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I've brewed a lot of Brown Ales, and one thing I have noticed from batch to batch is fairly swift flavor degradation.

The beer will taste excellent after two weeks of conditioning. I'll be able to pick up various malt contributions and fruity hop flavors. I used flaked corn in my my most recent batch and it really added a complexity and smoothness to the flavor.

The problem is, it seems, after 3 weeks or so, they all start tasting the same, and all of the subtle flavors I picked up in the first few bottles seems to disappear completely. For clarification, these are All Grain batches that are conditioned in bottles.

I'm not sure if this is my taste buds failing me, or if the beer is actually degrading that quickly.

This is something you won't typically see happening in a commercial beer, meaning, you can open a beer that's been bottled for months, and it will still taste the same as you'd expect.

I'm sure commercial breweries are using preservatives of some kind, so what if anything might be the culprit in my process and what can I do about it?

A few ideas are:

  • Possible contamination that doesn't present itself right away
  • Overly carbonated (though I have been careful about this the last few batches)
  • Under carbonated (maybe I'm picking up residual sweetness)
  • Lighter body beers degrade faster?
  • Exposure to light (I keep these in my closet which is usually dark, however)
  • Storage temperature (House temp is usually between 60 and 75 degrees)
  • Poorly crafted recipes that don't hold up over time

Here are a few of the Recipes in question, for reference.

http://brewgr.com/recipe/679/brown-moose-ale-northern-english-brown-ale-recipe http://brewgr.com/recipe/1073/brown-bog-ale-american-brown-ale-recipe http://brewgr.com/recipe/1419/brown-moose-ale-v2-northern-english-brown-ale-recipe http://brewgr.com/recipe/2115/brown-moose-ale-v3-northern-english-brown-ale-recipe

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Excellent question! Hop flavors are well known to fade over time, but I've had 1-2 brown ales as well where some nice part of the roast character seemed to dwindle over a couple weeks. –  Graham Mar 21 at 19:44
    
I'm not aware of any craft breweries that use preservatives. Can you provide examples? –  Denny Conn Mar 21 at 20:13
    
It was more of an assumption and quite possibly incorrect. I suppose I am thinking along the lines of clarifying agents like Isinglass. –  Matthew Mar 21 at 20:16
    
I don't know of many craft breweries even using that. It's kind of a PITA to use. –  Denny Conn Mar 21 at 20:30
    
It was just an example I remembered reading about some time ago. It seemed like a strange additive, and it got me wondering what else might be used be commercial breweries. I've also read about uses of caramel coloring, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, etc., in some of the lower quality beers. –  Matthew Mar 21 at 20:34

3 Answers 3

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Since we can't taste your beer we all just have to guess. I've never noticed it happening in my beers. I think there's a good likelihood it's an issue of your perception.

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Perhaps. While I don't consider New Castle Brown Ale to be a high quality beer, it always tastes the same to me, whenever I drink it and that's really what I'm trying to understand in terms of my homebrew beer. I suppose the reality could be that what I am tasting after 3 weeks of conditioning is the actual flavor of the beer, and what I've been tasting earlier in the process is something that hasn't quite finished conditioning. –  Matthew Mar 21 at 20:21
    
That's an interesting thought and you may be on to something. About the only way to know would be to brew identical batches a couple weeks apart and taste a fresh one against an older one. Do you notice this on any other styles? Do you check pH as you brew or of the finished beer? –  Denny Conn Mar 21 at 20:31
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I haven't noticed this on other styles, but while we've been having this conversation I was doing some research on the effects of carbonation on the perception of sweetness, and there seems to be something to it. If so, it would make sense that tasting a beer slightly prematurely would have less carbonation as well as residual sugars and likely present itself more sweetly. It's entirely possible that I'm simply longing for a sweeter version of my brown ale and maybe I need to work that into my recipe next time. –  Matthew Mar 21 at 20:38
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That sounds like an excellent conjecture! –  Denny Conn Mar 21 at 20:58
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Maybe its been overlooked or maybe I missed something but you could try a carbonated version next to a "degassed" version?! –  Ryan Shdo Mar 22 at 3:37

I disagree it's perception. I have had similar issues with some beers that they are wonderful for a couple of weeks then go downhill.

I'm focusing on either contamination or oxidation. I find the issue is less apparent if I prime in the keg with sugar. And I have also had it happen with one keg of 2 of a 14% beer - one keg is still pristine while the other has sherry tones. So in that case I think it's oxidation, since the abv pretty much rules out contamination.

But for lower strength beers, sometimes the flavor and taste can go from being a multidimensional sip of bliss, to one dimensional "meh". I think this is due to oxidation, since hop aromas oxidize into less aromatic compounds, hop oils and beta-acids oxidize into more bitter tasting compounds, and generally everything becomes lack-lustre. I have taken steps to improve this, but still find that sometimes a beer simply degrades after a few weeks. I don't think this is my taste perception. And no change in carbonation, since these are kegs that are force carbonated.

I just tasted side by side a Blonde made 8 weeks ago and a weissen made 12 weeks ago - the weissen is much better, and still has the fresheness that I remember when I brewed it, but the Blonde has picked up some winey characteristics, and is what I would consider sub-par. I'm pretty sure this is oxidation.

So my advice is to be as sanitary as you can be, and take steps to remove oxygen. It's almost certainly one or the other.

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This might be a postable question but wouldnt malt profiles and yeast choice effect the perception of oxidization? –  Ryan Shdo Mar 22 at 3:45
    
The variability in flavor and flavor stability can be fairly large in beers made by brewers that haven't perfectly nailed down their process and reproducibility. I like this answer best. Flavor stability is likely a function of process and not perception. –  brewchez Mar 25 at 9:51
    
I agree, although in my case, I am at a loss to explain how some beers go downhill, although my latest brews, both light beers are still good after 6 weeks, so I may have nailed the issue with small tweaks to my process. –  mdma Mar 25 at 13:45

I would look at your water profile. This could be a very big factor in the flavor changes that occur in your beer over time. You might want to try using distilled or spring water, if you are not already. You can also try a british ale water profile from the example on the first post of this thread:

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f128/brewing-water-chemistry-primer-198460/

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