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Astringent Flavors in Beer

Have you ever drank a homebrew, or commercial beer as far as that goes, and felt like you were sucking on a tea bag? That flavor is called astringent. The basic cause of the flavor is a release of tannins in beer. Tannins may be desired in wine, in beer, not so much.

Bitterness is a desired flavor in most beers, astringency is not! Bitterness is perceived throughout tastebuds in specific parts of the palette, but astringent flavors are perceived throughout the mouth and is as much a mouthfeel as it is a flavor. It is like sucking on a tea bag, grape seeds or grape skins (all of which contain tannins). It is puckering and tanic, plus it can be intensely tart and vinegar-like if excessive.

Astringency may rise from bacterial contamination (lack of sanitation) as a result of the formation of acetic or lactic acids. These acids can be detected as green apple-vinegar or even paint aromas. In mild form they come across as, you guessed it, astringent flavors.

However, astringent flavors are more commonly caused by ill-conceived formulation or issues with the brewing process and less often from contamination. It should also be noted that excess hopping in highly attenuated pale or light beers is also a cause. However in heavier bodied beers, this is not usually an issue.

High in alkaline or high sulfate waters will also cause this problem. If you have this problem and it persists, you might want to have your water chemistry checked.

Stems or skins from fruit in fruit beers can also contribute to astringent flavors since they also contain tannins, as will an excessive amount of six-row barley.

By my personal experience as a beer judge, the number one cause of astringent beers is sparging your grains at the end of mashing them at temperatures in excess of 175º F or over-sparging. Again by sparging at higher temperatures or over-sparging (sparging for too long), you are releasing more than normal amounts of tannins.

Other causes can be over milling or grinding the grains which causes an over exposure of the surface of the grain that releases more tannins. Excessive trube, that is the spent yeast in the bottom of the fermenter when beer is finished fermenting is also considered a cause if you do not remove the beer from that vessel in a reasonable amount of time.

The cure: Aging reduces astringency. Tannins over time will fade and be absorbed back into the beer. However, attention to the processes of brewing and a little care is the best cure!

Until next edition, happy homebrewing!Type your paragraph here.