Unibroue and "Natural Flavors" -- how disgusted should I be?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Avangion, Dec 25, 2012.

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  1. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    So, I have been a major advocate of Quebec beers since I visited and discovered so many great ones. Unibroue is probably the most well known brand available where I'm from (NYC), and I've been an admirer of them, too, for some time. This year, someone kindly purchased a bottle of Trader Joe's Vintage 2012 for me. This may be old news, but I've never seen it before, and my initial skepticism turned to delight when I saw it's made by Unibroue. But then my eye caught sight of it, right there on the front of the bottle: Natural flavor added.

    What could this mean, I wondered... but I couldn't really turn up much information online. I may call them, but I thought I could run this by the BA community first. My fear is that other Unibroue beers also include natural flavors (which basically means artificial flavors and is repulsive to me, especially in a product like beer--reminds me of the Lindemans fiasco). My sense from reading reviews of actual Unibroues is that they may be adding various flavor syrups, and I'm not even sure how I feel about that, but flavor additives is a whole 'nother story. I may be overreacting, but I am close to swearing off Unibroue completely if this turns out to be true. Given their recent purchase by Sapporo, I don't feel too guilty about it, but, still, I hate to give up any worthy brew. I just want to confirm my suspicions first.

    This also makes me wonder how many other beers use artificial/natural flavors. Does anyone know? I always thought of beer as a genuinely natural food and that you really shouldn't and don't need to add anything to it, at least not anything that isn't also food.
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  2. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    I should add that I have a special interest in Maudite. The answer to this question will determine whether I cellar my two bottles or give them away. Extreme, I know, but this happens to be something I feel strongly about. I don't want anything with flavor additives. I know it won't be a universal prejudice.
    baconman91 likes this.
  3. Horbar

    Horbar Zealot (560) Feb 24, 2012 Rhode Island

    It's better than "Un-natural"
    dachshunddude86, gtermi and JxExM like this.
  4. tehzachatak

    tehzachatak Initiate (0) Sep 19, 2010 Massachusetts

    Because of how things are labeled, it is difficult to determine what is going on in any individual beer unless you have further information, which I don't have.

    HOWEVER, I think this last point you raised could use some discussion. I'm not sure exactly where the line for you is. A witbier, for example, has natural flavoring - orange and coriander. Some pumpkin ales have spices, etc.

    I'm not sure on a BEER what the exact laws are about what has to be labeled as what, or what leeway the manufacturer has in terms of how they label. However, for food, the regulation is as follows:

    So this means, for example, that one could produce a witbier, and instead of using actual orange peel and coriander, one could use coriander extract and orange extract, or essential oils, etc. I am not necessarily 100% against this. Using extracts and things like this tend to help mass production of products, and ensure a more consistent production. For a brewery as large as Unibroue, it seems to me that this would be a rather large motivation to use flavorings like this. Do I want my small batch local nanobrewery to use orange essential oil rather than good dried orange peel in their wit which I tolerate batch variation in? No, but I don't have a problem with Sam Adams or Unibroue doing it.

    "Natural flavor" doesn't necessarily mean it's something that's "not food". Vintage Ale says, if I remember right, "Spices and Natural Flavors" or something like that on the front. All that means in this case, I think, is that they're using some whole/ground/whatever spices, and some extracts. I'm ok with that.
  5. GennyCreamAle

    GennyCreamAle Initiate (0) Feb 25, 2009 New York

    What fiasco?
  6. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    Not really. Natural flavors and artificial flavors are derived differently but are more similar than their misleading names imply. Natural flavors are basically the same thing as artificial flavors, which are sometimes even safer, ironically. If they are natural anything, they could just list what they are. But since they are chemicals made in a factory on the New Jersey Turnpike, they would rather not. Some "flavors" are made of dozens of chemicals. Why would I want to drink chemically-enhanced, beer-flavored beer? What are they doing in the brewing process that requires them to add back in flavors at all? I don't even think Budweiser does that. Others may disagree, but to me, this is an abomination... (big) if it turns out to be true.
  7. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    When they starting adding artificial sweetener to their fruit lambics. Aspartame or something related, I believe. This is why Whole Foods stopped carrying them.
  8. MrOH

    MrOH Crusader (754) Jul 5, 2010 Maryland

    How do you feel about beers with "brewed with spices", "with fruit added", or "brewed with honey"? These are all "natural flavors". The Trader Joe's Vintage ale is basically a Belgian Strong Dark with spices. It's all in how its worded.

    I also don't understand how you equate "natural flavors added" to "artificial flavors". There's a huge difference between vanilla extract and artificial vanilla flavoring.

    For a quick point of reference, see Fantome. All kinds of natural flavorings added (herbs, spices, juices, stinging nettles, etc.), and very few BAs would turn their nose up at a pour.
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  9. WickedSluggy

    WickedSluggy Devotee (400) Nov 21, 2008 Texas
    Beer Trader

    "natual flavors added" usually mean concentrates derived from a natural (plant or animal) source, so it could very well mean syrups or extracts. It can actually mean a chemical indistinguishable from an artificial source.

    "Natural" is a funny word. If another species makes it, it's natural. If our species makes it it's not. It's a very specio-centric word. I don't like the word at all. The very fact that we have the inclination to separate ourselves from "nature" is the very root of the problem.
  10. MrOH

    MrOH Crusader (754) Jul 5, 2010 Maryland

    Wow, the factory is right in the middle of the road? Their insurance rates must be astronomic.
  11. tehzachatak

    tehzachatak Initiate (0) Sep 19, 2010 Massachusetts

    Just to be clear - this is another thing that annoys me. I don't like sweetened lambics either - but the reason Lindemans adds artificial sweetener is because its the only way to sweeten a bottled, unpasteurized lambic. It's not that they used to use something "real" and now don't. If you add regular sugar to the point of making the lambic as sweet as Lindemans is, the bugs will eat it, and make the bottles blow up. It's the same reason why you can't, as far as I know, buy bottled real Faro.
  12. Hanzo

    Hanzo Initiate (0) Feb 27, 2012 Virginia

    Do you like how the beer tastes? Then what does it matter if natural flavors are added?

    I can't speak of the 2012 version as I haven't opened mine yet, but the 2011 was fantastic, and for $4.99 an absolute steal.
  13. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    Thanks for the reply! This is quite helpful. I agree that Natural Flavors is vague enough that I might be overreacting. I suppose the line for me is not at extracts or essential oils but at flavors that are derived in factories from natural sources and then labeled as Natural Flavors. I try to avoid food products containing those. The guideline you cite is informative, but is so broad it doesn't entirely allay my suspicions. Probably, as you point out, the big brewers deserve the benefit of the doubt, whereas the sorts of flavors you find in mass produced, packaged, and fast food generally do not.

    I like the point you raise about, i.e. actual orange peel vs. orange extract. I never thought about it. Maybe others will weigh in while I decide how much of a purist I want to be. Hopefully not too much...
  14. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    This was a reply to #3 btw
  15. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    Yes, it looks that way because I forgot to quote who I was replying to and someone else replied while I was typing my response.
  16. mychalg9

    mychalg9 Champion (849) Apr 8, 2010 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    Why dont we just forget about the semantics here and just find out what they use to brew the beer with? It might save a lot of pointless convo...
  17. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    I feel fine about that! It's just so much is vague about the term "natural flavor" in the food world.
  18. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    Yes, that would be great if it's possible to find out. Also want to say thanks to everyone who is responding so quickly! I am new to the forums, and this is already great. I hope I don't seem too outraged... Probably the NJ in me. Anyway thanks for all your contributions to resolving my conundrum. Probably have to go offline for awhile but looking forward to reading more later.

    I did drink the TJ 2012 btw. It was fine. Maybe a little hot for me but drinkable for sure.
  19. Docrock

    Docrock Defender (686) Jan 21, 2012 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    Well said
  20. baconman91

    baconman91 Initiate (0) Dec 13, 2009 Ohio

    -pls ...post what u find out, u've peaked (my) curiosity/interest..as there are a (Few) Unibroue's i am particular of (&) Quite fond . -wish i had some time 2 do some research myself, but my 16 month old kid takes up Most of it.
    --btw, i kinda was "lack luster" w/ reading sum replies here..but i did see there was a mention of "Budweiser" somewhere..& sum1 here actually has a Username "Genesee" sumthin' or other (LOL--i hope they're being Facetious !!! - DEAR LORD)...(BOTH) of which have NO purpose EVER being even being "uttered" on this Website (are u kidding me?!) ;-O
  21. Avangion

    Avangion Initiate (0) Dec 14, 2012 New York

    I think some people are allergic to these sweeteners, though. Anyway, to consume such things is a matter of preference, right? Lindeman's is tasty, to be sure, but I don't feel comfortable with aspartame or whatever they use.
  22. tehzachatak

    tehzachatak Initiate (0) Sep 19, 2010 Massachusetts

    Sure - I don't disagree. And I do wish they were labeled as containing such in the States - I don't understand why they don't have to be. My point being, people routinely give Lindemans enormous amounts of shit for using artificial sweeteners - yet they're using artificial sweeteners for a very specific reason! You cannot use natural sugars to accomplish what they are trying to do. This is not Coke vs. Diet Coke.

    I don't like their beers, save for the Cuvee Renes (unsweetened, very good). I don't think they're good, and I'm not trying to defend sweetened lambic, which is clearly not real lambic, however you slice it. I'm just trying to point out that as far as I understand it, they don't have another option.
  23. Hanzo

    Hanzo Initiate (0) Feb 27, 2012 Virginia

    I have a friend in my tasting group that is allergic to Nutmeg, and not all holiday beers list their ingredients, so I would say the broader issue is to have a beers ingredient list available on the bottle or online, just like most other food and drink items.
    lancecenter likes this.
  24. leedorham

    leedorham Crusader (701) Apr 27, 2006 Washington

    This is false. If you use finings/filtration, 'methode champenoise', stabilize with potassium sorbate, or combinations thereof you can backsweeten a beer with natural sweeteners. This is done with cider, mead, and sparkling wines all the time. How do you think there were varying levels of sweetness in sparkling wines produced long before the invention of artificial sweeteners?
  25. Chaz

    Chaz Poo-Bah (1,934) Feb 3, 2002 Minnesota
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    The last I had heard, the sweetener that they use is Acesulfame K, for which there are documented cases of allergic reactions. It's a common industrial / food process sweetener in Europe, just FYI. :sunglasses:
  26. SammyJaxxxx

    SammyJaxxxx Poo-Bah (2,171) Feb 23, 2012 New Jersey
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    Brewed with spices or fruit added are very different from "Natural Flavors"

    NAtural flavors does not mean what you think it does.
    “strawberry and vanilla flavor can come from the gland in a beaver's backside.” an be considered a Natural flavor.

    Watch this video about "natural flavors:"

  27. GennyCreamAle

    GennyCreamAle Initiate (0) Feb 25, 2009 New York

    I see. My opinion, go with your gut and avoid it. Personally, I am more afraid of Oxalates than aspartame.
  28. tehzachatak

    tehzachatak Initiate (0) Sep 19, 2010 Massachusetts

    There's a whole level of things here, and I'm going to start talking past my knowledge base at some point, because I am not exactly an expert here, but let me do what I can, and hopefully I don't say anything false.

    Correct me if I am wrong, please, but I don't believe wine, even quite a while ago, was/is spontaneously fermented (obviously, at some point it was) (nor have I ever had a spontaneously fermented cider). There are a LOT of bugs in a lambic that aren't in your typical fermented beverage. And let's be clear - say what you will about most Lindemans products, but their base lambic is real (and clearly of a pretty high quality, seeing that 3F/Tilquin/others use it in their gueuzes that we love).

    This is a very specific reason why there are not a lot of sweet wild ales - the bugs tend to eat everything dry eventually. Brett, if I understand correctly, can eat a lot of complex sugars your typical saccharomyces cannot. There are plenty of bottle conditioned beers that are plenty sweet, because they use something like crystal malt that contains loads of unfermentable sugars. However, toss some wild yeasts in there, and eventually, they're going to eat everything.

    Even if it's fermentable sugar, many single culture wine/beer yeasts are going to die at some point. I would imagine some sweet wines are produced this way - you bring it to a certain alcohol level, add sugar, bottle condition, and select yeast specifically to stop fermentation at a certain alcohol and sugar level. Again, with a controlled yeast, this is doable, I believe.

    Lindemans is REALLY sweet. I'm sure it's entirely possible to bottle a wild with some decent sweetness, although nothing comes to mind, but eventually it's going to dry out, like I mentioned above. However, you're pretty limited as to how much sugar you can bottle with, because if there's too much, your bottle is going to EVENTUALLY explode at some point, even if it'll make it a little while. I highly doubt a regular glass bottle can hold up to the eventual final product that would result from something being bottled at the level of sweetness Lindemans has with edible sugars.
  29. ndepriest

    ndepriest Aspirant (264) Feb 21, 2012 Georgia
    Beer Trader

    So many beers have flavor additives. One of BA's high-holy-breweries, Cigar City, uses cucumber extract for their Cucumber Saison. Why? Because adding that many cucumbers to a beer would be ridiculous and expensive. It's a terrific beer, only made possible by using "natural flavors." There are plenty of un-natural things that could be added to beer. As long as the beer doesn't cross over into that territory, I don't much mind how or what they add to the beer, as long as the finished product is the better for it.
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  30. tehzachatak

    tehzachatak Initiate (0) Sep 19, 2010 Massachusetts

    i will reiterate my point, which is still valid, i think? it's the only way to make the beer that sweet without the bottles eventually exploding.
  31. CellarGimp

    CellarGimp Disciple (335) Sep 14, 2011 Missouri

    Sweetened lambics are filtered and have no live yeast in them. Fermentable sugars are fine.
  32. Jtc2811

    Jtc2811 Aspirant (235) Dec 13, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    I'm guessing they say "natural flavors" so they don't have to say corn syrup solids or something like that. I would not.be surprised if their Belgian dark is brewed with corn syrup and caramel color instead of candi sugar. I doubt it's any more sinister than that
  33. tehzachatak

    tehzachatak Initiate (0) Sep 19, 2010 Massachusetts

    Hm, ok. Then my entire point is invalid. I thought Lindemans was unpasteurized.
  34. chefkevlar

    chefkevlar Disciple (336) Apr 17, 2010 South Carolina
    Beer Trader

    Lindemans has stopped using artificial sweeteners fyi. Problem is they didn't change the label on the package so no one knows which bottles are which. Also in general it's apparently ok to add high fructose corn syrup to beers or ciders and list it as a "natural flavor".
  35. MasterSki

    MasterSki Site Editor (6,625) Dec 25, 2006 Ontario (Canada)
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    Probably contains Castoreum.
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  36. MusicaleMike

    MusicaleMike Initiate (0) Mar 17, 2008 Pennsylvania

    Just had an old Lindeman's Framboise last night...probably 5 years old, and the ingredients were listed "Barley, Wheat, Hops, Water, Yeast and Fresh Raspberries"
  37. LeRose

    LeRose Meyvn (1,264) Nov 24, 2011 Massachusetts
    Premium Member

    No. That would not be true that you can call a sweetener a flavor. (few posts back). There is no sweetener I know about after 32 years in the food business that can be classified as a flavor. In the food industry that would be totally taboo. Flavor additives and the like are pretty much related by CFR 21 and a couple other regulatory documents. Horribly confusing. There is Natural flavoring, natural like flavoring s, artificial, flavoring s, and the ever popular WONF ( with other natural flavorings) I don't know if there is something similar for alcoholic beverages.

    You can't label high fructose corn syrup as anything but that. Regardless of the fact that sugar is sugar, that has to be called out specifically. Only thing you can label as sugar is sucrose. You even have to label cane juice as cane juice, not sugar even though that is what it is. Definitely no sweetener can be called a flavor in food world.

    Flavorings that are natural are usually distillates of the real item. So orange flavoring would be a distillate or oil of oranges or orange peel. Artificial would be produced from chemical synthesis, not the real source item.
  38. SeaOfShells

    SeaOfShells Initiate (0) Feb 22, 2011 California

    You seem pretty concerned, so maybe you should just call them. All we can do is speculate because we didn't make the beer.
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  39. tendermorsel

    tendermorsel Initiate (0) Oct 22, 2006 Massachusetts

    Nothing is more refreshing than than the ass gland of a beaver. Trust me.
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  40. DelMontiac

    DelMontiac Initiate (0) Oct 22, 2010 Oklahoma

    Let the girl play baseball if she's good enough to make the team.
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