How commercial brewers make 'bad beer' taste like 'good beer'

Thursday, February 2, 2023
Just like I've screwed up many a home brew, professional beer makers can do so too. 

When I screw up, it costs me a few bucks for some hops and malt. When a commercial brew wrecks a brew, the cost can be the difference in paying everyone's wages.

So what do brewers when a bad batch is brewed?

beer bottle art

Commercial brewers have a few options to rectify and remedy a bad batch of beer:

Blending with another brewski:

Blending is a common solution used by commercial brewers to rectify a bad batch of beer. This process involves combining a bad batch of beer with a good batch to balance out flavors and improve the overall taste. 

The goal of blending is to create a consistent and high-quality product that meets the standards of the brewery. The amount of the good batch and the bad batch used in the blend will vary depending on the desired outcome. 

In some cases, only a small amount of the bad batch is needed to improve the flavor, while in other cases, a larger amount may be needed. Blending is an effective solution as it can quickly rectify a bad batch and minimize the financial loss for the brewery.

Using additives to mask the bad thing:

Certain additives can be added to a bad batch of beer to improve its flavor profile. Some of the most common additives include hop extract. However, this practice is controversial as some beer enthusiasts believe that it detracts from the authenticity of the beer. 

Additives can be used to cover up flaws in the beer, but they may also change the character and taste of the beer. 

Adjuncts like rice and corn have been known to be slipped in by commercial brewers as well.  

dosing beer with extra hops

Aging - let it sit, like an old man on the porch

Aging is a solution that can be used to improve the flavor of a bad batch of beer. This process involves storing the beer for an extended period of time in a controlled environment. During this time, the beer matures and its flavors become more pronounced as the yeast does its job.

Aging is only an option if the beer has a high enough alcohol content to preserve it during the aging process. Some bad batches of beer may improve with aging, while others may not. 

This can really work for bottled beers that have a bit of a sour taste as if something was fermenting the beer other than the yeast you put in - you can leave a batch that tastes off, come back in 6 months and with all that time to age, it tastes great. 

Doesn't work all the time! 

Having another crack at fermentation: 

Re-fermentation is a solution that can be used if the beer has not fermented properly (stalled). 

This process involves controlling the environment in which the beer ferments, including temperature, pressure, and using additional yeast.

Re-fermentation can help the beer ferment correctly, which will hopefully then improve its flavor profile.

Dumping it like Dumbo: 

If all else fails, the bad batch of beer may need to be dumped. 

This is a last resort option as it can be a significant financial loss for the brewery, especially if it's a little boutique craft establishment. 

Discarding a bad batch of beer may be necessary if the beer is not fit for consumption, has an unpleasant taste, or is contaminated. Discarding a bad batch is a difficult decision for commercial brewers, as they invest time, resources, and money into the brewing process. 

Basically if over-hopping doesn't fix the problem, dumping is on the cards. 

So what are the ethics of employing these tactics?

The ethics of these practices in the brewing industry can be a controversial topic. Some argue that these methods are necessary for ensuring consistent quality and maintaining the reputation of the brand.

However, others argue that these practices are deceptive and do not accurately reflect the true nature of the beer. 

Ultimately, the ethics of these practices are subjective and depend on individual values and beliefs.

What are some examples of brewers behaving badly?

There have been several instances in the beer industry where the nature of the beer has been misled, leading to scams or scandals. 

Here are some real-world examples of each of these practices:
  • One of the most notable examples of this occurred in 2008 in China, where thousands of people were sickened and six died from consuming beer contaminated with industrial alcohol. This was due to a widespread problem of unscrupulous producers adding industrial alcohol to beer to cut costs and increase profits. The industrial alcohol was not safe for human consumption and caused serious health consequences for those who drank it.
  • In 2013, several large brewing companies, including Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, were sued for falsely labelling their beers as "organic." The lawsuits claimed that the companies were misleading consumers into thinking that the beers were made with organic ingredients, when in fact they were not. The cases were settled out of court, but the settlements received widespread media attention and damaged the reputation of the companies involved.
  • In 2019, several people were arrested in India for producing and selling fake versions of well-known international beer brands. The fake beers were often produced with low-quality ingredients and sold at a lower price, but still marketed as the real thing. This practice not only cheated consumers, but also damages the reputation of the brands being counterfeited.
  • Watering down beer: In 2015, Miller Coors was sued for allegedly watering down its beers, including Miller Lite and Coors Light. The lawsuit claimed that the company was diluting its beers with water in order to increase profit margins and reduce costs. The case was eventually settled out of court, but the allegations received widespread media attention and raised questions about the quality and integrity of the beer industry.
Some other shonky practices that cheeky brewers have been known to do include:
  • Adulterating beer with cheap ingredients like corn syrup, rice, unhealthy preservatives, and artificial colors to cut costs.
  • Selling beer that is past its expiration date, which can affect the taste, aroma, and overall quality of the beer.
  • Misleading labeling and advertising, such as using misleading terms like "craft beer" or "artisanal beer" to give consumers the impression that they're buying a premium product, when in fact it may be mass-produced and contain cheap ingredients.
  • Paying bars and retailers to only stock their products and exclude competitors, reducing consumer choice and stifling competition in the market.
It is crucial for breweries and regulatory agencies to monitor and prevent these practices to maintain the integrity of the beer industry and protect consumers. 


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