Thursday, June 21, 2012

Recipe and Tasting Notes: Oaked Rye Mild Ale

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Mild Ale
Brewed: 4.08.2012
ABV: 4.7%

Appearance: dark brown, creamy cap of foam that persists until the beer is gone
Smell: DMS / vegetables 
Taste: clean malts, rye, hints of vanilla, oak, toffee, biscuit; DMS / vegetables
Mouthfeel: creamy, full, smooth; mild carbonation

One of the great things about homebrewing is how insanely complicated, complex and variable it can be. On the other hand, one of the many frustrating things about homebrewing is how insanely complicated, complex and variable it can be. Any number of things can affect how your recipe turns out, and any number of minor tweaks can turn that recipe into something completely different. Change something fundamental, like your brewing equipment, and there will likely be some kinks to work out over the next few batches. I recently changed a few major things: made the leap to all grain brewing, which involves figuring out a number of new brew-day procedures, and I moved into a new apartment. I made sure to find a place that didn't have a crappy flat-top electric stove (electric burners are usually significantly weaker than a gas-top range), but as my luck would have it, the gas stove in my new apartment is rather pathetic anyway. On my first batch in the new place, it was immediately apparent that these burners would have a lot more trouble getting the wort to a boil than at my last place. It's not a deal-breaker, and I'm lucky that I'd already settled on 3 to 3.5 gallon batches as the perfect size, as that's about the max volume I would be able to brew on this stove anyway.

I decided to try just one 4 gallon batch with an experimental "split boil" method — boil part of the batch consecutively, in a second smaller pot, on another burner. This, of course, required some unusual calculations. I figured that boiling in two pots would result in twice the boil-off rate (water boils off into steam, and when brewing you have to start with about a gallon more than you want to eventually end up with) so I added an extra gallon to my sparge water, and proceeded as planned. The boil in the second pot, which only sat on one burner rather than two, was... weak. That should have thrown up some red flags, but nonetheless, I was rather shocked when I poured everything together into my fermenter and found that I'd ended up with more than 5 gallons of wort. (Remember: I was only going for 4.) Even with a lower boil-off rate from the crappy simmering boil, that doesn't make sense, so I must have messed up my water volume calculations at multiple stages, somehow. Sigh.

While it was sort of nice to end up with a gallon and a half more beer than I was expecting — and there was a brief period where I thought maybe I was some magical wizard who could conjure beer out of thin air — this "bonus beer" was directly tied to the batches' major flaw: DMS. For non-brewers, DMS is an organic sulfur compound that comes from grain, and ordinarily is dissipated during the boil (it's the reason you can't cover up your brewpot while boiling, even though that results in a stronger boil.) I usually have a few flaws to analyze when doing these write-ups, because I'm not good enough yet to be brewing perfect batches every time. There's always something that can be improved. This, however, is one of the few times where I've ended up with up with a really clear off-flavor — not just a recipe that came out a little less tasty than I was hoping, but something that anyone could identify as "off."

So what is DMS like, and does it render the beer undrinkable? I've seen it described online as a "creamed corn" flavor, or like cooked vegetables. I'd say it's a mix of "cooked vegetables" and "old vegetables." Fortunately, the DMS comes through mostly in the aroma — dominant immediately after pouring, but lessening as the beer sits — so while you notice it in the taste too, it doesn't dominate the flavor of the beer.

In fact, it's possible to look past the glaring flaw and enjoy the beer beneath it. DMS doesn't seem to be the sort of flavor that will muddle and warp other base flavors — like in an overspiced beer, or overly-sweet beer, or what have you — it kind of just stands to the side, being unpleasant and unwanted. So it's fairly easy to see what the beer would be like without it. And that's good, because I think my recipe is solid. I had high hopes for this one, and while I will be tweaking the recipe (as always) over a few generations, the idea is definitely a keeper. The rye and the oak together give a subtle, natural vanilla and spice flavor — with no actual vanilla used in the recipe. (Actually, I think it's a bit too subtle, and I'll probably be upping the oak chips to a full ounce next time. Oak chips can be very aggressive, and I wanted to get a feel for them first.) This has the malty creaminess of a good British beer, a subtle, sweet flavor from the mix of malts, and yet it's clean and light enough to be sessionable. With some recipe adjustments and an avoidance of off-flavors, this will make for a great house beer; I'll definitely be brewing the concept again sooner rather than later.

5.33 Gal., All Grain
Mashed 75 minutes at 150 degrees
Primary fermentation 70 degrees F
Aged on 0.5 oz American oak chips for entire primary fermentation (~3 weeks)
OG: 1.048
FG: 1.012

58.4 % Maris Otter
11.7 % Rye malt
7.3 % Flaked Barley
5.8 % C40
2.9 % Chocolate malt
2.9 % Chocolate Rye malt
2.9 % Aromatic malt

Hop Schedule-
0.2 oz Brewer's Gold FWH
0.4 oz  Brewer's Gold @15 minutes
0.4 oz  Brewer's Gold @5 minutes

White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast (WL007)

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