Buttery Character – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Brewing Process Glossary

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I. What is a Buttery Character in Brewing?

In the world of brewing, a buttery character refers to a flavor and aroma profile in beer that resembles butter or butterscotch. This flavor is often described as creamy, smooth, and rich, similar to the taste of butter melting on warm toast. While some beer styles may benefit from a subtle buttery note, an overpowering buttery character can be considered a flaw in the beer.

II. What Causes a Buttery Character in Beer?

The buttery character in beer is primarily caused by a compound called diacetyl. Diacetyl is a natural byproduct of fermentation that is produced by yeast during the brewing process. In small amounts, diacetyl can contribute to a beer’s complexity and mouthfeel, adding a hint of buttery sweetness. However, when diacetyl levels are too high, it can overwhelm the beer with a strong buttery flavor that is considered undesirable.

High levels of diacetyl can be caused by several factors, including:

1. Inadequate yeast health or vitality
2. Poor fermentation conditions, such as underpitching yeast or fermenting at incorrect temperatures
3. Contamination by certain bacteria that produce diacetyl
4. Insufficient maturation or conditioning time for the beer to naturally reduce diacetyl levels

III. How to Identify a Buttery Character in Beer?

To identify a buttery character in beer, look for the following sensory characteristics:

1. Aroma: A beer with a buttery character may have a distinct aroma of butter, butterscotch, or caramel. The aroma may be subtle or pronounced, depending on the level of diacetyl present.
2. Flavor: The flavor of a beer with a buttery character will have a noticeable buttery sweetness, similar to melted butter or butterscotch candy. The flavor may linger on the palate and can be off-putting if too intense.
3. Mouthfeel: Beers with high levels of diacetyl may have a slick or oily mouthfeel, reminiscent of butter. This texture can detract from the overall drinking experience.

IV. How to Prevent a Buttery Character in Beer?

To prevent a buttery character in beer, brewers can take the following steps:

1. Ensure yeast health: Use healthy yeast cultures and pitch an adequate amount to ferment the beer completely.
2. Control fermentation conditions: Maintain proper fermentation temperatures and oxygen levels to promote a clean fermentation process.
3. Monitor diacetyl levels: Test the beer for diacetyl during fermentation and conditioning stages to catch any potential issues early.
4. Practice good sanitation: Prevent contamination by bacteria that produce diacetyl by maintaining a clean and sanitized brewing environment.

V. How to Fix a Buttery Character in Beer?

If a beer develops a buttery character during fermentation or conditioning, there are a few methods to reduce or eliminate diacetyl levels:

1. Diacetyl rest: Allow the beer to rest at a slightly higher temperature towards the end of fermentation to encourage the yeast to reabsorb diacetyl.
2. Extended conditioning: Give the beer additional time to mature and condition, allowing the yeast to naturally reduce diacetyl levels.
3. Forced diacetyl reduction: Some brewers may choose to add fresh yeast or a diacetyl-reducing enzyme to the beer to accelerate the removal of diacetyl.

VI. Examples of Beers with Buttery Character

Some beer styles are known for their buttery character, either as a desirable trait or as a flaw. Examples of beers with a buttery character include:

1. English Bitter: Some traditional English bitters may exhibit a subtle buttery note from diacetyl, adding to their complexity and richness.
2. English Pale Ale: Similar to English bitters, English pale ales may have a slight buttery character that complements their malt-forward profile.
3. Czech Pilsner: Some Czech pilsners may have a hint of diacetyl, contributing to their smooth and creamy mouthfeel.
4. American Light Lager: In some American light lagers, a buttery character may be considered a flaw, indicating poor fermentation or conditioning practices.

Overall, while a buttery character can add depth and complexity to certain beer styles, it is essential for brewers to monitor diacetyl levels and take steps to prevent or correct excessive buttery flavors in their beers. By understanding the causes and solutions for a buttery character, brewers can ensure that their beers maintain a clean and balanced flavor profile.