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I've been looking for resources on how to really taste some of the commonly referred to tastes out there. For instance, people say that phenols taste like band-aids. But I really have no clue what that means.

There are off flavor taste kits available for purchase, but those run around $150, which seems a bit high. But luckily I ran across a nice table in the BJCP study guide which would allow me to doctor beer in order to give it the off flavors that I'm looking to experience.

So my question: What type of reference beer should I use? The guide suggests using a clean lager which seems to makes sense at first. But the main reason for me learning these tastes is so that I can get better at picking them out of the beer that I make. And rarely make a clean lager; I normally make stronger ales. Should I use one of my homebrews or get some commercial equivalents?

Bonus for anyone that's had experience using the BJCP instructions and could speak from experience.

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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Why settle for just one? Try tainting several types of beers. Start by adding the off-flavors to an ounce or two of light lager, in medium-small doses, and identify how they change the beer's nose and taste.

After that, you can repeat with an amber, or go even darker to see if you can still perceive the different off-flavors. Commercial beers are probably better baselines than homebrews, since they tend to be more consistent, reliable, and untainted, but there's no reason not to try it on your own brews.

There's really no need to limit yourself. You can also find beers with known off-flavors, like the DMS in Fat Tire. Compare that to a cleaner-tasting amber. Bud light has faint acetaldehyde. There are plenty more examples like this.

Lastly, keep in mind that you can usually get the gist without actually putting things in beer. Oxidized beer tastes like wet cardboard. You can cut a small piece of cardboard and chew on it without any beer, and it's very reminiscent of oxidized beer. The same applies to other flavors.

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Coors. The most neutral of the big industrial lagers.

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That's one light, clean answer. –  Ben Mosher Jul 2 '13 at 3:24
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I'd follow the recommendation for a clean lager. You want to taste the off flavors enough to be able to recognize them, and an ale might cover up what you're looking for. A friend who went to Siebel tells me that they used MGD there. I just finished teaching a BJCP study group and we did off flavors both with the recommendations in the study guide and with one of the FlavorActiv kits from Siebel. The Siebel kit had much more varied flavors and they were "cleaner" and stronger of that makes any sense. If you can find people to go in on the expense with you, I highly recommend it. The study guide has a more limited set of flavors. I recommend you mix those at 2-3x the recommended strength to be sure you get them.

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