Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Pale Ale
Appearance: amber / gold, slight haze, foamy head, great retention
Smell: sweet malts, apricot, peach, light caramel, rye, dry bread
Taste: dry bread, nutty rye, apricot and orange marmalade, peach, light caramel, chewy malt
Mouthfeel: extra creamy, medium body, med-high carbonation, medium bitterness
There comes a time in every homebrewer's life when he's asked to brew a beer for a friend or relative's wedding. It is a ritual as old as time, a foundation upon which our very civilization rests. Wouldn't you rather go to a wedding with some individually-crafted, personalized brews than, god forbid, Heineken? Still, being a more interesting option than Heineken doesn't necessarily make all homebrew good, much less broadly appealing, and compiling a beer selection of only homebrew (though backed by some local wine and spirits) for his wedding reception was a ballsy move on the part of my cousin. He trusted a handful of us to make beer that would appeal to the non-Beer Nerd masses, and also just generally not suck. I'm not sure I'm even that trusting in myself.
Unless you're willing to roll the dice, alienate a few people, or have an exceptionally cool/beer-friendly family, you're going to be limited in what you can brew for a wedding. (Not to mention the time and logistics involved, which is a significant consideration for a small-scale brewer with no kegging-setup, like myself). Sometimes it pays to go all-out-crazy — my other cousin, for example, brewed a 10% whiskey-oak-aged Belgian ale with local foraged Paw-Paw fruit. But most of the time when you're brewing for a party — any kind of party — you're going to want to brew something accessible to 90% of the population, while hopefully staying true to your own palate as well. Most wedding beers I've seen online tend to involve honey or fruit or other "accessible" ingredients. I'm willing to bet that upwards of 75% of beers brewed for weddings are hefeweizens of some sort. For me, though, the occasion meant taking a stab at a summer session ale, a concept I had been wanting to work on anyway.
Quick aside: I consider this a Summer single-hop beer in spirit, even though I used an ounce of Brewer's Gold for bittering. Single-hop beers, to me, are all about the flavor and aroma of a hop. Low alpha acid hops are largely irrelevant as bittering additions at this point (at least in my brewing), and it's generally a waste to use a good flavor hop at 60 minutes anyway.
Shooting for something in between a cream ale and a pale ale, my goal was a full-bodied session beer with the smooth, nutty character of rye forming the background. Rye malt and Conan yeast are both great for providing a smooth, creamy beer, and as expected, they delivered. I went with a slightly oddball mix of grains in this recipe, electing to use some leftover biscuit malt as well as a small percentage of honey malt. (Yes, okay, it's hard to get away from honey-something when you're doing a wedding-beer.) Summer hops are sweet and fruity, and with such a full, sticky body, the honey malt might be a bit too much in combo with the biscuit malt. This beer has a flavor like thick honey-coated bread with orange marmalade — it's quite interesting, and while it sounds heavy, the ABV is low enough to maintain solid drinkability. However, for the sake of my own palate, I feel it could be either less bready or more hoppy.
Finally, the hesitant co-star of the show: Summer. Summer hops have a nice, mild character — peach and orange and light tangy citrus — but they're extremely subtle compared to most of the other hops I've been using lately. Since I didn't dry-hop this batch either, the hops seem content to mostly lurk in the background, adding a spread of marmalade fruitiness to the bready base. Not my favorite variety that I've used lately, but being that it's basically what I was shooting for here, I can't complain. The rye is also fairly mild, adding to the full, generally bready character. This is the kind of beer that you could throw back and simply think "Hey, beer!", or that you could sit down with and pick out the nuances, subtle as they are.
4.75 Gal., All Grain
Mashed at 151 F for 65 minutes
Fermented at 66 degrees F
69.4 % 2-row malt
22.5 % rye malt
5.8 % biscuit malt
2.3 % honey malt
1 oz Brewer's Gold @60
4 oz Summer @0 min
The Alchemist Conan