Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cabernet-English Barleywine Tasting

The DC Homebrewers club is rapidly approaching our fourth anniversary! Three years ago we started an annual tradition of brewing a collaborative beer dole out a couple bombers at a time to celebrate each subsequent anniversary. The goal is eventually to have six or seven different vintages to sample each year. The brew days are good excuses to get together drink a few homebrews, and brew a recipe that none of us would have on our own.

Wine glass seems appropriate for a barleywine fermented with a couple pounds of Cabernet sauvignon grapes.The first beer was a local smoked/honey stout we brewed at my house. The bottle I brought to the October meeting held at District ChopHouse, their brewer Barrett Lauer provided the yeast, was still in great shape. The second anniversary brew was the Cabernet-grape-spiked English barleywine sitting in front of me now (this is my one bottle opened in payment for buying the ingredients). The third batch was spearheaded by Josh, our current club president, an old ale that was still in secondary last I heard.

DCHB Anniversary #2 – Cabernet Barleywine

Appearance – Rich reddish-brown body, very clear. You might not know there were grapes in there from the color alone. The head is about an inch thick, and slightly off-white. Decent retention, but by the time my glass is half-empty the foam is a fine ring around the edge.

Smell – The nose is relatively vibrant for an 18 month old beer. There is a woodsy-spice from the grapes and oak (a bit too strong), some vinous notes from the grapes and age, and a strong toasted malt aroma Munich and Maris Otter base.

Taste – The flavor is mellow, rounded, and reasonably sweet. I don’t get as much caramel as I had hopped for from the long/concentrated boil. The oak and grapes provide enough character/tannins to counter the sweetness. It doesn’t have the depth of complexity that I expect in a great strong beer, but it is pleasant enough. There is a subtle alcohol warmth, but it isn’t hot or boozy.

Mouthfeel – Medium mouthfeel for a barleywine, not big or sticky. Medium-low carbonation, about right for a strong ale.

Drinkability & Notes – I don’t brew (or drink) many barleywines. The balance never seems to hit the right mark for my palate. They always taste like they are lacking, or that they aren’t “worth” the high alcohol content. Sadly this one falls in that second category, it just doesn’t have anything that draws me in. It isn’t bad or off, and I like it more than a lot of the commercial barleywines I’ve had, it just tastes lacking. Hopefully time will bring some additional complexities.

I’m a bit disappointed with the technique of boiling down passed the target volume and then topping off. Like boiling the first runnings to a syrup, it makes a good compliment to the flavors of caramel malt, but by itself it isn’t enough to replace their flavors in a beer like this. Fun, but probably not worth the additional fuel.


Andrew said...

Just racked a saison (pils+wheat with galaxy, saison III yeast) on to the rest of my cab sauv grapes. Excited to see where this ends up!

I have only heard of a handful of brewers using grapes in their brews. Seems to come down to few categories:

1) Juice addition before ferment
2) Juice addition in secondary
3) Used wine oak barrel as a secondary
4) Whole grapes with juice in secondary

Focus on sour beers too (Bruery, Cantillon, Russian River). I haven't had many beers with the grapes in secondary. Any idea why we don't see more of those?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

There are other options too, Allagash adds gapes to the mash for Victor.

I believe Russian River and Cantillon both add whole grapes to at least some of their wine-grape-infused beers. Whole anything always adds an additional layer of complexity to work with, but I think it is usually worth the hassle as a homebrewer. Hard to speak to the pain of cleaning dozens of skin-filled barrels after bottling.

Good luck on the saison, sounds like a fun beer. Dry hopping too?

Andrew said...

Right now, no dry hopping. Ill taste it at the beginning of january to see how it is. It would be interesting to see a small dry hopping for fruity aroma competition.

The kegged base beer has quite a bit of galaxy aroma; it could of used some DH but i didn't do any. I did find it a bit astringent. That may fade in time though. I think galaxy doesn't have the cleanest bitterness. That or my batch sparge got some tannin extraction. I need to try acidifying the sparge on my pale beers.

Mark said...

You're fuel comment made think about this. Have you every considered going electric and making a heatstick (like here )?

I am probably one of the least handy guys I know and mine work great. It feels amazing to never have to pay for another propane tank again. And I've also used it to do step mashing without the need for water adjustments.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I’ve considered it, especially if I ever end up gutting the old kitchen (minus a stove) in my basement to create a dedicated brewing space. I’m very wary of mixing electricity and water though. Alternatively I’d just do piped natural gas burners to throw off the yoke of propane. Either way I’d need a hood to deal with the water vapor from the boil. I’ve helped a couple friends with electric brewing rigs, and read some convincing endorsements, just haven’t gotten the kick to put the effort into researching it in depth.

RSR said...

I was pretty intrigued with the session lager made from the second runnings of this brew session. But if you modified the grist, would the lager be worse for it?

Since a summer session lager is something we've put into our thoughts for our winter/spring brewing already, the concept of getting it out of a separate brew we wouldn't see for 18 months is part of the intrigue.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I think the second runnings from a barleywine wouldn't work well as a lager if you went too heavy on dark crystal malts, or some of the heavy specialty malts some people add to their recipes. Might be better to go with a second runnings brown or amber ale?