Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Double - Weizen Trippelbock Tasting

Usually I don’t have the opportunity to drink successive batches of a recipe side-by-side because by the time I rebrew, the previous batch is long gone. Not this time! I saved the last bottle of bourbon-soaked-oak aged Wheat Triplebock to drink along side the updated version (Weizen Trippelbock) that I aged in a first-use five-gallon Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky barrel. Nearly four years passed in between brewing the first and second batches, so not exactly a perfect comparison for purposes of recipe tweaking.

The recipes were nearly identical, with the only substantial change being a minor reduction and substitution in the amount of Simpsons ~158L Extra Dark Crystal malt (6.35% to 3.9% plus 1% Simpsons Dark Crystal malt). Otherwise I was already pretty happy with the original recipe, which was inspired by Steve Berthel’s Bourbon Cask Aged Wheat Trippelbock from The Livery. Berthel has since left The Livery, which means I will probably never get to try the original (although we can all hope New Holland brews something similar with him on board).

In addition to being fun to taste similar batches brewed four years apart, these two also highlight the difference between aging on oak cubes and in a barrel. Honestly there isn’t some huge flavor advantage to the barrel-aged over the cubes. The biggest mistake many homebrewers make when using either small barrels or barrel “alternatives” is time. If a brewery barrel-ages their beer for six-months or a year, you aren’t going to extract the same compounds by aging your homebrew for only a few weeks with a higher oak-to-beer ratio. Cubes are cheaper and easier, but in some ways they actually better replicate a large barrel. With a small barrel it is easy to overdo the barrel/spirit character, with cubes you can reduce the amount and extend the aging.

This tasting also brings up one of my favorite topics, high alcohol beers! One of the back-handed compliments I can give to a strong beer is that it “hides its strength.” I realize phrases like this are used as actual compliments by many beer drinkers, so let me explain. If a 10% ABV beer tastes like it could be 6% ABV, then I’d rather drink a full pint of 6% beer than a 10 oz. tulip of the strong beer. When a beer is loaded with alcohol I want it to taste like it, not with hot fusel alcohols, but huge flavors, intense maltiness, viscous body, and depth of character that forces me to slow down and pay attention. Brewing a 15% ABV double-extra-imperial stout that tastes like it's 10% is certainly a feat of technical brewing prowess, but so is brewing Bud Lite...

Wheat Triplebock (Older)

Appearance – Dark tan head, only a few centimeters thick, but tight bubbles. The beer is dark brown, nearly black. Looks like a porter.

Smell – Loads of raisin, plum, vanilla, well-aged liquor. Bready maltiness to the extreme. The first signs of floral-perfume alcohol from age, but no other signs of oxidation. Varied aroma that keeps me coming back.

Taste – Big flavors. Lots of dried fruit, charred oak, caramel, and toasted malt. Finishes sweet, but not sugary. The light tannins always helped balance this portion compared to the version without oak. The alcohol is subdued, but it is mildly warming. There is a background hint of soy sauce as it warms, starting to show its age.

Mouthfeel – Almost syrupy, stick-to-your ribs, thick body. Carbonation is perfect, subtle, but present.

Drinkability & Notes – This one aged into a champ, and that's a feat considering it took a silver medal at a local competition in its first year (as an eisbock). Packed with flavor. While it is great now, I think it might be a year or so passed its peak, on the gradual down-slope. It isn't falling apart by any means, but the positive effects of oxidation are beginning to be overshadowed by the negatives.

New Weizen Trippelbock on the left, older Wheat Triplebock on the right. If you were wondering, the different names/spellings have no significance whatsoever!

Weizen Trippelbock (Younger)

Appearance – The head and beer itself of this batch are a few shades lighter thanks to the lower amount of Extra Dark Crystal. Looks more the part of a traditional bock-relative. The head is coarser, not nearly as attractive. This beer doesn’t have a lot of carbonation, but produces a thin cascade of bubbles after a hard pour.

Smell – No surprise, much fresher, cleaner maltiness without as much dark/dried fruit. There is a subtle dried-plum aroma, but it is behind a mellow-caramel (doesn't smell like burnt sugar). The spirit/vanilla aromatics are mellower as well surprisingly, while the clean ethanol is more present.

Taste – The flavor leans more caramel, less dried fruit, similar to the nose. Despite being more than a year old, it tastes brew-day-fresh in comparison to the more than five-year-old beer. Malty and sweet, but mellower than the previous. The alcohol is a bit more apparent, warming, but not hot. It is over 11% ABV.

Mouthfeel – Full, but just slightly less-so. The carbonation is low, but not non-existent. Any lower and it would actively detract, but I'd say it could still benefit from just a touch more.

Drinkability & Notes – It’s a solid beer, but lacks the depth and assertiveness I demand in a beer with this much alcohol. Hopefully another couple years of aging will give it more depth, but for a third batch I'd go back closer to the original recipe, say 5.0-5.5% Extra Dark Crystal.


CRUSADER1612 said...

Hey Mike;
given your huge experience of Big beers and funky beers. I've been looking at a similar recipe to this, but ale yeast rather than Lager.
what are your thoughts on using S-04 to primary ferment at cool temps, and then do what you did with the Courage RIS (great tasting post btw) and add a pitch of Brett C to help finish it out. and age on.
I've already got 10 litres of RIS ageing and figured, I could get something interesting and different.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

It certainly could work, those leathery tones should complement the big caramel flavor this recipe has. Hard to say with much conviction though, haven't had a beer that combines big German maltiness and Brett.

rbkohn said...

Hey Michael, I have a 7% stout aging for 6 weeks in a 15 gallon whiskey barrel. Getting a little soy sauce in the nose only. Anything I can do to mask it; add cocoa nibs; vanilla bean; bottle condition and age? Thanks. Love the sour beer book.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

With 15 gallons it is worth splitting! I'd leave some plain, it may just be a character coming out as you drink the beer warm/flat. You could certainly try whatever classic stout flavorings you are interested in, not sure of any specifically that would be good for covering up oxidation though.