Thursday, May 17, 2012

Recipe and Tasting Notes: Rye Porter

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Porter
Brewed: 3.13.2012
ABV: 6.8%

Appearance: jet black, completely opaque
Smell: dank, roasted malts, sulfury yeast
Taste: roasted malts, dank earth, chocolate, coffee, sweet toffee
Mouthfeel: silky, medium/full body, smooth, moderate carbonation

Why is rye such a marginalized ingredient in beer? For the entirety of the 1900's, it was barely used at all. Before the craft beer revolution, you would have had to dig up some obscure German roggenbier. Even today rye is almost always found in "rye IPAs," which admittedly is a great style that highlights all the best aspects of the grain — its spicy character when met with hops, its smooth malty creaminess when met with traditional crystal malts, and its silky mouthfeel. Still, in my experience, there's not a lot of variation in rye IPAs, and even less outside that.

Which is all to lead up to my point that a porter with a small amount of rye shouldn't even have to be labelled a "rye porter." But the reality is that rye is such an uncommon ingredient, it seems like you might as well make it the selling point of any beer where it plays a role. Rye certainly isn't a traditional ingredient in porters (or stouts), but it seems like a great fit for those styles. It's one of those extremely versatile ingredients that noticeably affects both mouthfeel and flavor — silky mouthfeel and... however you want to describe the flavor of rye. I don't think it dominates the beer unless it's used in extremely high percentages, so there's no reason not to just "throw it in there" and let it add some complexity. For my rye porter (which I'm calling "Black Lodge"), I was aiming for something in the middle — prominent but not dominant.

Does it add complexity, here? I think so. The main benefit of rye, in beers with big competing flavors, is the silky mouthfeel. That definitely comes through. Other than that, I think this mostly tastes like a solid porter. Rye seems to work different ways in different grain bills, and here, I'm getting a "dank" character beyond what I expected. Porters often have something like this character — I can't really think of a better word to describe it, other than a roasty dank and somewhat earthy flavor — but it's much stronger here than in commercial porters. That could very well be the rye at work, contributing some of the spicy, dark, musty flavors found in rye bread. In fact, the more bottles of this I try, the more convinced I am that it is largely the rye at work. Rye's funkier flavors seem like they would be enhanced by roasty malts.

But the yeast I used almost certainly added to this dank earthy character too. (Here comes the "problem diagnoses" portion of my homebrew write-ups.) This was my first of three batches trying out White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast (WLP007), a yeast that I had high hopes for. After a number of batches that finished out too sweet for my tastes, I wanted something that would produce a beer with a low Final Gravity, and WLP007 is rated for up to 80% attenuation. (The "Dry" in the name refers to the character of the beer it produces, not the packaging. It is a liquid yeast.) For reasons that I may-or-may-not have now solved, but are likely related to my mashing procedure more so than the yeast I used, my FG actually finished much higher than I wanted here. I don't blame the yeast, but it is disappointing, given my reasons for choosing it. Thankfully, a porter like this can endure a high FG, and the sweetness doesn't bother me. I did add some table sugar in order to bump the ABV back to where I wanted it and combat the sweetness, thinking at the time that it might even rouse the yeast in case it was a stuck fermentation, but that did nothing much except to thin out the body.

My main gripe with White Lab's Dry English Ale yeast, though, isn't how the fermentation progressed — I'm sure it's a wonderful yeast in that regard, if treated right. What I didn't expect was how much I dislike the aroma this yeast produces. Of the three batches I fermented with WLP007, my Rye Porter came out the best, with those aromas the most subdued. But they're there — giving the beer a dank, sulfury odor that's definitely not from the rye. I Googled, and I don't seem to be alone; WLP007 has a reputation for producing a mild sulfur character. And yes, I fermented within the yeast's temp range, and I pitched a large, healthy starter. I smelled it when cleaning out the fermentation bucket, when bottling, and unfortunately when drinking — it did clean up somewhat after a few weeks, but I think that base character is always going to be there. There's no fruity English esters, so best case scenario with Dry English Ale is that it leaves a more neutral character. A better brewer than I could probably get it to cooperate, but why take the risk when there are so many other options? I see no reason to use WLP007 again. Unfortunately, you'll be seeing this complaint again with my next two batches, which I brewed before second-guessing my yeast selection.

Overall, the yeast didn't ruin the beer — in spite of my gripes, this is still a pretty decent porter, maybe a B- compared to commercial examples. I will be brewing it again, probably in early 2013, and I'm excited to revamp and fine-tune.

3.5 Gal., All Grain
OG: 1.072
FG: 1.020

Mashed 60 minutes at 150 degrees.
60.4 % Maris Otter
11 % Rye malt
7.2 % chocolate malt
5.5 % roasted barley
5.5 % flaked barley 
2.7 % aromatic malt
7.7 % brown sugar

Hop Schedule-
36 IBU
0.4 oz Calypso @60 minutes
0.6 oz  Calypso @10 minutes

White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast (WL007)

1 comment:

  1. I love rye. I bought half a sack last year and purchased a full one this year. My favorite summer rye recipe is for a pale rye ale very easy and very tasty brew that even swill drinkers will like. 8lbs 2-row, 4lbs rye malt, .5oz centennial at 60 and .5oz centennial and .5oz northern brewer at 15. Yeast is wyeast 1056 pitched with a starter and fermented on the cooler side. Looking forward on trying some of your rye recipes. David in Saskatoon


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