How to Taste – Sulphur Flavours

Yeast Derived Sulphur Flavours

These flavours are mainly produced during the fermentation of beer, where sulphur flavours are a natural by product of brewing and also part of the overall flavour characteristics of many beers. As with many flavours a good taster must learn to recognise what should be present in the beer they are tasting. Too little sulphur flavour and the flavour may not match the brand profile (especially as some sulphur flavours interact with other flavours). Too high and the sulphur flavour will be overpowering.

Examples of yeast derived sulphur flavours:

  • Sulphitic
  • H2S
  • Mercaptan

Ageing Derived Sulphur Flavours

These flavours are produced as a by product of the aging process generally due to oxidation. These flavours are generally considered to be off flavours, however in some beers they can be seen as positive to the profile.

Examples of ageing derived sulphur flavours:

  • Lightstruck
  • Catty

Grain Derived Sulphur Flavours

These flavours are generally produced during wort production and are normally a natural part of the characteristic of some beers. Again if the concentration is too high these can be seen as off flavours.

Examples of grain derived sulphur flavours:

  • DMS
  • Onion

How to Taste for Sulphur Off Flavours

In general the best way to taste for sulphur off flavours is by swirling the beer and taking short sharp sniffs. Most of these flavours have distinct odours and are quite noticable. However Sulphitic is barely noticable as a flavour (like a striked match) but instead produces a tingling sensation in the nose. This can be very difficult to detect so tasters must concentrate hard, a quiet and relaxed tasting room will them to do this.

Why is it so difficult to detect sulphur off flavours?

The difficulty lies in the how the human sense of smell works. Sulphurs overpower the sense of smell quickly and the human brain ignore the smell as background noise. Siimilar to how you don’t notice the smell of your home but you do with other people’s.

The trick to detecting sulphur flavours is to take very short sharp sniffs. This will stop the nose from becoming overpowered and you will get more chances to detect the flavour.