Brewers and beer drinkers alike wonder about various off flavors in beer, and bubblegum off flavor in beer is a prominent one that can be good or bad both depending on taste, flavor combination, and strength.
Even with experience, it can be tricky to understand at first where this bubblegum off flavor comes from, and many might think at first that it hails from the addition of some sort of fruit or other additive in the beer.
However, the reality is that, like with most off flavors, bubblegum off flavor in beer comes from the yeast.
Off Flavors in Beer: The Power of Yeast
Even the term off flavor can often be a misconception or a misnomer of sorts.
Plenty of people actively seek certain “off flavors,” like the hints of cloves, bananas, and yes, even bubblegum you can pick up from ales and lagers from around the world.
Much of this search comes down to preference but some can also be attributed to acquired taste and culture.
If, for example, you grew up in Belgium or Germany, you might favor a more sour beer as this region is home to the lambic, a beer that draws on a wild yeast called Brettanomyces, which produces lactic acid.
In other parts of the world, you might shudder at the thought of a sour beer and reject even the smell as it hits your senses.
Yeast and How It Contributes to Off Flavors
Another little known fact is that which off flavors yeast produces has much to do with its native region.
Today, in a harkening back to ancient ways, craft brewers head out into nature to collect yeast from native plants for brewing, and note the various flavors and aromas that arise from those sub strains.
While pretty much all beer is fermented using either Saccharomyces cerevisiae, for ales, or Saccharomyces pastorianus, for lagers, there are hundreds of sub strains of those two yeast strains that produce hundreds of variations on flavor and aroma.
Brewing, as a result, truly is a craft.
It is a matter of experimenting with this strain and that, mixing and matching yeast strains with different grains and hops to get the “just right” flavor, aroma, and even texture that your loyal fans will love.
So, what makes a flavor “off” then, and not craved and sought after?
Most often, it comes down not necessarily to a wrong yeast, but to a less than thorough or incomplete fermentation process.
Yeast has a single job, and it is very good at its job when left to its own devices – to find sugar and convert it to alcohol, carbon dioxide, and hundreds of other micronutrients and secondary metabolites.
The flavor combinations come from those metabolites, and the ones we are addressing here, the bubblegum flavor, comes from chemical compounds called esters that are usually responsible for the “fruity” flavors in beer that range from pear and banana to bubblegum and even clove.
Those esters can also produce a baby vomit adjacent flavor and aroma if not allowed to fully ferment.
And that is really what it comes down to, full fermentation.
During fermentation, those secondary metabolites are created, but they really only become “off” to the point of noticeability in the case of baby vomit or to the point of overwhelm in the case of the fruity flavors, when the yeast is too quickly removed from the beer or the fermentation process is rushed.
Racking, Secondary Fermentation, and Aging
To ensure that whatever flavor the yeast creates during fermentation does not become a hindrance to the beer but a delightful addition, brewers need to take care to rack their beer.
You see, during primary fermentation, the alcohol, carbon dioxide, and secondary metabolites are created.
And if beer is served at the end of that first cycle, many beer drinkers end up unhappy. It really is effectively a crap shoot. You never know what you’re going to get.
This next step is where brewing really becomes a craft.
When a brewer racks the beer, transferring the beverage from one vessel to another, the dormant yeast is agitated and sent back into work.
At this point, many off flavors are present, as well as dead yeast cell husks from those that died as alcohol levels rose.
When the surviving yeast wakes back up, it gets to work consuming those yeast husks and all remaining secondary metabolites that create off flavor.
This process is called secondary fermentation, and it not only raises the alcohol level a bit, and increases carbon dioxide, but it also smooths out flavor, aroma, and texture.
Aging beer will take this smoothing out even further, leveling out all remaining off flavors and offering a crisp, clean beer in the end.
Brewers who want to ensure this process can bottle condition beer, adding a bit of sugar at the end of secondary fermentation, to get yeast even more active and cleaning up, or mopping up, and residual “mess” it made.
Bubblegum or No Bubblegum
Bubblegum flavor in beer is most often found in ales, and wheat beers. It is thought that this is because ales and wheat beers are made with the S. Cerevisiae strain and its flocculation on the top of the wort, but it could also simply be because of the temperature at which these ales are made, which is higher than that of lagers.
Of course, if you are seeking bubblegum flavor for your beer, you can order any particular strain from your yeast provider, which will typically have a bank and a description of which flavors and notes each sub strain they offer will hit.
The goal, in the end, whether you want the bubblegum flavor or not, is to take your time with your brewing, and allow your yeast to do its job to full completion.
Are you still pitching fresh yeast every time? By reusing your yeast, you can save up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on just yeast alone!
Join the hundreds of brewers from all around the world using the Smartest Automated Yeast Cell Counter! Request a Free Demo Account today and experience firsthand how Oculyze can take your brewery to the next level!
Stay on top on important fermentation insights – subscribe to our monthly newsletter and receive a hand-picked selection of our most relevant articles straight to your inbox.