can also result after that time period and here is why.
- The fermentation temperature is not consistent with the yeast preference
- Insufficient nutrients for the yeast
- Lactic acid bacteria
- Rushed fermentation, not fermenting long enough before filtering yeast and bottling.
I know what your thinking, you might be a little bit freaked out by all this information. To be perfectly honest its not that scary, some beers even strive for that diacetyl flavor.
Its really not that negative, unless it comes from bacteria when bottling. You need to make sure you keep everything sterile when bottling so the beer does not continually produce off flavors.
One time I had a bottled homebrew that tasted terrible and I was freaked out at how disgusting it was only to find my friend enjoying it. Apparently my bottle had become infected, but his was perfectly fine.
Lagering and understanding Diacetyl rest
When brewing lagers you often keep the fermentation at very low temperatures. This is very different when brewing ales. Ales are consistently at higher temperatures and don’t require a period of time where they sit at higher temperatures.
Lagers by contrast after they have gone through the phase of sitting at a temperature near freezing, then need to be brought back up to a temperature where the yeast can work on eliminating the diacetyl flavors that are common in homebrews.
Could Scorching Happen in all Grain?
Since all grain producing a sugary water called wort right off the bat, thick sugary liquid is not really much of a problem when moving to the boil.
There are some problems that could arise when adding other ingredients to the boil though. For example if I were to brew a Belgian Tripel I would need to add sugar directly to the boil.
This could drop to the bottom of the pot directly in contact with the hottest part. This could cause a burn if not mixed and properly dissolved. It may even cause that off flavor in a finished beer.
Learn from the Twang
Don’t be discouraged if you are an extract brewer and have been called out on this. Every brewer experiences it at some point in their journey to craft an excellent beer.
Remember the common homebrew flavor known as twang can be remedied with experience and caution. If you don’t have the time or money to move to all grain brewing there are steps you can actively take to making sure your extract brewing is efficient and lessons the impact equipment shortfalls.
Also if your beer is tasty with a bit of off flavor, you made beer! Good Job!