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I recently brewed an oatmeal stout that has distinct bacon notes to it, both in the nose and in the flavor. What could be causing these flavors? This bacon-ness isn't disagreeable; it's actually quite pleasant in this beer. It's not rancid or meaty. It's a smoky note that smells bacon-like. It's just that I didn't expect it and I don't know what caused it. It likely came from some of my dark malts, but I can't say for sure. Maybe it came from the yeast. I dunno.

The beer is still very young - I just now racked the two week old beer into a secondary fermenter to add some cold-brewed coffee and cacao nibs soaked in Maker's Mark to make it a breakfast stout. It had the bacon-ness when I tasted it when fermentation finished and it still has the flavor today, prior to racking onto the flavorants.

Here is my recipe and notes:

  • 14 lbs US 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb, 6 oz flaked oats
  • 1 lb chocolate malt
  • 12 oz roasted barley
  • 9 oz black patent
  • 7 oz crystal 120
  • 1 oz Nugget
  • 0.5 oz Mt. Hood (30 min)
  • 1/8 tsp yeast nutrient (10 min)
  • 1/2 tsp Irish moss (10 min)
  • 0.5 oz Mt. Hood (0 min)
  • 2 Packages SafAle S-04, proofed in 100F H2O

  • Mash all grains at 153F for 60 minuets

  • After collecting the first runnings, batch sparged with 188F water, which brought mash temp to 168F.
  • Boiled for 90 minutes.
  • OG: 1.080
  • FG: 1.022
  • The beer fermented very quickly. I brewed on Saturday, 01/22/11 and it had dropped from 1.080 to 1.022 by Monday evening, 01/24/11. Even so, the fermentation temperature never went above 72F.

Edit: I meant to put some info about my water/mash chemistry, in case that's important. For this beer I did not make any water adjustments (except for dechlorination). No acids, no carbonates, no salts. I just went with nine gallons of my tap water with 1/2 tsp of potassium metabisulfite to dechlorinate.

I was concerned that I couldn't brew such a dark beer without adjusting my water because Palmer's nomograph suggests I can brew beers between about 9 and 18 SRM without any adjustment. This beer comes in at 52 SRM. However, after mashing in and waiting 15 minutes, I tested my mash pH with a pH meter and it read 5.27, so I did not adjust it. Here are the values from my water report:

  • pH: 8.3
  • Ca: 28 ppm
  • Mg: 6.2 ppm
  • Na: 30 ppm
  • SO4: 65 ppm
  • Cl-: 31 ppm
  • CaCO3: 61 ppm
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11  
I'd like to rephrase this as "How can I make all of my beer taste like bacon?" –  C4H5As Feb 6 '11 at 3:04
1  
@C4H5As: You could put it that way, too. Either way, it's all about knowing, and knowing is half the battle. (The other half is comprised mostly of blue lasers, red lasers, and explosions.) –  JackSmith Feb 6 '11 at 14:31
    
You should take down the recipe, this could make you millions!!! –  user1040 Feb 16 '11 at 21:07
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The bacon flavor could be coming from a couple of different things but it would be hard to pinpoint exactly without a sample. Here are a few things it could be.

The first thing is that you can get a smoky flavor from the chocolate malt, the roasted barley, and other dark roasted grain, this happens when you use a larger percentage of these dark grains in your malt bill. This is the most likely scenario. There could also be some contributing factors in the water profile but not likely.

Secondly, like Denny mentioned above, it could be an infection that is producing phenols that are perceived as smoky, but since your wife detected this flavor in the boil kettle it's most likely not the case. You can also get these types of phenols from oversparging, sparging above 6.0 pH, and sparging above 170F. It's possible when you added the batch sparge water it brought the pH above 6.0 if your water is highly buffered.

There is also the possibility that there was still some chlorine left in your brewing water. You can confirm this by using test strips.

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Thanks, Chris. Couple questions - if the flavor came from a process error as opposed to coming from the malts, would a well-trained palate - such as a certified or higher level BJCP judge - be able to discern this? I never thought to check my mash pH after adding the sparge water. It may have gone up. When you say sparging over 170F, do you mean that the sparge water was over 170, or the mash temp after mixing in the sparge water was over 170? I added 188F water, which brought the mixture to 168F. –  JackSmith Feb 7 '11 at 19:18
    
It may be difficult to discern a big difference between smoky flavors from process errors and from the roasted malt since they are produced by similar chemical compounds. I would think that the pH and not the temp may have contributed to the flavor, the last infusion seems fine. If you do see a spike in pH you can acidify your sparge water to avoid this. –  Northern Brewer Chris Feb 8 '11 at 18:29
    
If Chris gets a sample, I want a sample too. Please :) –  C4H5As Jun 1 '11 at 13:45
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It's likely an infection. Both pedio and lactic infections can produce smoky phenolics. Unfortunately, I have experience with that!

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I'm not sure I agree that it's an infection. There is no sourness, tartness, or diacetyl to the beer. There's no ropiness in the body. The body & sweetness are right where I'd expect them to be for an oatmeal stout that finished up at 1.022. Also, there was no evidence of any sort of pellicle forming. It sat for 12 days after fermentation finished before I racked it. When I racked, the surface of the beer was completely clear. If it were an infection, would the flavors produced by the infection be evident just two days after pitching the yeast, or would the flavors take longer to show? –  JackSmith Feb 6 '11 at 20:05
    
My wife (who's brewed a batch or two) just reminded me that she said the wort tasted like bacon when we tasted the post-chill OG sample straight out of the brew pot. –  JackSmith Feb 6 '11 at 20:11
    
There are definitely bacon-y commercial beers that are not infected, so there are other possible causes. –  Hopwise Feb 6 '11 at 21:19
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My first guess (and this is really nothing but a guess) would be the mix of chocolate, roasted & black patent barley. Different mixes are going to give you different flavors -- coffee, chocolate, dark-roast, etc. This mix is the magical 'bacon' mix.

Rauchbeers can also taste bacon-y, but they are using smoked malts. None of the malts in your beer are smoked, but the high kilning temperatures could be leading to some flavor compounds similar to bacon.

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Maybe Northern Brewer Chris can chime in on this theory, because I did buy all of the grains from NB - except the chocolate, because NB was out of it. I got that one from Midwest. –  JackSmith Feb 6 '11 at 22:00
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