Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What is the toughest type of beer to brew?

Clean (Pale lagers, Kolsch) - 39%
Sours (Lambic, Flanders Red) -  27%
High gravity (Anything 1.100+) -  12%
Yeast driven (Hefeweizen, Saison) - 5%
Hop bombs (American IPA/DIPA) - 4%
Non-Reihentsgabot (Fruit, spice, or herb laced) - 4%
Malt driven (Milds, Dunkle) - 2%
Other - 2%

I won't say that the results from this one surprise me, but for once I'm with the dissent.  With my brewing it's been the malt driven beers have always given me more problems than either sours or clean/pale beers.  Getting just the right balance of malty flavors in a session gravity beer (neither bland nor obnoxious) is something I have yet to consistently master.  Most other styles have something to camouflage their flaws (alcohol, hops, yeast, sourness etc...) but styles like English mild and dunkel have a clean/fresh malt character and not much else.

The "clean" lagers/ales are a similar category, but for whatever reason I've had better luck with my batches of  Kolsh/Helles etc... maybe because they are so bland I keep my recipes simpler.  Up until a year a go I probably would have rated hop driven beers as one of my biggest challenges, but since starting to keg those sort of beers have improved substantially. Non-Reihentsgabot beers also deserve a mention since they require not only a solid base beer but also layered complexity of adding a unique ingredient (especially when the ingredient(s) stray away than the handful of common fruits/spices historically used in brewing). 

Anyone have a particular style/flavor that has been their white whale, something you've tried repeatedly to brew without ever really being happy with the results?


Dave K. said...

I know this doesn't pertain to this posting but I have read a few times about you using a heating pad to raise your fermenting temperatures. I wanted to try this but wanted to know some more details on how you do it. I was worried even at the lowest setting it may be too warm???

Ps. love this blog, keep it up!


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

You can test out your heating pad with water in the fermenter to see how much temperature rise you get over ambient. I've got an old one I stole from my parents, the problem with most new ones is that they have an auto-off after 15 minutes or so. I just place the carboy on the heating pad and set it on low, you can insulate with a blanket as well if you want to retain more heat.

Thanks, glad you've enjoyed the blog!

j said...

I totally agree with your assessment, A good malt character is very had to attain. I've been brewing for over 2 years with a personal passion to master the Belgian/Trappist style. I feel that I have gotten very good at wrangling the yeast and getting good performances out of them. Yet my beers always seem to be missing something. That something is a strong malt character to balance the yeasty flavor characteristics.

Tim said...

I answered "other" because you didn't give an option for low gravity, though reading the write-up it seems you meant "malt driven" to encompass this. But many barelywines are mainly malty!

Anyway, I could never get a bitter or low gravity saison right until recently. I recently parti-gyled a barleywine and a mild/bitter, which came out decent. Not nearly as good as what can be found in the UK but still nice enough.

Anonymous said...

I'm a pretty competent brewer with the awards to show for it, but I often feel like I have yet to fully master any of the beer styles. As of late, I've been particularly obsessed with brewing English pale ale (ESB) and even though I brew a damn good one, I can never seem to get that perfect balance of malt, caramel, hop, and esters.

Maybe someday...

Anonymous said...

Ha I misinterpreted the question and answered pale lagers simply because they take longer to brew than the ales I normally make and you have to be extra careful on brew day to get everything exactly right because there's nowhere to hide the mistakes. I never really thought of it in terms of getting a certain pre-determined balance.

Paul! said...

I would probably have to go with English Style beer's which fall under the malty catagory. I've made many excellent highly drinkable beer's trying to target things like, bitter, esb, mild , brown porter, most everything Ron Pattinson has ever posted, etc. Yet none of these beer's have ever come close to what a fuller's or say a whychwood product taste like, their fermentations and blending are hard to duplicate.

Andrew said...

Mike, what factor do you think makes the keg IPAs that much better? Keg hops? Bulk conditioning?

I am trying to get to the root cause of homebrew hoppy beers just not being as hobby as microbrew. My two guesses right now are equipment like hopbacks that most homebrewers don't have, and large amounts of yeast in bottle conditioned beer that takes away some flavor. Unfortunately I can't keg yet; my apartment complex on campus forbids kegs.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Thanks for the responses. As a few people pointed out English beers are deceptive, single infusion mash, no weird ingredients etc… so not they aren’t too difficult to make by that standard, but there is some character the best examples have that is very difficult to capture.

I think force carbing is definitely a big advantage of kegging hoppy beer since it allows for a low number of yeast cells. Keg hopping goes a long way too, allowing you to drink the beer at its peak rather than having to leave it warm for a couple weeks off the hops before drinking. Flushing the keg/tubing with CO2 before/after racking helps to reduce oxidation (oxidized American hop is one of my least favorite beer aromas). Being able to keep the whole batch cold once it is ready is another advantage, although you could do the same thing with bottles if you had the fridge space.

A hopback with a plate chiller would certainly be a more efficient way to extract hop aromatics, but you can compensate by adding more hops. I cheat a bit by staggering my hop additions over about 10 minutes after the end of the boil and into the chill. I also try to do most of my hoppy brewing in the winter when my ground water is at its coldest, and I stir constantly until the beer is down to around 100 F.

Unknown said...

I've always had trouble dialing in a big West coast style Double Red Ale. Either the gravity is off, or the color is off, or the hop character is off. That said, one of those three factors is always perfect in every batch I brew, but I haven't found the perfect balance of all three.

JC Tetreault said...

my biggest white whale is belgian witbier. I consider 'mastering' of a style to be a beer Ive made to match up to/stand alongside the best commercial (or homebrewed) beers I've had the pleasure to try.

getting the fermentation character married up with subtle, balanced spicing in a wit akin to a fresh example of allagash white continues to evade me.