Disaster Strikes! The Dreaded Drain Pour: Stevia

One thing I recommend having on hand in a brewery is a small bottle of iso-alpha acid extract.  It’s the bittering agent we create in the boil and it’s useful if your bittering calculations are off and your beer is sweeter than you’d like.  Some things it can’t save, though.

My Pumpkin Spice ESB went down the drain tonight, a sorry sight and one I fortunately haven’t seen often.  It was going so well.  I’d made the ESB with pumpkin and brown sugar, the spicing was light but I had the spice tincture ready to go and the vanilla extract – my secret weapon in pumpkin beer – was standing by.  Through careful trial and tasting, I had dialed in the spice and vanilla.  The beer was ready for a touch of sweetness to bring out the flavors in it.

Having heard of Stevia, I thought I’d try it in beer.  I hadn’t tasted it, I drink black coffee and unsweetened tea, but I’d been told it tasted just like sugar.  Last round of pumpkin beer, I added lactose as my unfermentable sweetness.  Having gone to lengths to lighten the body of this beer, that’s what the brown sugar is for, I didn’t want to thicken it up, which is one thing lactose is for.  So I decided to sweeten with stevia.  I carefully calculated the equivalent sweetness of the extract, added the proper amount to the beer, stirred and tasted.

For those of you old enough to remember Tab, an artificially flavored cola beverage made by the Coca Cola company and renouned for its aftertaste, that’s what I tasted in the sample.  It tasted like beer-flavored Tab.  Yuck!  Pfuey!  So I got out the iso-alpha acid and in a desperate attempt to save the beer, added at least 30 IBUs of bitterness back.  That renouned Tab aftertaste would not go away.  Finally, defeated by artificial sweetener made from a leaf, I gave up and the beer went down the drain.

I could have avoided this.  When using a new ingredient this late in the process to flavor a beer, it’s a good idea to test it small-scale before ruining a full batch.  Had I done that, added a touch of stevia extract to a sample and known I didn’t want that in my beer.  I could then have kept my beer overnight in the bottling bucket, picked up some lactose tomorrow and added it to sweeten the batch and bottled in time for Thanksgving.  But I didn’t.  I thought I knew what I was doing.  It cost me about $40 to learn the following:

Stevia has no place in beer.  It tastes just like saccarine tablets.

No pumpkin beer this year.  Oh, well, the Kottbusser is aging nicely….

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