Esters Give Your Beer That Weird, Tangy Taste You Like

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 
Esters, created during the fermentation process, represent the largest group of flavor compounds in alcoholic beverages, generating the “fruity” taste and aroma of beer. Pickrepo

We like our beverages: coffee, whiskey, tea, beer, kombucha, Diet Dr. Pepper. Why people seem to fixate on special drinks in a way we don't with food is a bit of a mystery, but one reason might be because the flavor profiles of our favorite fluids can be so exciting!

Take beer, for instance. If you like beer, you probably like all the weird, twangy tastes a beer has to offer. These are a product of some pretty complicated chemistry — beer connoisseurs refer to "esters" and "phenols" when describing the state and smell of their favorite brew. While phenols can be pretty undesirable — people often describe them as tasting "medicinal" — esters are beloved by beer fans because they lend a fruity essence to a beer that doesn't even have fruit in the recipe.


Esters represent a huge array of flavor compounds found in your favorite beers. They're created during the fermentation process when the organic acids in the "wort" — basically the pre-beer — react with the alcohols (primarily ethanol) as they emerge. They can taste a bit like banana, roses, apples, melon or pear — there are even some esters that are described as being plastic-y, solvent-y or even like a "can liner."

Basically, beer brewers have to be hardcore chemists of the highest order to pull off a consistent product. What you get depends a lot on what yeast you use, the exact composition of your wort, and environmental conditions like temperature and even the size or shape of the container it ferments in. So, if you're trying to make a German hefeweizen, you want to use a strain of yeast that will create iso-amyl acetate, the same ester that's found in bananas. On the other hand, if you want to brew a lager, most esters are extremely undesirable, so you have to create a chemical environment in which esters don't form.

Next time you crack open your favorite beer, thank science!