How does this beer taste? You say mango, I say fried onions

Savoury flavours are present in some hoppy beers but are perceived differently from person to person

A cooked onion flavour in beer can occur as a result of using particular hops. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty/

A cooked onion flavour in beer can occur as a result of using particular hops. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty/

 

Onions and garlic are not exactly flavours you’d expect when bringing a glass of beer to your lips. They may work well alongside each other – like a curry with a good IPA – but together they can make for a rather disorientating drinking experience. This savoury element is common enough, however, in hoppy craft offerings these days – sometimes just as a passing hint, like the distant whiff of frying, but at other times intense and a bit sweaty, like armpits and garlic mixed together.

Not so pleasant, you might think. Well, not for everybody. Interestingly, some people perceive this flavour only slightly or not at all, or as tropical fruit or mango, for example. And sometimes it is only when the flavour is pointed out or suggested that the drinker will recognise it (and then maybe start to dislike it).

Cooked onion is part of the normal profile of some beers. At higher levels, however, it can be regarded as an off-note or sulphurous. It can occur as a result of using particular hops – such as Simcoe and Mosaic, the hop darlings of the craft beer world – in big quantities, and sometimes without the correct balance and thought. These American variety hops have been particularly popular over the past few years and have been added in abundance to big, hoppy beers. Depending on the way you see – or taste – it, the rise of sweaty onion beers is one of the downsides of craft brewers’ blinding love of hops over all else.

Women, in general, detect odours at lower concentrations and are more likely to rate them as unpleasant or intense. So if you’re sitting down for a beer at the end of a rather long January, and enjoying its delicious pineapple or papaya flavour, but your date thinks it tastes like onion armpits – well, that’s okay. You’re both right.

@ITbeerista

beerista@irishtimes.com

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