If I was pressed to pick a favorite beer style, I’d have to say it’s the Bourbon barrel-aged stout. I love these rich, boozy treats, which are a great companion when it’s time to kick back, relax, and unwind. But all’s not well in paradise, because there’s a deal-breaker of a flavor that I’ve picked up in many stouts, not just the barrel aged ones. Can you guess what it is?
Popsicle sticks. Yup, the wooden core of frozen sugarwater on a stick. Think back to when you were a kid, and you’d try to get the last drop of flavor from an icy treat and wound up sucking on wood. That’s the flavor that can ruin a stout for me.
I first noticed the popsicle stick phenomenon a little over a year ago while having a highly-regarded coffee stout – these can be where it’s easiest to pick out the flavor, as roasted coffee can also impart that popsicle wood taste. At first I was like “hey, I taste the woodiness of a popsicle stick in this beer – interesting.” I was proud of myself for picking out the flavor. I told my wife about and suddenly she could taste it too.
But once I tasted it, I couldn’t un-taste it. The popsicle stick flavor started to pop out in certain stouts, dominating my palate and making it hard to taste anything else in the beer. It went from being an interesting observation to a total bummer. Now when I taste a beer with this flavor, it makes me think that the brewer screwed up and made a beer that was far too astringent and woody.
This came into sharp focus for me over the weekend, when I had a Founder’s Breakfast Stout. It’s a good beer, with spicy dark notes of licorice and coffee and…aw crap…popsicle stick! That part of the flavor took me out of the moment and pulled one of my previously favorite beers into the abyss. It’s still a very good beer, but now every time I look at it, I’ll think “popsicle stick” and leave it on the shelf. That sucks.
Anyway, I figured I’d share this with you all so you can have the same experience. You’re welcome! 🙂
Is there a flavor you pick out in certain beers that makes you nuts?
Update: Reader Bill Simpson breaks down the science on a likely source for the “popsicle stick flavor. Thanks Bill!
At the risk of being a bit geeky here, the popsicle flavour is probably caused by one or more flavour compounds related to ‘furfural’ (otherwise known as ‘furfuryl aldehyde).
One of the main culprits could be ’2-furfuryl ethyl ether’ (2-FEE), a compound that forms in well matured beers due to an interaction of furfural (formed in wort boiling from malt precursors), yeast (forming an ester called furfuryl acetate) and natural beer chemistry – the reaction of furfuryl acetate with ethanol (alcohol) in the beer leading to formation of 2-FEE.
Wood also contains a whole range of furfuryl compounds which arise from barrel toasting.
I’ve tasted this 2-FEE in beer and immediately associated it with the flavour of Belgian Trippels as well as aged stouts.
I love the term ‘popsicle’ though! I’d never made the connection, but now you point it out it seems so obvious. Thanks.