What % abv do you actually start to taste alcohol?


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Aug 14, 2012
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Someone who regularly samples my creations said they didn't much care for beers with an ABV of less than 5% as they're "a bit watery and tasteless". Not normally a problem as most of my beers have been in the 6% region, but I've recently been drinking a batch that I deliberately brewed well short of my normal strength that came out at 4.2% abv.

The 4.2% bitter has a nice whack of hop flavour up front (25 IBU), followed by a malty sweetness, medium mouthfeel - it's a good beer. Having said that, it dawned on me that the one flavour component that was missing was the alcohol you'd normally pick up in stronger beers. Hop, malt and carbonation effervescence are all there - can't help but wonder whether the same recipe bumped up to 5% would take it to the next level.

I'm guessing that the perceived alcohol taste is relative to IBU (ABV and IBU are related in recipe builder...) but is there a guideline level at which we'd expect to pick up an alcohol taste?
Im guessing its a personal thing. Relative to your palette . For me its from 5% up that I get an alcohol bang. I really enjoy the high gravities!! So used to them now I would feel the same about a beer at 4.1/4.3%. When Im in the off licence to try something new beer I tend to resist the beers at 4.3% even if they're recommended. :!:
As you say, palette is a factor. I'm thinking that 5% alcohol is going to be much more noticable in a delicately-hopped lager than in a stout.
I don't think it's the alcohol, rather the malt flavors that increase as the OG increases that give the flavor. I generally shoot for rather high gravities, 1.055 or greater, in anything other than pale yellow brews. Otherwise, watery. Go for a higher mash temp (if you're mashing), too.
I once smelled (and tasted) a 16% ABV beer that burned my nostrils. :eek: Alcohol, when too strong, can be a defect in beer and wine. I try to cover it up with hops, malt, etc so there is balance.
I recently brewed one of my "weird" styles, a Köttbusser, to 8%. No trace of alcohol taste even though the hops were very light. Intense malts, though! But Larry's right, at least from my perspective: It's all about balance.
Fermentation temperature can effect the perceived alcohol taste. Temperatures at the higher end of the yeast optimal range can produce a more harsh alcohol bite, where as lower temps can produce a more subtle, smoother, less noticeable alcohol flavor.