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Butter Beer

While the buttery flavors from diacetyl are usually something brewers want to avoid, there are beer styles that can be enhanced by diacetyl. Longtime homebrewer Josh Weikert explains how to make it work.

Josh Weikert Jan 18, 2017 - 7 min read

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In honor of National Popcorn Day (January 19), I thought we’d take a moment to talk about butter and beer. As brewers, we’re usually trying to avoid that flavor, which is contributed by diacetyl in most cases. That said, maybe just this once, we can talk about the good contributions butter can make to certain beer styles. As with food, though, you’ll want to use it sparingly, or there’s a price to be paid…in the form of a slick butter bomb! But at least in beer, we’re just talking about a drain pour and not a heart attack.

A Trip to the British Isles

If I ever get the chance to meet her, I’m going to find out just how much J.K. Rowling knows about beer and brewing. Why? Because the Harry Potter books are riddled with references to something called Butterbeer, which seems to be a low-alcohol table beer with prominent buttery flavors.

I mention this only because if you’re looking for a beer style that unapologetically features a touch of butter, it’s British ales, which seems like more than just a coincidence. Bitters, Irish red ale, mild, English porter, and Scottish wee heavy all can feature a bit of diacetyl. In large part, this is thanks to the domestic yeasts that inhabit the islands, which are a bit diacetyl-prone, so your bitters and brown ales alike all have that common geographically determined flavor. Luckily, the overall flavor profile of British beer is a good fit for it.

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