Monday, January 9, 2012

Recipe and Tasting Notes: Cinnamon Vanilla Porter

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Porter
Brewed: 9.27.11
ABV: 5.1% 

Brewing and Tasting Notes: 
Even after drinking my cinnamon vanilla porter for over a month now, I still don't quite know where to fall on this one. I went from fearing that this batch might be a total failure (more on that in a minute), to happily realizing it had evolved into a decent if flawed beer, to hearing from a few friends that it was among their favorite beers that I've brewed thus far. The consensus (particularly in my own head) is that this came out pretty decent, but the flavors are a bit muddled and it's not exactly what I intended.

Mostly, I think the cinnamon and vanilla just don't come across as clearly as I expected those particular flavors would, and I'm not sure how well cinnamon even works as a stand-alone flavor in beer. I'm not sure why that is — it's not that either one clouds the other, or that one isn't potent enough. It's obvious that there is something else going on here beyond just a porter, something vaguely-spiced and sweet, but it's hard to pick out "oh, vanilla" or "oh, cinnamon." On the other hand, I've had commercial porters and stouts with a very clear vanilla flavor, and that's obviously what I was going for. Here, both appear most noticeably in the aftertaste, but by then it's a bit hard to place what's going on. The cinnamon in particular comes across as sort of a general spice flavor with a strange woodiness to it, which leads me to the other issue.

Back in November I tried a week-old bottle of this (extremely prematurely), and became paranoid that this would be my first "total failure" batch. That first bottle I opened up had an overwhelmingly strange aroma, and while it tasted decent, it was not what I had been expecting. As will happen, my mind raced, and I spent hours on forums trying to diagnose what I smelled. I spent about a day thinking maybe it was infected, but the aroma wasn't much like any infection symptom I could find, and it seemed unlikely it would have developed so intense of a smell despite having shown no visible signs of infection just days earlier when I bottled it. After that I spent a few days thinking the beer was oxidized, since the smell had seemed like it could be the oxidized "wet cardboard" odor people talk about. But oxidation, I realized, would also need a much longer time to develop — there was no way it could be responsible for what I was smelling so early on, and I couldn't remember anywhere in my process that so much oxidization might have occurred.

Then, as will also happen, I tasted the beer again after waiting the proper amount of time for it to carbonate, and lo and behold, it was fine. No infection. I can still pick out that same aroma / taste, but it's no longer an obnoxious flaw, more like a small flavor component that I can't place. And no one else that's tried it has remarked about it to me. It has mellowed out over time, not gotten worse. So, after all that, I've concluded that the major flaw in this beer was a result of the cinnamon sticks — specifically, that I added them at the beginning of the boil and left them in for the whole fermentation process, up to bottling day. For other brewers: don't boil and leave cinnamon sticks in your beer for the whole fermentation period. I believe that amount of time spent in the beer contributed the slightly "wet wood" flavor I'm finding; the sticks had turned to soggy mush by the time they left the beer, after all. Now, that woody cinnamon flavor is more prominent than the spicy cinnamon flavor, which isn't the best. I believe cinnamon, in stick form, should be added as late in the process as possible, maybe a few days before bottling.

Lastly, I'd say the porter came out a bit too sweet and rich, which hurts the other flavors and hides the most positive characteristics of the vanilla and roasty malts. There needs to be more porter character, less sweet malt character — as it is, there's mostly just sweet malt character. A drier, 'darker' tasting beer with better executed spice additions would make this much more enjoyable. I think the idea has plenty of merit, and I should reiterate that this is a plenty drinkable beer that's gotten a good bit of positive feedback, but for me to be totally happy with it, the recipe needs a few adjustments. I probably will try my hand at another cinnamon vanilla porter again in the future to see if I can get it right.

5 Gal., Partial Mash
OG: 1.054
FG: 1.014

#2.5 2 row
#0.75 cara 120L
#0.25 special B
#0.25 chocolate malt
#0.25 black patent malt
4# light DME
Hop Schedule-
1 oz Challenger @60 
Yeast- Wyeast Scottish Ale
Added 2 cinnamon sticks at beginning of boil.
Added 2 vanilla beans after 5 days.

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