Aroxa “beer uno kit” – an evening of tainted Budweiser

Aroxa Uno kit

Aroxa Uno kit

I bought this Aroxa “beer uno kit” last year. They’re designed to make a litre of tainted beer per capsule so it seemed rather wasteful doing it with just Kat and I so we sat on the kit for a little while until we could organise an appropriate get-together (Note: BBE date on kit was July 2014 and kit was kept in a cool & dry spot). Eventually we managed to get a couple of other people involved and we did the tasting on Wednesday March 13, kindly hosted by The Table in Cambridge. It’s a pity we didn’t have a few more folk, but alas I don’t actually have that many beer-chums in Cambridge. (I should have popped down to North Herts for this I suppose.)



In the end our tasting panel consisted of Bob Arnott, Andrea from The Table, Kat and myself – plus a random chap who popped in for a coffee and tasted a couple of samples. I rocked up with 2 boxes of Budweiser (much to the amusement of one of the regulars), my own jug, and some plastic sample “glasses”. The Table folk provided water and some palate-cleansing plain bread.

The Table is on busy Regent Street – it has a huge plate-glass window and we were using the eponymous large central table. I definitely got some funny looks from passers by… twisting open colourful medicine-like gelcaps and pouring their content into a jug, whilst surrounded by cans of Bud…


Aroxa uno - Unboxed

Aroxa uno – Unboxed

The Aroxa kit is beautifully packaged. I appreciate the quality and look of it but do wonder how much it adds to the price. What you get for your money includes great presentation and plenty of information.

Want even more information? There’s a QR code on each card leading to the Aroxa page for the flavour. I’d thought at first this could be a useful tool for presenting the information on a large screen… but the format isn’t really right for that, it is also a bit of a drawback that the pages on the Aroxa site really don’t work well on small screens.

There is an instruction card which is clear enough. The only note I’d make is that some of the capsules were quite difficult to open… not so simple as “twist off top”. Half of them needed a firmer grip and a bit of a squeeze to loosen. I gave in and had to rip the top off one capsule.

I poured everyone a “control” glass of Bud, and then we worked through the flavours in the order listed in the box…



2,3-butanedione – Diacetyl – “like butter, or butter popcorn”

A classic? Also much debated – most brewers I know seem to hate even trace diacetyl, due to it being an indicator for a pile of sloppy practices. However as the notes for this one say, it is sometimes considered appropriate in some styles of beer. I have also heard it asserted by some brewers that this is total garbage.

All a matter of taste? Sometimes when you’re tasting beer and this one comes up you’ll overhear someone say what a wonderful butterscotch note it has – or what a great buttery mouthfeel. They love it – and this is not uncommon.

Diacetyl has interested me for a long while as it is much discussed and I’ve never been sure if I’m detecting it properly. All of us had some trouble picking this one up on the nose although I think it was pretty distinct on an initial short-sharp snort for me. In the mouth the difference was clear – albeit the taint quite light (according to all of us). The Bud had an added mouthfeel and even umami from the diacetyl. I think we all thought it was actually better than plain Bud!

dimethyl sulphide – DMS – “like sweetcorn or tomato sauce”

Another one commonly talked about – usually in the context of lagers. Not one I’ve given much thought to and I don’t think I’ve ever detected it distinctly in any beer – I don’t drink much lager in general.

Like the diacetyl we all had trouble picking this up distinctly on the nose – but there seemed to be something there. To me the first sip of the tainted beer was “horrid” – from my notes. And correct to its reputation – creamed sweetcorn I thought. The horridness quickly dissipated however, and a couple of sips later it was in “I could drink it” territory.

I really don’t know about the “tomato sauce” element to this. But I’m not really a user of tomato sauce.

ferrous sulphate – Metallic – “like ink or blood”

This one I know mostly from times when I open a bottle and sadly note a bit of rust around the top. Bad quality caps? I clean the rust off and hope the taint isn’t in the beer – invariably it is.

The taint gave the Bud a sharp astringent aroma, although only lightly so. On taste it was immediately obvious – and pretty undrinkable to all of us… except for a random chap who’d wandered in for coffee. I gave him a sample of this and of plain Bud and he preferred the ferrous sulphate tained one. So there you go… no accounting for taste.

I don’t drink ink, and only have a passing familiarity with blood – but yes, there’s a definite resemblance to the latter. More so iron nails – ever do some woodwork and for lack of a better option hold some nails in your lips? That. It might also be akin to heavily tannic wines.

hop oil extract – Hop oil – “like hoppy ale”

We weren’t sure what to expect from “hop oil” – given this is a bit of powder in a capsule we weren’t really expecting “hoppy” in the modern sense. And it wasn’t – it was a bit odd really.

This one divided us a bit. I got a peppery thing on the nose, not unlike some hop notes – but it really didn’t agree with my mouth. There was a pepper/resin hint but mostly a horrid sort of crushed-ant formaldehyde/plasticy thing at the back of my mouth and up the nasal passages. I found it quite unpleasant. On my side was the random ferrous sulphate lover… odd.

Kat and Bob didn’t mind this one so much, definitely seeming to have enjoyed it at first. Kat says that for her it built up from being OK to being unpleasant.

I’m not sure what the use of this flavour standard is… it didn’t give me an experience akin to anything I’ve had with a beer before. The card says “like hoppy ale”… hmmm.

hydrogen sulphide – H2S – “like boiled or rotten eggs”

The classic “Burton snatch” – the struck match of a Burton ale. I found this pretty much clear and as expected on the nose, albeit a bit on the stronger side than usual. Funnily enough it seemed to improve the beer in the mouth – adding an umami not otherwise present, that fended off the bland sweetness of Bud.

A pretty simple one really – although Bob found it at odds with his typical experience of classic Burton ales such as White Shield (which he drinks a lot of because as well as being a good beer the bottles are great for homebrew – labels come off with ease… noted!) I’ll grab some White Shield next time I see it… for “research” purposes. Bob also suggested trying Adnams Southwold Bitter for similar “research” reasons. (Both are beers I’ve had in the past – but not recently, and very infrequently.)

Personally this one hit home, reminiscent of beers for which I’ve often remarked “this seems heavily Burtonised”. Although I probably have my finger on the wrong button there as the sulphury note is probably caused by other problems.

isoamyl acetate – “like bananas or pear drops”

Yep, banana. Pretty distinctive… and really very odd to drink Bud with this taint alongside normal Bud. It really could have been a crappy Kristallweizen!

Not much else to add… flavour wise just a bit too lolly-banana compared to the real thing, but this is probably because it lacked other flavour elements of a proper wheat beer. Pear drops? I’ve never had one. I must find some to enhance my flavour education because this is used a lot in flavour descriptors. Albeit Bob and Andrea didn’t seem to get much of a pear drop note out of this one – it was all banana.

3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol – Light-struck – “like a skunk or freshly-brewed coffee”

This was an interesting one for all of us. A much discussed beer problem and one we all think we know – but without certainty. How many Brits have sniffed a skunk?

Immediately and distinctly obvious on even “arms length” aroma. I got strong whiffs of it as I prepared the tainted beer. And it really is that “supermarket lager” smell… you know, typical multinational brand clear and green glass sort of stuff. Now I’ve had it confirmed I know I’ve smelt this many many times before.

The taint even came through pretty strongly in the mouth for all of us – which I think isn’t usual when present in beer. None of us really “got used to it” either.

Skunks I don’t know… and whoever thinks freshly brewed coffee smells like this really needs to buy better coffee. Yuck! All of us were drinkers of good coffee in various formats, and we were sitting in a good coffee shop – the opinion on this was unanimous. However – the strong aroma gave me an immediate shot of nostalgic recollection. It’s a smell I’ve come across bushwalking back home in Western Australia. But from what? I think it is particular to scrubby coastal area. Most likely a particular plant. Sort of a heavy musky animal aroma.

trans-2-nonenal – Papery – “like cardboard or oxidized beer”

Ahhh… all cask ale drinkers know this one far too well. Sadly. It is a serious problem in UK “real ale” drinking, oxidation is rife in cask ale.

Yet I drink with folk who’ll happily down several pints of a really quite nastily oxidised beer and claim it is wonderful. Then there are the ones who’ll drink a good hop-forward golden ale and claim it “nasty” but love it when it is still on three days later because it has “smoothed out” and “mellowed”. Ah, anyway, enough of a rant.

On the nose this was pretty typical and what I expected. In the mouth *POW* … yuck. Worse than I’ve ever found in a beer, thankfully. It was pure “wet cardboard” – the flavour sense directly akin to a strong wet cardboard aroma.

2,4,6-trichloroanisole – Musty – “like corked wine or a damp cellar”

A slight odd-one-out being a taint none of us had really heard much about before. “Musty” beer?

The aroma was distinct and horrible. Mildew. Damp. I took a sip. I spat it out. Disgusting. It was like drinking the smell of damp. Retch. Quoting Bob: “Fuck, that is revolting!

In the distant past I’ve done a wine tasting and sales course and had to taste corked wine. And yes, quite similar – horrible mouldy flavour. Sometimes well hidden in big strong reds, but distinct if you know what you’re looking for. Thankfully I have never had this in a beer, and I hope that remains the case. However I do think I’ve had very similar in several ciders. Cider is a minefield of horrible flavours.

4-vinyl guaiacol – Phenolic – “like cloves or wheat beer”

On name alone this didn’t come out as we expected. In the beer world “phenolic” tends to be use a lot to describe smoky flavours, we were thinking Islay whisky – “yay” thought me, and “yuck” thought Bob. It’s Islay versus Speyside – I’m firmly in the Islay camp.

However – this is a different phenol, much to Bob’s relief. The aroma was a bit Belgian, and the flavour more so. Whilst the notes say a signature of German-style Wheat beers Bob though more Wit than Wheat. I thought Hoegaarden – so that’s about right.

This is another one that made the beer more palatable to me, even if in a very odd “flavoured beer” sort of way. As for “cloves” – I’m not so sure, maybe lightly so but with a slight coriander seed element, or that could just be some associative memory. I’m the sort of weirdo who will occasionally fish a clove out of the spice cupboard to chew on, so as a flavour I know it very well.

Wrap Up



All up this was an excellent fun exercise. I think if you have 8 or so folk in a homebrew club, or similar, it would be well worth splitting up the cost of a kit a like this and giving it a go. For some this will just be for confirmation and thus confidence… yes, that really is “skunk”, etc. For others it might be a bit more eye-opening. The advantage of having at least 8 people is that it won’t cost you much more than a tenner each. Not bad for the experience.

However – a single pass like this is fun and interesting, but I don’t feel it is enough. If I had such a club of people I’d try to arrange four dates and get four kits. Do the first run and then do a series of blind tastings. Really lock in some certainty. It’d still cost you less than 50 quid per person – if you’re a flavour and beer nerd like me that’s money well spent I reckon. I’m not personally sure the 10 flavours in the Aroxa kit are ideal though – and I’d carefully consider the competition, FlavorActiV is a bit more expensive but has a different set of flavours and also a 20-flavour kit. And I could really have done without that “mouldy” 2,4,6-trichloroanisole … despite hardly putting any in my mouth I thought I could still taste it an hour later. [Edit: Rich of The Beer Cast has now written up his experience with FlavorActiV kit – check it out for a comparison!]

A brief discussion was had about whether or not you could do this sort of thing as a paid-for gig. A format involving sampling tainted beer followed by some good beers and food would be the way to go we thought. But what would people pay? Probably not enough… the 10-flavour Aroxa kit is £82.80 (FlavorActiV do a similar one for £96 inc-VAT), the required 11 litres of Budweiser (or similar) is about £25, add in some food and decent beer at a price of, say, £15 per head … assuming 8 to 10 people you have a per-head cost range of £25-£30 quid. Would someone pay £50 for a session like this? (First test: would I? I’m not sure. I’d probably consider it… but then I’m a beer nerd, I’m shelling out much more to do a 2-day Beer Academy course.) Maybe with the good food and beer split out of the price as an optional “good food and beer will be available to purchase after” – and thus a price for just the tasting of about £35?

Thanks once again to The Table for providing space (and bread) for the tasting session. Do visit them – they have great food, excellent coffee, and also some tasty beers in the fridge. We were mighty glad to cleanse our tastebuds with some Pressure Drop and Five Points brews after the session.

Five Points - Hook Island Red

Five Points – Hook Island Red





GBBF: CAMRA Bar Management Training

Bar and Kilderkins

These kils need to be on that scaffold… time for some proper work.

I did my first GBBF this year. My first as a volunteer I mean. Except I wasn’t there just to pull some pints, I was attending the CAMRA Bar Management Training that is held at GBBF every year. What is a “CAMRA Bar Manager” – what does this so-called “training” cover? Some would make jokes about beer gut cultivation (doing fine there on my own alas), choice of correct sandals (was a confirmed sandal wearer before I moved to the UK), and beard growth strategies (follicly challenged in the face department alas). Hey, I make fun of CAMRA too sometimes. However, the training really is a good and useful thing for anyone who wishes to care for cask ale – especially in a beer festival environment.


My fellow GBBF Bar Manager trainees.

How do you get to do it?
The training is for CAMRA members and you need to be nominated by your regional director. In my case I was lucky to have been pushed into it along with a colleague from North Herts CAMRA branch because our festivals lacked technical knowledge, plus as of this year we’re running a festival in summer and this requires cooling equipment. Under some guidance I’ve done most of the “cellar” for the last couple of festivals, and looked after the cooling at the last festival. (Luckily we had the GBBF technical director to hand to give us a crash-course.) I say “under some guidance” but there are only a couple of folk in the branch who’s guidance I particularly trust, whilst I’ve had some downright suspect instructions from others! Basically I was a little confused and certainly lacking confidence.

If you’re interested in doing the training I suggest that first you need to be involved with your local branch and have an interest in running festivals. If your branch lacks technical knowledge (many seem to) and you’re keen, you probably have a good chance of getting on the course. (However numbers are limited, so if at first you don’t succeed…). This year the course had people along ranging from 18 years old through to (at a guess) well into their 60s. We only had one woman on the course, which isn’t surprising I guess – is that in line with active membership or below? For my branch it is certainly below. Anyway – one is better than none. The trainees had travelled from all over, a chap even harking from the Isle of Man – plus a dude from the US doing the course as part of some exchange programme.

Scaffold Training

We learnt how to put together this modular scaffold stuff. (Not rocket science… but there are some tricks to it.)

What is covered?
A suffusion of beer festival information! The course is misnamed in a way. Whilst set-up and care of cask ale was core, we also had sessions on health and safety, risk assessment & insurance, ordering kit from HQ, foreign beer, beer flaws & infections, dispense technicalities (a keykeg made an appearance – yes, they can be perfectly OK as “real ale”), scaffolding, beer logistics & stock management, and cider. So really you could call this a “festival organiser course”, I think I probably could have a go at running a whole festival now (if I was that masochistic).

The course is a mix of theory sessions, hands-on practical sessions, and for the majority of the time plain old hard graft behind a GBBF bar. Every trainee is given to a GBBF bar manager (Buster Grant from Brecon Brewery in my case) and expected to get stuck into all aspects of looking after the bar (whilst trying not to get in the way too much).

Beer beasties!

Beer nasties under the microscope in the GBBF QA lab. They take this stuff seriously.

GBBF trainee schedule, in brief…
I arrived on Saturday August 10th, signed in and immediately reported to Buster – for the first two days trainees are handed straight over to their managers to provide extra muscle for set-up. First job: kils are arriving on pallets and need to be up on stillage. Cooling was hooked up. Beer lines and pumps set up and cleaned.

A typical GBBF stillage exists in two distinct parts – one is what you see behind the bar: a scaffolding structure with a lower and an upper deck where casks are sitting under cooling jackets. Part of the art of setting this up is deciding where to put the casks in order to aid efficient take-down. I.e. under Buster’s system the 1st and 2nd casks on are all out to the edges so that the outer cooling systems can be broken down early. There is no prescriptive one-way-to-do-things however, and each GBBF bar manager has developed their own methods and tricks. There are some constraints of course, such as: there are typically 4 kilderkins of each beer and these need to be arranged such that the line from a given hand-pump is able to reach them all. (Having done this GBBF I can very much see why kils are a necessity!) [Edit: I forgot to explain the “second part” – this is a huge refrigerated box located behind the stillage that has the other half of the beer in it. Up on a double-layer scaffold. The cooler boxes are much simpler to set up and manage and some think it should all be done that way as it is so much easier – however others think the “look and feel” of a festival is not as good without all the kils out on display.]

The first casks were vented and tapped on Sunday so they would be ready for the “trade session” on Tuesday. Through the week the remaining casks are vented, tapped, and hooked up to lines as required. Twice a day the volume of beer in the casks that are on is measured with a dipstick and this feeds in to deciding when to vent the next-casks-in-line. When a cask runs dry it is sealed up and moved to “the crypt” at the end of the day.

This all amounts to a truly epic operation. Have a look at the crypt for an idea of the scale of things… (you can drag the image around for a full 360-degree experience… Google did NOT make this easy to achieve!)

The actual coursework and theory of the training is held in sessions from Monday through to Friday. Monday is a quiet day for a good bar team anyway – as most of the set-up is done and it is just a matter of spit-and-polish. A day of rest before the beer-drinking hoards hit the festival on Tuesday. Throughout the weekdays trainees split their time between the sessions and helping out at their bars wherever they can be of use. Everything from beer technicalities to serving customers at the bar – plus quite a bit of mopping at times.

Colin thirsty for hops...

Colin thirsty for hops… enjoying a beer in the Voly after another long GBBF day sitting on my head.

The reward at the end of every night is time for a couple of free pints in the “Volunteers Arms” (aka “the voly”) - the staff-only bar (with over 200 different beers on over the course of GBBF – it is a beer-festival within a beer-festival). It was a long week with post-voly bedtime most nights being about 2AM. However we didn’t need to be on-site until 10AM(ish) so that’s not all that bad.

At the end of the final day, within 2 hours of 5pm “time at the bar”, all casks and equipment were off stillage and on pallets. On Sunday the 18th, my last day, I was mostly in the crypt sorting and stacking dead casks. One final batch of hard graft before scooting home on the train for a much needed night in my own bed before heading back to office drudgery on Monday.

It was a long 9 days – and the seriously hardcore volunteers have a couple more either side to make it about 2 weeks on-site. Dedication to cask ale!


The handpumps of Bar 19.

Cask ale care…
(especially with my own festival in mind)…
All the topics covered interested me. (Well, to be honest: the cider session was a nightmare). But I was really there for the beer. How does one serve cask ale in good form? Unfortunately there isn’t 100% agreement on this! However most disagreement comes down to peripheral issues like whether or not venting tools were good and how you should arrange beers on stillage. The term “dark art” came up more than once. However there was enough of a consensus for me to build up a plan for my next festival. I’m lucky enough to have one that isn’t complex – we have 1 cask of each beer (a mix of firks and kils) and they all go on at once for 2.5 days of service starting Thursday evening. Here’s my rough timeline - feel free to critique it. Please.

  1. Monday: (preferable) or Tuesday (ASAP) get all casks on stillage and under cooling.
    • Would prefer Monday with casks sitting overnight before venting, but that incurs the cost of an extra night of overnight security.
    • Conflict exists about whether or not to be variously violent with casks to “redistribute muck and finings”. My position is violence here doesn’t seem necessary. Plus they have already been rolled around the ground quite a bit at this stage.
    • Conflict exists here with respect to use of soft/hard pegs. My position is that soft pegs should only be used where casks exhibit excessive activity. Hard pegs should be applied as soon as activity dies down.
    • Ideally casks should have a few hours to sit at this point prior to venting.
  2. Tuesday: vent and tap all casks.
    • Hard pegs firmly in all casks unless there is excessive activity.
  3. Wednesday AM: 1st check of beers.
    • If good mark as “OK”, otherwise mark as appropriate – making note of any particular taints or excessive haze.
  4. Wednesday PM/evening: 2nd check of beers.
    • If good mark as “OK”. Any still with with excessive haze that hasn’t changed since the 1st check to be tested for overnight with isinglass and aux finings (if possible).
  5. Thursday AM: 3rd check of beers.
    • If determined that finings should be added to any beers, do it now. Carefully & in-place, using a funnel and bent tube. (This is how it is done at GBBF.)
  6. Thursday pre-opening:
    • Check any non-“OK” beers before opening. Attach/flip their cask-end-cards for “OK” beers. Soft spiles in “OK” casks for duration of service.
  7. Thursday end-of-night: Stock-take with dip-sticks, and hard spiles in all beers.
  8. Friday pre-opening: Check any beers not yet “OK”. “OK” them if possible.
  9. Friday end-of-night: Stock-take with dip-sticks, and hard spiles in all beers, perhaps plastics in any below half-full.
  10. Saturday pre-opening: Check, “OK”, etc…
  11. Saturday end-of-night: It’s all over!
    • Pack up as much kit as possible before bed as it all needs to be packed and off-site by Sunday arvo.

This isn’t actually a massive change from my usual schedule – but it does contain more detail and care than previously! Any glaring problems in the schedule? Please let me know in the comments or on Twitter… Some trivialities are omitted, it is the general timeline that’s the important part. It contains things I did not do before, such as:

  • Much more fine-grained checking of the beer in the lead-up to opening.
  • Using finings on beers that really don’t seem to want to drop bright.
  • Regular stock-taking throughout the festival (we need a flexi dipstick!)

My primary goal at any beer festival is: serve an enjoyable pint of beer. Sometimes the beer works against you and it seems to be a given that less-than-perfect pints are not unexpected at CAMRA festivals. I wish this were not so. We should be shining a light upon what a good pint of cask ale can be. Alas the beer works against you sometimes. I have had perfectly fine tasting beer arrive dead flat. What do I do then? I’d like to mark it as crap and send it back to the brewer – cue frustrating arguments. If it tastes fine, has condition, but carries a little haze or “cast” (a very very light haze) I put a note on the cask-end card and tell the bar staff to give prior warning along the lines of “it tastes perfect, but has a little haze to it”. (When we have unfined beers this is perfectly OK of course – though this is more difficult to explain to staff, let alone customers!) Anyway – enough of an aside here, this paragraph is what comes from my personal experience prior to GBBF. (GBBF training cannot offer any silver bullets for these issues.)

These are the tools of the beer QA/lab.

These are the tools of the GBBF Beer-QA lab. Probably a bit more than I really need…

Tools & Toys…
My branch has a couple of toolboxes. Mostly they’re full of rusting relics. Post-training we’re going to have to audit the selection… and we already have a shopping list! Perhaps more on that another time, “The CAMRA Bar Manager’s Toolbox”?

One interesting point is the obvious issue of returning part-full casks. We just hammer in the hard spile and put a cork in the end. While this is clearly not sufficient to stop beer leaking out I’d figured it was simply “the done thing” as it is the thing that is done. After having worked at GBBF, with an actual brewer as a bar manager, I now know this is one of the things that can make brewers quite grumpy. So… want to keep your friendly brewers friendly? Your festival should have a de-shiving tool and sufficient replacement shives and bungs. Any beers returned with a lot still in the casks should have new shives and bungs fitted and ideally be marked as part-full. If the beers were “wrong” in some way this should be marked in some way too – red tape over the bung helps to identify casks with a possible infection. We shall be obtaining such a tool (a sturdy screwdriver can do the job, but the correct tool is easier & safer) and some bags of shives & bungs.

GBBF bar banner

Featuring “Let There Be Beer” – a travesty.

I have great personal conflict & angst over my involvement in CAMRA. On the one hand I think cask ale is great and worthy of advocacy, I love the CAMRA community, and I love being involved in and going to beer festivals. On the other hand I  have found the organisation’s vague support for pubs disheartening – though that seems to have improved greatly in the last year. I’m regularly angered over CAMRA’s willingness to be an advertising-front for JD Wetherspoon and their friendliness with some “brewers” who’re also actively destroying pubs. More recently, I’m really irate about their ill-conceived involvement with this whole Let There Be Beer shambles. LTBB is primarily (solely) promoting big-brand beers available on the cheap from your local supermarket. This does nothing for cask ale and is actively anti-pub.

I swing between really enjoying being a part of CAMRA and feelings of ARGH, CAMRA! *angryface* I QUIT! (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

I have, quite inaccurately, split the target of these feelings between “what normal CAMRA people do” and “what HQ decides”. HQ gets the anger pointed in their direction and meanwhile I get on with beery things with the normal CAMRA folk. The ones who love beer, enjoy beer festivals, and mostly just want to have a good time. Whilst doing so they hope that they can help others discover the beer they love to drink and ensure its availability in the future. We are volunteers putting our own time into something we love. GBBF is the product of 10s of thousands of hours of volunteer time – I can’t help but be impressed by that, and be proud to have been a member of the 2013 GBBF team.

I’ll be back.


I did it all for this – I’m official now. Look – it has a shiny sticker on it!

Complete photo-set: