Tuesday, January 25

Diacetyl in Bottles, and Distribution

Diacetyl via Wiki

I've read a lot about diacetyl and the off flavors that result. In many many years of drinking tap, and buying bottles in the northwest, I hadn't ever experienced this nasty buttery flavor in beer until recently.

First, I snagged a bottle of Rocket Dog Rye IPA at Bottles in NE PDX. At home, I noticed it was a bottle that they had previously purchased from some other location and ripped the price off, and put their own on. No big deal, many respectable bottle shops do this. What wasn't on the bottle was a bottling date. Cracked it, and I immediately thought I was watching a movie, and was forced to smell the big guys popcorn breath behind me...  as he munched, and munched the whole 5 gallon bucket gone. It was foul...  makes one gag. I blame this outburst from them buying from another shop.

Later I traded for some brews that were brewed a few towns away from the 'wine' AND beer store. Not just one style, but two were loaded with the buttery funk. If you haven't experienced bad diacetyl, you will know it when it hits. I blame this outburst from poor distribution, and poor bottle rotation from the store.

Now I stopped by a local 76 gas station and grabbed a couple bombers of Red Hook Big Ballard IIPA, and Ninkasi Tricerahops IIPA. Both I find to be rather decent, and a good buy at most places. Nice to find at a local gas station. But there sits the problem. Remember when these gas stations all over hell and back never carried a lot of these craft beers? I noticed the Big Ballard was 6 months old..  which for an Imperial IPA.. that is much too old to buy, and actually enjoy. These bottles just sat in one spot too long. And I would guess that many in the area don't often buy good craft beer. That is the problem. I blame that outbreak on bad location for distribution, poor distribution maintenance, and poor practice at a mini mart.

When distributors slack, and when stores slack on bottle rotation..  breweries need to know. If you get some bad bottles, let them know. Most I have talked to are very kind, and offer replacement beer. I usually turn these gestures down because I don't want to come across as some sort of free loader. I just want to let them know when someone is tarnishing their name by selling old disgusting beer.

This is where I don't find fault in large mergers and share acquisition with distributors. Widmer Hefe can be found fresh, in a 76, in Florida. If it gets past its prime..  it is pulled. Widmer uses AB's distribution because it works. Smaller breweries tend to stay local, and in local bottle shops because the turnover is much greater and there is a smaller chance their beer will spoil.

I see a big problem with local craft breweries who try and over distribute without a real functional distributor. There are local small guys who do a great job, but they have favorites. Certain brewers are higher up on their snob lists. I know Ninkasi has some AB distribution, but they didn't hand over 40% of their company. Maybe they should have, because now I see a trend of bad bottles in many stores. I would bet that some bottles of the original Tricerahops recipe, or first batches...  are still sitting on the shelves...  somewhere. It pays to go to higher turnover shops... even if you pay an extra buck a bomber.



  1. Nice article Perry. I usually get most of my beer from New Seasons and have never had a problem there.

  2. Every beer I have had from New Seasons has been great. Whole Foods can vary! Thanks for the response!

  3. Diacetyl is an off flavor developed in fermentation and possibly from draft lines that are not cleaned properly. It has nothing to do with bottle shops or distributors but the brewers themselves. Laughing Dog is well known to have a serious Diacetyl problem.

  4. Good to know, thanks Samurai. I have read a few articles that diacetyl can form, or the same flavors can form inside the bottle over time. Sometimes not noticed if consumed quickly enough. Perhaps that is what happened w/ my experience. Butter flavor is just awful either way..