Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: English Bitter / Rye Ale
Appearance: dark amber/bronze, very little head
Smell: oak, vanilla, nut, rye, biscuit, plum, pear, apple, brown sugar
Taste: rye, biscuit, nut, vanilla, oak, plum, pear, crisp sweet malts, mild roast
Mouthfeel: crisp despite low carbonation, slightly thin, slick
This brew marks a first at Bear Flavored: the first time I have rebrewed an original, specific recipe — not counting the many many IPA variations I have done, of course. While I am primarily an experimental / try-new-things homebrewer, there are a handful of "concepts" that I would like perfect sooner or later, and every year I'll probably brew a few of those beers until I get them where I want them. Back in April of 2012, I brewed an "oaked rye mild ale" that ended up pretty weird. Not undrinkable, and definitely not infected, but it had an odd, earthy character that I eventually decided was DMS (and in retrospect, I'm not even 100% about that diagnosis). I could pick out the potential of a solid beer underneath, and it was a concept that I wanted to work with more, so I decided to do a rebrew for winter. This rebrew has become an "English Bitter" in order to be at least slightly style-accurate, being that I'm quite over-zealous with my hopping rates.
Attempting to improve upon one of your own original recipes — which you already botched once — adds some extra stress and pressure, but praise be to Saccharomyces, I really like how this one came out. It's a total change-up from my usual hoppy and Brett beers, and aimed squarely at "session beer" territory with a 4.8% ABV, but it's not at all boring, or really even similar to many commercial beers that I can think of. Granted, I don't get to try too many English beers, but part of my inspiration for this was brewing something similar to Innis & Gunn, yet more complex and multi-dimensional.
I got the complexity part right, but if I have one upfront complaint, it's that my brew doesn't have nearly the lush, vanilla-y oak character of Innis & Gunn. I enjoy the oak character that is here, though it could stand to be a bit stronger, and perhaps smoother. Vanilla and oak come through clearest in the early aroma, with the flavor more along the lines of a sweet baking spice. Partly, this may be due to the rye and biscuit flavors the oak has to compete with: my mild ale is crackling with dry, bready, spicy flavors, and the oak blends in so well with them that it disappears a bit. I intentionally left out crystal malt or anything that might have brought some sweetness back into the beer, a decision I'm happy with, but could probably benefit from a bit more tweaking. This is one of the more spicy rye beers that I've had — though I should clarify that rye doesn't impart "spice" as the term normally implies, but a funky, earthy, dry character that doesn't have many comparisons. There's also a pretty strong backbone of bitterness, though it tastes more of rye and dry roast than hops. Biscuit malt and brown malt contribute a flavor of crackers and dry, biscuity bread, as well as a pronounced 'nut' character. In terms of pure nuttiness, this gives any "nut brown ale" I've ever had a run for its money. (It's very nutty). There are a great number of dry, bready, nutty flavors working together at once, and yet in harmony. Honestly, I prefer the complexity here over most commercial stabs at "session" beers.
I'm also rather happy with the performance of West Yorkshire ale yeast in this, and the resulting flavor and fruity esters. Fermentation went off without a hitch, attenuation was what I expected, and the beer is reasonably clear, typical of my more attractive homebrews. There are some nice fruity esters, vaguely pear and apple-like, though nothing overbearing or out of place. The slight fruitiness helps to balance the dry and bitter flavors some. On one hand, logic tells me that this would have to become a fair bit sweeter in order to have mass appeal; on the other hand, almost everyone I've had try this has given it an unexpected amount of praise.
I would not be surprised if I "finalize" this recipe somewhere close to where this already stands, but as usual, I already have a few tweaks and variations in mind. Next time, I believe I will reduce the rye and up the oats, so that both contribute in equal parts to the grainbill. My hope there would be for a creamier, slicker mouthfeel without a loss of complexity. With the brown malt and biscuit malt, I believe there are already enough dry bready flavors that the rye doesn't need to be featured so prominently. Finally, I would still like more oak character. I added 0.75 ounces of oak chips for the entire fermentation (almost 3 weeks), and then an additional 0.5 oz at three days before bottling. If I did the same batch size, I would add 1.25 ounces from the start — for 3 weeks — and go from there. (For a typical 5 gallon batch, I believe you could add 1.5 to 1.75 ounce oak for 3 weeks).
One last footnote: this was the last beer I brewed before getting a water report for Beacon. Fortunately, the extremely soft water doesn't seem to have significantly affected this brew, though it has the soft mouthfeel I've come to expect with my brews here.
3.75 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 73%
Mashed at 152 degrees for 75 minutes
Fermented at 68 F in fermentation fridge
Apparent Attenuation: 78%
57.7 % Canada Malting pale ale malt
15.4 % rye malt
11.5 % brown malt
7.7 % biscuit malt
7.7 % Simpsons Golden Naked Oats
0.5 oz Brewer's Gold @FWH
0.5 oz Brewer's Gold @10 min
1 oz Brewer's Gold @5 min
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale Yeast