What is up with the metallic taste of German beers?
May 16, 2013 11:12 AM   Subscribe

I am a big fan of beer in general, but not much of a fan of German beers, in spite of their much-vaunted reputation. This is mostly due to what I perceive as a metallic taste in some of the classics, such as alt bier and dunkelweizen. To me these beers taste like someone took a “regular” beer, dropped a bunch of pennies in it, and stirred it up. This is most noticeable when I’m drinking the beer by itself, but fortunately the metallic taste subsides when I have the beer with food. A few questions about this. 1. Is it just me? Is there some quirk in my palate that makes me taste this metallic flavor and most other people don’t? 2. If other people do taste the metallic notes, why/how do they put up with it or even like it? 3. What is it in the ingredients or the brewing process that produces this flavor?
posted by Mechitar to Food & Drink (12 answers total)
Where are you getting them? Is this true of stuff like Spaaten?
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:14 AM on May 16, 2013

One vote for "it's just you". What are some beers you do enjoy?
posted by halogen at 11:15 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, clarifications, as requested:

"Where are you getting them? Is this true of stuff like Spaaten?"
I noticed this taste in the first German beer I ever tried. Don't remember the specific brew, except that it was something dark, from Germany, and was on tap at the Brauhaus in Chicago. Metropolitan's Iron Works Alt has this taste (from bottle). I've had Spaaten once, from draft, and if I remember correctly it had the metal taste. I recently traveled in Germany, and tried multiple beers (always from draft) there, and at least two had the flavor (an alt and a dunkelweizen). The alt I had in the birthplace of the alt, Dussedorf.

"One vote for "it's just you". What are some beers you do enjoy?"
My preferred styles are IPA's, belgian ales, rye ales, stouts. I like some golden ales, others not so much. I tend not to care for English style ales. I don't much like lagers in general, or pilsners. Somes favorite specific beers: by Three Floyds: Alpha King IPA, Gumball Head, Zombie Dust; by Bells: Two Hearted Ale; by Lagunitas: their IPA, Little Sumpin' Ale; by Stone: Oaked Arrogant Bastard; by Dogfish Head: 60 Minute IPA; Belgian ales by Duvel, Maredsous, Unibroue, etc.

"Bottle, draft, or both?"
As noted above, both.
posted by Mechitar at 11:29 AM on May 16, 2013

I consider any beer to be an acquired taste, much like coffee. So it could be that other people are just used to that taste and don't even notice the metallic undertones (if they are truly there—sorry, I can't attest to that).
posted by Eicats at 11:30 AM on May 16, 2013

You're not entirely insane. I've experienced this with a few German beers, though not to the prevalence that you have. Unfortunately, they were one-offs that I had, and I don't remember particular names at this point. I'd personally describe the flavor as "rusty" albeit not in an unpleasant sense.

This document puts "metallic" as a thing that can go wrong with brewing flavors:

Wort being boiled in unprocessed
metals, mainly iron, but also aluminum, and steel
(excluding stainless) is usually the source of metallic
flavors. Metallic flavors can also be extracted from
metal brewing equipment, bottle caps and/or kegs.
Using water that has high levels of iron will impart
iron flavors. Improperly stored grains can also cause
metallic off flavors.

posted by bfranklin at 11:37 AM on May 16, 2013

Here's a guide to off flavors in beer [PDF].

Some people just seem to be more sensitive to metallic tastes in beer than others. Most of the beers you've said you like are ales and hoppy to very hoppy. The hops likely mask any of the metallic flavors that you detect in lagers. But really, there's no reason you have to like German beers with so many other styles available.
posted by tommasz at 11:44 AM on May 16, 2013

I would lean towards some sort of sensitivity to metallic tastes. I occasionally notice this in beer from cans, but I think it would be unusual in something as popular as Spaaten on draught.

Interestingly enough, I don't like hoppy beer because I think it tastes off, but other than rauchbier, I've liked every German style I've tried.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:50 AM on May 16, 2013

Response by poster: "Some people just seem to be more sensitive to metallic tastes in beer than others."

I bet this is it, as it occurs to me now that I might be especially sensitive to iron. Once I took a daily multivitamin for a few weeks and kept getting crazy itchy rashes. It took a while for me to figure out that it was apparently iron in the vitamin (which most multi's don't have) that was causing the rashes. I also occasionally get the same kind of rash even though I've long since stopped talking those vitamins - my guess is that it's because I've had a relatively high amount of iron in my diet in recent days.

And I'm not expert on this, but it just seems intuitively right that a bodily sensistivity to iron would also cause a palate sensitivity to it. So even trace amounts of it (say, in beer made from water with a slightly higher than normal iron content) would taste strong to me. I guess??
posted by Mechitar at 12:04 PM on May 16, 2013

I have the same experiences with German beers. The one that I have not noticed it with is Hacker-Pschorr, and it's become one of my favorite beers as a result.
posted by SpecialK at 2:46 PM on May 16, 2013

Could be the water. I taste the same thing in German beers, and I've never had a French water or wine that didn't taste like sulfur to me. Evian, for example, tastes like stale river water to me.

Maybe a test would be to find a German spring water, if such a thing exists, and see if it tastes funny to you.
posted by gjc at 4:34 PM on May 16, 2013

Maybe a test would be to find a German spring water, if such a thing exists, and see if it tastes funny to you.

There's Gerolsteiner, but I don't know if you can find it non-carbonated.
posted by hoyland at 7:23 PM on May 16, 2013

We all experience and process differing sensations uniquely. Just drink the beers that taste good to you.
posted by BenPens at 4:58 AM on May 17, 2013

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