Sunday 3 November 2019

How To Fix Homebrew "Twang"

The Fight Against Homebrew "Twang"

My goal when I decided to start brewing again, is to make something at home, that if I bought at a bottle shop, or got served a schooner of at a pub, I wouldn't be disappointed in. Plenty of people reckon they can make great tasting beer at home, and I'm determined to be one of them. The biggest thing holding me back from this goal at the moment is the infamous (amongst homebrewers at least) homebrew "twang".

This is one thing that I suspect just about every homebrewer has experienced, or at least tasted at some point during their brewing journey. I think it's difficult to describe, but I'd say it's a twangy, sweet kind of taste, present only in homebrewed beers that just isn't right and seems to overpower and take away from the otherwise good tastes in a beer. My first few batches have had it and whilst the beer is still drinkable, it's something I'm determined to get rid of in my brewing.

I've spent hours reading countless forums, blogs and books and there are plenty of theories about what causes this phenomenon and how to prevent it from occurring when brewing

Some of the common theories are:
  • Poor water chemistry
  • Poor temperature control during fermentation
  • Stale liquid extract
  • Poor sanitation practices
  • Liquid extract that is "pre-hopped"
  • Oxidation
  • Something that is present in all extract, or kit & kilo brewing that cannot be gotten rid of
I'll address each of them below based on my experience and opinion;

Poor Water Chemistry

I'm in Sydney and our tap water is very drinkable as it is, but I know other homebrewers in the USA had great success with treating their water with tablets to help clean it up which eliminated homebrew twang for them. I don't think the water is causing it in my case.
Update - I've now made a great tasting beer using plain untreated Sydney tap water. This may be a factor for people in other parts of the world though.

Poor Temperature Control during Fermentation

This is one of the most repeated answers to the question of fixing homebrew twang. My first few batches have been brewed under the stairs in my two storey house, which is cool and dark and doesn't have big fluctuations in temperature. It does mean however that I'm somewhat susceptible to brewing only at a few degrees lower than the ambient temperature, which is OK but not great. In order to get complete control over this, I've recently purchased a dedicated brewing fridge that I've hooked up to an Inkbird ITC-308 thermostat controller. I haven't done a full brew/fermentation in it just yet so will continue to update this once I have.
Update - this one is definitely a major contributor - see my update at the bottom of this post for more info

Stale Liquid Extract

This seems like a plausible cause to me. In my case however, I've been very careful when buying extract from my local home brew shop to make sure it's fresh and has a long used by date. I think this is potentially a case, but don't believe it to be so in my case

Poor Sanitation Practices

Sanitation is incredibly important when brewing beer. I believe my practices are at the very least adequate at this point as I've had so signs of contamination/infection in any of my brews. I don't believe the "twang" as most people describe it is an infection as such

Liquid Extract that is 'pre-hopped'

A lot of beer extract kits that are available are 'pre-hopped'. What this means is that the bittering hops have already been added into the extract when it was created. This is beneficial as it means the process of making beer with one of these kits is much faster/simpler, as the need to boil the extract and add bittering hops is not required. The drawback is that the brewer has less control over the amount of bittering that goes into the final beer.
I believe this cause is at the very least plausible. I'll be attempting my next few brews with unhopped extract to see if this eliminates the twang. Will continue to update this once I have some results.
Update 2/12/19 - I think this is a contributing factor, but not a complete cause (or fix).


This one I believe to be a major contributor and is responsible for alot of off flavours in home brewed beer. For me, I think a big part of the problems I experienced with homebrew twang was related to the Coopers Style fermenter I was using. This is the newer/current style with no air lock, but a lid that sits on tight to keep nasties out, but doesn't keep/hold any pressure. The other contributing factor I suspect is that of bottling beer using a simple bottling wand attached to the tap of the fermenter.

After making quite a few batches, and even moving on to all grain brewing I was still noticing some off flavours. What I especially noticed was that the first week or two after bottling the beer tasted great, and then it slowly started to decline over the next few weeks which suggests that oxygen was being introduced somewhere along the way. I suspect either during cold crashing of the fermenter prior to bottling (causing air and oxygen to be sucked into the fermented beer), or during the bottling process. This makes total sense as the effects of oxidation aren't immediate - they usually take a couple of weeks to affect the beer and this is exactly what I was finding was happening to my brews.

The fix? Well, I've managed to fix or workaround the problem by moving to a pressurised fermenter and transferring my fermented beer to kegs instead of bottles. I can still bottle from my kegs using a bottle filler beer gun.

Something that is present in all extract, or kit and kilo brewing

I 100% disagree with this theory and truly hope it's not the case. A lot of brewers have said the only way they overcame the twang was by moving to all grain brewing. Whilst I'm certainly open to taking the dive into all-grain brewing in the future, I'm confident I can make something using extract without the twang.
When I visited my local home brew shop prior to brewing my first batch, I asked if it was possible to make something  that tastes great from a kit or extract. They gave me a sample that they had allegedly made using extract (they didn't give me the exact details), but it tasted GREAT. Assuming they weren't lying to me (I've no reason to suspect they were), this is what gives me hope that great tasting beer can be created from extracts.
Update - after moving to all-grain brewing I still found some off flavours developing which rules this one out. 

Update - 2/12/19

So, after only my fifth brew I have finally made a beer that I think tastes great. It's a clone of a well known Australian beer called the Balter XPA. It has none of the off flavours that all of my previous brews have had at least small traces of. To me it tastes great, and is just as good as beers I've bought at a pub, or from a bottle shop. So what did I change that made the difference? 2 things;

1. Using unhopped malt extract. I used a mix of liquid and dry extract in the Balter XPA clone - as long as the extract is fresh, I don't think dry or liquid will make much difference. Using unhopped extract means you need to do a boil yourself and add bittering hops, which gives you more control over the flavours in the beer. Pre-hopped extract I think will contribute largely to the flavours associated with home brewed beer. My fourth brew used unhopped extract, and whilst it tasted much better than the previous brews I'd done using pre-hopped extract, it still had small traces of the off flavours I'm trying to get rid of. So unhopped extract helps, but isn't the sole cause.

2. Temperature control. By getting a dedicated fridge and temperature controller for fermentation, I think this made the biggest difference. Using this fridge with a partial boil done with unhopped extract, I was able to create a a beer with no off flavours at all

What are you experiences with homebrew twang? Have you found another cause (or solution) to it? Let me know in the comments below.

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