How I Accidentally Made a Hard Cider that Tastes Like Fritos

The moment of truth. I had kegged and carbonated the hard cider after waiting so long to complete it. Sure, I tasted some off notes when I sampled it a couple months ago but certainly those flavors had aged out. The most recent sample seemed alright to me, though my wife, a supertaster if I’ve ever met one, sampled a small sip and told me, “I hate to break it to you, but I taste a weird flavor in this.”

I take a sip. Notes of fresh apple, cinnamon, a slight honey taste, and . . . Fritos. Ughhhh!!! I have gallons of hard cider that tastes like an apple walking taco.

I appreciate interesting flavors in beer and cider, but I draw the line at a Frito taste. I cannot enjoy drinking a corn chip flavored beverage. While you can safely drink even bad tasting cider, some off-flavors are not worth tolerating.

Though I prefer to write about brewing successes, I learn the most from brewing failures. Fortunately, as I have become more experienced, it has become easier to figure out what went wrong to avoid a repeat occurrence.

In this case, a chemical called tetrahydropyridine (“THP”) led to the horrible Frito taste. According the excellently in-depth Milk the Funk website, THP causes the unfortunate tastes of “mousy,” urine, Cheerios, or Cap’n Crunch flavors. THP provides part of the unique smell of baked goods such as white bread and tortillas. The baking process forms THP during heating in the Maillard reaction. My cider tastes like Fritos because I accidentally made a chemical that contributes to Fritos’ unmistakable taste.

It took me a while to realize that tastes have a temporal dimension. Some tastes are immediate, some show themselves after a second or two, while others, such as THP, are aftertastes that linger. You do not taste THP, initially, because the pH needs to increase to perceive the chemical. The cider first enters your mouth with a pH below the level required to taste THP. But as the pH increases when the cider combines with saliva the THP reveals itself. At least the first sip tastes great before the THP kicks in and ruins it.

Not all people can even taste THP. Milk the Funk, citing the Oxford Companion of Wine, noted that 30% of winemakers could not detect THP contamination. Which begs the question: what do Fritos taste to 1/3 of people whom cannot detect a flavor I can only describe as “the taste of Fritos?”Remember this individual blindness to certain tastes before judging weird people who do not appreciate delicious foods such as cilantro.

My cider developed THP, most likely, because I used dregs from a Brettanomyces (“brett”) yeast that I previously used for a sour beer in the fermentation process. I used a modified recipe from Michael Tonsmeire’s useful Brewing American Sour Beers book. The recipe, for a Portuguese-style cider, called for dregs from a sour beer along with hefeweizen yeast.

Brett can cause THP contamination, though I have never experienced in any of the previous beers that I made using brett. In the future, I will avoid brewing with dregs from a brett brew and stick to fresh and healthy yeast starters.

Surprisingly, Good Beer Hunting reports that some breweries have knowingly released beers with THP contamination hoping their customers do not care or notice. Even experienced, professional, brewers have few effective techniques to clear THP short of aging it for up to a year and a half. Personally, I would return any beer with a THP taste. A Frito taste has no business in a cider or beer.

Details:

  • Old Orchard 100% Apple Juice 13 cans 12 fl oz
  • 5 gallons of water
  • Omega Yeast Hefeweizen Ale OYL-021
  • Dregs from sour beer brewed with OYL-212, Brett Blend #3 Bring on da Funk
  • Cinnamon tincture and honey to taste

11.5 brix, 1.0463 sg, 6.1% abv potential.

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