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Monday, October 31, 2011

Sherry Notes

What are sherry notes?

What does it mean to say a beer has sherry notes?

One of the flavor descriptors  / descriptions that I often hear when tasting beers is "Sherry Notes"  Hell, I even use them myself and do not really know what I mean.  Well, I do know what I mean but that is not necessarily what other folks mean.

When I say Sherry Note, I usually mean it has some molasses like flavor that is kind of sweet.  Sometimes like brown sugar and a little syrupy sweet.  Like it feels a little thick or heavy on the tongue.  Usually, this is not a bad thing.

I searched Google for some time trying to figure out what people mean when they say a beer has Sherry Notes.  I found thousands of references but just a few had any descriptors.  very often they mean something different.  It seems many of us craft beer drinkers use the term but it means something different.

Much of the time, we are referring to an oxidized characteristic of the beer.  What is oxidation?  Very generally, it is when molecules are changed or altered by the presence of oxygen  In beer, it depends on what the oxygen is contacting.  Different elements in beer produce different oxidation compounds.  One of which can be "Sherry Notes".

So, what is Sherry?  Very simply, it is grapes made into wine and allowed to... oxidize.   Sherry can be super-d-duper dry or thick and maple syrup sweet.

What is dry?  Dry is basically a void of sweet.  Sweet plays nice with your palate and coats it with pleasurable goodness.  A Dry Sherry has little or no sweetness so the acidic properties dry out your mouth and the tart or astringent properties have free run.  Dry supposedly allows you to experience more of the complex flavors in the wine.

What is astringent or tart? It is that puckering thing you get when you drink a dry Sherry :)

So, what is a Sherry Note?

Depends on what Sherry is to you :)

I find that darker beers to to exhibit more of these over time.  Quite often just saying Sherry notes is not all that helpful.  I described my aged smoked porter as having Sherry notes but I went on to suggest caramel, syrup, dried fruits like figs and a slight nuttiness like toasted almonds.

From my internet research, I found these common descriptors of Sherry.  Maybe they can help you find that flavor you are banging your head trying to describe.

Sherry on the dry side are said to have:
Green Apple
Green Olives
Slightly Oceanlike - Freshly opened oysters, Salty
Soy Sauce

On the Sweeter side, Sherry is said to have:
Wood - Ceder
Orange / Orange Peel

Aged Sherry is said to have more sweeteness from more oxidation:
Roasted nuts
Fruits - Figs, Dried Fruit, Prunes, Cherries
Maple Syrup
Darkly cooked sugar.  almost burnt (Toffee)
Dark Molasses

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