This work represents a survey of the occurrence of hydroxycinnamic acids and volatile phenols in a variety of beer styles. The contribution of 4-vinylguaiacol to the overall flavour perception of top-fermented specialty beers was shown. Significant differences in hydroxycinnamic acids (both free and ester-bound) and volatile phenol content between different beers were observed. The variability in volatile phenol content between different beers and beer styles can be explained by the high incidence of Pad1(+) phenotype and the variability of Pad1 activity observed among top-fermenting brewing yeast strains. The relative importance of thermal versus enzymatic decarboxylation can account for the differences found between bottom and top-fermented beers. Concerning the optimisation of volatile phenol levels in beer, the selection of a suitable brewing yeast strain is the most important means of creating a phenolic taste profile in beer. Given that a considerable amount of hydroxycinnamic acids in beer still occurs in ester-bound form, enhancing the enzymatic release of these phenolic flavour precursors during mashing can greatly enhance the phenolic aroma potential of wort. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.