Author Topic: Alcohol Bitterness  (Read 3055 times)

Offline The Rabid Brewer

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Alcohol Bitterness
« on: October 05, 2010, 06:21:46 PM »
From an unrelated thread:
Alcohol has a hotness and a bitterness when young.  ...  If you want to know what alcohol bitterness tastes like, take a light lager and add some vodka to it.
I'm not talking about warming mouthfeels or solventy fusels, which obviously exist and on which we most certainly agree.  I'm talking one of the five basic tastes.  Test it for yourself.  It's exactly like a spiked beer session.  It's what I tasted during such a session.  Add ethanol to a light lager.  Compare before and after. Try it; you'll see.  Look for the mouthfeel, but also look for the taste.

I'm not doubting your opinion on this, just interested in what other people have to say.

Also, a question: could it have been the vodka imparting the bitterness and not the ethanol? Some vodkas are more bitter than others (e.g., Stolichnaya and Jewel of Russia.) A Russian friend claims this is a more authentic characteristic of vodkas that he's familiar with in Russia. Have you done this with pure ethanol or just vodka?
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Offline dmtaylor

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2010, 07:16:50 AM »
I think this is a good point.  I'm sure not all vodkas are the same.  Yet pure ethanol...... I don't think it's got any bitterness.  It is flavorless.  And while ethanol does make you feel funny and does strange things in your mouth, throat, and gut, I don't pick up any bitterness from it.  I don't believe it.  But perhaps Mr. Strong has more taste buds for bitterness than I, which is entirely possible.

I'll tell you what I do get, though -- After drinking a stronger beer of, say, 6.5% alcohol or higher, post-gulp, I often times pick up an aftertaste aroma of none other than Elmer's glue, and this is how I sometimes figure out that hey, there's a bit of extra alcohol kick in this beer, when otherwise you might not really be able to taste it.  But I digress.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2010, 07:24:00 AM by dmtaylor »
Dave

"This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our Maker, and glory to His bounty, by learning about... BEER!" - Friar Tuck (Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves)

Offline gordonstrong

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2010, 08:24:43 AM »
I'm sure the beer was spiked with vodka not pure ethanol.  Don't know of the brand.  But it isn't tied to vodka exclusively, because it's a flavor I've gotten in commercial beers as well.  Whatever makes the alcohol burn (not fusels, the heat that ages out as a beer matures), is likely what is contributing the bitterness.  If I can taste the alcohol, it triggers the bitterness receptors for me.  Whether it is actual bitterness, or accentuates bitterness that is there through other sources, I can't say.  By the time it reaches my brain, it registers as higher bitterness.
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Offline euge

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2010, 11:22:35 AM »
I'm sure the beer was spiked with vodka not pure ethanol.  Don't know of the brand.  But it isn't tied to vodka exclusively, because it's a flavor I've gotten in commercial beers as well.  Whatever makes the alcohol burn (not fusels, the heat that ages out as a beer matures), is likely what is contributing the bitterness.  If I can taste the alcohol, it triggers the bitterness receptors for me.  Whether it is actual bitterness, or accentuates bitterness that is there through other sources, I can't say.  By the time it reaches my brain, it registers as higher bitterness.

Thought long and hard on this one and knew that etoh has it's own bitterness. Struggling to articulate as to how it is bitter- came up with that the harshness of "ethanol" on the tastebuds registers as bitterness. The brain can't process it any other way. It can't register as any of the other four basic tastes.

I think a good example is overshooting the final gravity on a beer by 6 or more points and throwing the whole brew out of balance. Then harshness/bitterness of both the alcohol and hops is accentuated.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

Offline tschmidlin

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2010, 12:20:51 PM »
Thought long and hard on this one and knew that etoh has it's own bitterness. Struggling to articulate as to how it is bitter- came up with that the harshness of "ethanol" on the tastebuds registers as bitterness. The brain can't process it any other way. It can't register as any of the other four basic tastes.
I don't agree.  The harshness of ethanol can be felt other ways than through the bitter taste buds, or even any of the taste buds.  Your tongue has nerves too, and the skin in your mouth is pretty delicate compared to your hands.  When you drink straight alcohol and it burns (although maybe it doesn't burn you euge  ;D ) all of the way down your throat, that burning is not from your taste buds, it is from your nerves.  The sensation is more complex than the taste buds would allow.

If you want to argue that some vodkas have things in them that taste bitter that's fine, it's probably true.  But I don't believe ethanol itself triggers a reaction in the bitter taste buds, because I've never experienced it despite ample opportunity :)  I'll need some real proof of that.  I'll start with some everclear if I can get my hands on any, they don't sell the high-test stuff around here.
Tom Schmidlin

Offline euge

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2010, 12:40:36 PM »
I store some 190 proof EC for cleaning and making tinctures. Usually keep half a gallon around. Very useful. Gotta get in the car in a moment but when I get back I'll "test it" shiver...

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

Offline tschmidlin

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2010, 12:44:53 PM »
I store some 190 proof EC for cleaning and making tinctures. Usually keep half a gallon around. Very useful. Gotta get in the car in a moment but when I get back I'll "test it" shiver...
Water it down - that shouldn't add any bitterness, and might help you discern bitter from burning :)
Tom Schmidlin

Offline euge

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2010, 10:13:25 PM »
Well I tried it yesterday. I diluted with RO water. Yes there was a faint bitterness. But also sweetness.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

Offline tschmidlin

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2010, 10:41:02 PM »
How much did you dilute it?

I picked up a bottle of everclear 151 (we can't get the 190 stuff here without a permit).  I diluted it 50/50 with water and tried it.  There is a little bit of sweetness in the finish, and there is a drying sensation that is more like astringency to me, but nothing I would call bitterness.  Maybe we're just wired differently.   :-\
Tom Schmidlin

Offline euge

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #9 on: October 07, 2010, 10:59:59 PM »
How much did you dilute it?

I picked up a bottle of everclear 151 (we can't get the 190 stuff here without a permit).  I diluted it 50/50 with water and tried it.  There is a little bit of sweetness in the finish, and there is a drying sensation that is more like astringency to me, but nothing I would call bitterness.  Maybe we're just wired differently.   :-\

I brewed a bitter a while back and thought it was a tad bit earthy from the hops. My friends said "floral"...  But any way let me try it again...
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

Offline euge

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #10 on: October 07, 2010, 11:12:03 PM »
...diluted 10ml EC and 10ml pure water. Generous sip. :o!!! Holy cow that reminds me of some Wild Turkey 101! :o Cough...

Diluted it further- more like 4 to one. I got astringency and then a bitter note at the finish. Sweetness throughout and on the lips.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

Offline tschmidlin

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #11 on: October 07, 2010, 11:48:43 PM »
Ok, I tried again too.  I diluted it down to ~50 proof (1 tsp plus 2 tsp water) and still got no bitterness, it was similar as before.  I tried a second sip and it was smoother.  I diluted it further with another tsp of water, and still got no bitterness.  By then it almost tasted good.  ::)

I believe you guys taste it, but I don't.  That's cool.   8)
Tom Schmidlin

Offline euge

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #12 on: October 08, 2010, 12:14:23 AM »
Starting to see what corn squeezins might taste like. The Everclear isn't half bad.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

Offline tschmidlin

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #13 on: October 08, 2010, 12:16:24 AM »
Starting to see what corn squeezins might taste like. The Everclear isn't half bad.
Ugh, really?  I think it's awful.  It might be better if I mix it with something, but really . . . not good.
Tom Schmidlin

Offline dmtaylor

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Re: Alcohol Bitterness
« Reply #14 on: October 08, 2010, 07:11:39 AM »
I just ran my version of an experiment, first with a 10:1 ratio of water to vodka (I used Fleischmann's vodka).  Tasted the plain tap water -- slightly sweet, with undertones of earthiness.  The 10:1 water/vodka -- whoa, that's a lot of alcohol.  And it really wasn't all that much -- if you figure it out by percent, that's approximately 10% of 40%, which is only 4% ethanol.  But holy cow, that tasted not-so-yummy on a clean morning palate.  It was a lot different than I might have expected.  It tasted pretty dry and warming, not at all sweet.  Reminded me of a bad martini.  Is it what I would call bitter?  I don't know.  Maybe, but not exactly.  I can almost see Gordon's point here, but to me it provides what I would call more "dryness" vice "bitterness".  It really is more sort of a mouthfeel thing, I think, although the flavor was there -- it tasted like bad vodka, which it is.

Then I diluted the previous mixture 50/50 with more water, thus making it only 2% alcohol.  Wow, what a difference!  The drink became much much more palatable.  At this point it was considerably more dry than plain water, again no sweetness, and still a tad of alcohol flavor, but not so distracting as before.  Bitter?  Again, I don't know.  I really think it's more a sensation and drying effect in the mouth and throat versus an actual perception of bitterness.  It's not like aspiriny bitter or hop bitterness, not to me.  Just really... dry.  A drying effect.
Dave

"This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our Maker, and glory to His bounty, by learning about... BEER!" - Friar Tuck (Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves)