A Craft Beer & Brewing reader recently asked us the following question:
I just finished fermenting and bulk aging my beer, but it did not turn out well. Is there anything I can do to “save” it?
It depends on what is wrong with your beer. Some off-flavors (e.g., from serious infections) really can’t be easily corrected or covered up. However there are a significant number of flaws that can be corrected by adjusting the bitterness levels or blending your beer. You can even use the same techniques to change the style of your beer after fermentation.
First let’s talk about hops-malt balance. If you have a beer that is too malty, you can adjust it by adding more bitterness. The easiest way to do this is using an isomerized hops extract. Isomerized extracts are “pre-boiled”—that is, the alpha acids have already been put in a final “isomerized” form. So you can, quite literally, add tiny amounts of isomerized extract “to taste” until you achieve the hops balance you want.
If the beer is too hoppy, then blending your beer with a much less hoppy beer is probably your best option. In fact, blending is often the best way to correct a mediocre beer. Blending is used extensively in the production of wines and distilled spirits because it can, in many cases, provide a finished product better than the sum of the blended parts. With proper blending, you can not only cover up minor flaws but even change the style—say from an English ale to a brown ale—after fermentation is complete.
If you have a beer that is flawed or out of balance, one approach is to brew a blending beer that is the “opposite” of your flawed beer. Blend a hoppy beer with a low-hops beer. For a light beer with a slight off-flavor, blend it with some dark beer to hide the flaws. If your beer is weak on body, blend it with a higher-body beer that uses more adjuncts. You can also dilute your beer with water to reduce the final gravity and alcohol or fortify the beer with a stronger beer for more alcohol. Some mead makers even use small amounts of vodka to dilute a cloyingly sweet mead. The same technique could be used on an excessively malty beer.
Finally, you can blend using the beers you already have on hand. I enjoy dark beers and usually have a few on tap and find they are great at covering minor flaws in lighter beers. To achieve the right blend, start with a measured quantity (say, 100 ml) of your base beer and then slowly add measured amounts of the second beer until you achieve the balance you want. If you’ve measured both the base beer and the addition, you will have a blending ratio. I’ll then pull a second sample and mix at that ratio to do a final check of taste. Once you have your ratio, just scale it up to your batch volumes to get the proper blend.
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