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Diacetyl, youre my friend

Diacetyl is not the friend of any homebrewer. OK, there are a few occasions very few where this chemical compound is acceptable in beer. But any self-respecting homebrewer knows diacetyl is not your friend. Like, 99% of the time one buttery sip of diacetyl is enough to send your homebrew to the kitchen sink.

So why am I playing nice with it?

Because diacetyl taught me a very valuable lesson and my beer is better for it. But what's really funny about this story is there was never any diacetyl to begin with.

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Its a long story.

Ill admit it. I used to take shortcuts whenever I could. I've since learned every shortcut has a consequence, and it's rarely good. But I can be a little stubborn at times.

Like the night I decided to brew after work, outside, in the cold. I didn't want to wait around for a lengthy sparge to complete, so I cut it short. Talk about a drop in efficiency and a beer that strayed from the script. Yikes.

Or the time, way early in my brewing career, I thought meticulously cleaning each and every bottle took too much time. Wow, was that an expensive mistake. The most undrinkable swill you've ever tasted. Truly awful.

Need I go on?

So, back to the diacetyl. I was making an all-Simcoe IPA and everything seemed fine, from brew through bottling. Then I drank it. Not horrible, but I didn't much like it. Kind of a funny after taste. I started reading what could cause the taste and I decided it was diacetyl. Not that I had any real experience with diacetyl. But from my reading, this is what it should have tasted like. A little butter, a little chemical.

I had a homebrewing friend, whose talents I admire greatly, check it out. He wasnt so sure about the diacetyl, but he agreed something had gone awry. Not a terrible beer, but certainly one that needed some help.

Then I had my homebrewing son check it out. Now by this time I had grown so weary of the beer that I started dumping it. My son drank a bottle, agreed the finish could be better, but he actually liked the beer and gladly took it off my hands. Turns out I'm not much of a Simcoe fan. Just not one of my favorite hops. What can I say.

About this time I was reading Chris White and Jamil Zainasheffs Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation.And as I was going through there I was learning a ton about what yeast does at the start and the end of fermentation. Little did I know about the byproducts of fermentation, how they're created, cleaned up or left behind. I was amazed.

Because I typically brew 3-gallon batches, and usually on the lighter side of the ABV scale, a vial of White Labs yeast is enough to do the trick, or so I thought. Sure, I had read about yeast starters, but back to the lazy, shortcut me; why would I want to do that? Thats one more step, and I would have to do it in advance of brew day. No thanks.

But the more I read about yeast and how important it is for yeast to stick around to the end of fermentation to clean up the byproducts that can cause off flavors, the more I was convinced I needed to use a yeast starter. I looked up starter calculations and found that I had been seriously underpitching my yeast for some time.

As I look back, I think this was the point that I came to the full realization that if you want to make really good beer, you have to do it right, from start to finish. No more I can skip this part.

Good beer was not all about the equipment or the recipes, it was about the fundamentals. Watching temperature and times. Measuring correctly. Paying attention to the most minute details. You don't need to get elaborate to make good beer. But you do have to have the basics down pat.

My son lent me his flask and stir plate. I read lots of articles and made my calculations and made my first yeast starter. And wow, the first beer I made with a starter was better than any of the beer I had made before.

I used a starter on my next batch, and it was good. And every batch after that with a starter was better than the batches without a starter. Hands down, no doubt about it, unquestionably better. The odd little flavors that frequently hung around disappeared. I was in brewer heaven.

I had a boss who liked to talk about the importance of self discovery. He said you could talk to a client endlessly about the value of your product, but you we're never going to sell him until he discovered for himself that he needed your product. Price didn't matter; service didn't matter. You weren't going to make the sale until he discovered how he would benefit from the product. Self discovery.

You can read lots of things about brewing. You can talk with lots of brewers and get good advice. But until you discover for yourself the benefit of a procedure or a product, you're not going to take the next step and incorporate it into your routine.

Im glad I produced a diacetyl-laden beer. OK, so it wasnt diacetyl contaminated, but I thought it was, and that was enough to set me on the path to discovery and better beer.

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Posted in Renovations Post Date 11/04/2017


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