I recently listened to a Brew Nation podcast where the hosts were discussing session beers. I haven’t really made many truly session beers. Most of my beers are around 6-7%. Although many people think of session beers as boring, low flavor, etc. they don’t have to be BMC-style empty. Certainly session beers generally don’t have overboard hop flavor and very little alcohol flavor, but they represent a real challenge. You have to really balance the flavors, the carbonation, etc. and because it is a lower alcohol beer with less bold flavor it is easier for faults in the process to be more apparent. The BN hosts, as usual, make great arguments about the different steps you have to take to make a really great session beer.
One area I found particularly interesting was their recommendation that you use more variety of specialty malts. I am usually of the mindset that 4-5 grains properly mixed in a proper process will produce a great beer where you can appreciate the blend of simple flavors. I generally avoid those recipes and making recipes where the beer has 10 grains where some of the specialty grains are less than 1%. (I think it’s kinda like making soup or spaghetti sauce by adding a little of everything in your kitchen. Sure, you have soup but the flavors all blend together into a muddy bland flavor.) I take exception to that with beers that are big and are meant to be laid down, such as dubbels, quads, barleywines, etc. where time will allow those flavors to blend together. Still, I think there is a limit how many different grains are truly necessary. Many of the boldest and more interesting beers are often made out of a handful of grains. However, session beers don’t have serious hop or alcohol flavor to work off of, so a more sparse grain bill risks being a little bland or watery.
So my first thought was to try piecing together a one gallon batch of session brown ale. Then I thought about other brewing processes I wanted to try and came up with a more interesting concept. I will take pale ale and roast portions of it to create specialty malts to create a truly unique, fresh, interesting session beer. So I have set out to roast pale ale to create several specialty grains. I further decided to roast twice as much so I could make the beer first as a plain brown ale and then a second time as a honey brown ale.
Est. SRM: 19.9
Est. ABV: 4.56%
1.5 lb pale malt
2 oz Crystal 20L
2 oz Crystal 60L
1 oz Chocolate malt
0.5 oz Toasted malt
0.25oz Black malt
Step temperature mash: 89 (30 min) – 130 (10 min) – 149 (25 min) – 158 (35 min)
Boil volume: 1.14 gal
0.25 oz Fuggles at 60 min
0.25 oz Fuggles at 5 min
For the honey brown version I will reduce the pale malt to 1 lb, 3 ounces and add 4 ounces (0.25 lb) of honey 10 minutes before the end of the boil. I thought about leaving the malt the same but I want the honey brown to also be within the session category. If I add the honey on top of the grains, it kicks up the ABV a couple points.
Black (patent) Barley:
Black malt is a very dark grain, at 500L, which requires a very long bake at high heat. I baked them at 400F for 55 minutes and then raised the temperature to 450F for 20 minutes. I thought 400F would be enough but it seems like that temperature only got the grain a little darker than Special B. I’m sure I could have let it go at 400F for longer though. At 400F the grains released an acrid burning smell. At 450F the grains started to smoke really bad. While I probably could have baked for less time at 450F the risk is that the grain will just burn on the outside, giving you less roasty flavor from the interior of the grain and likely getting more burnt than roast flavor. I should have moistened it with water as it cooked. Some of the grains popped and turned into charcoal. Additionally, I lost 20% of the weight during roasting, presumably the loss came from losing water in the grain.
Chocolate malt is also dark, at 350L. I baked this grain for 46 minutes at 350F and then 8 minutes at 450F. Unfortunately it came out way too dark. It’s slightly chocolate/coffee. It’s somewhere in between chocolate malt and black malt. That’s why a test batch is done before reaching into a bigger batch. I’ve realized that 450F might be a bit too high for any of the grains. I’d probably use 425F tops. Oddly enough, I lost 25% of the weight. I think I let it get too hot too fast (from 350 to 450) which made it very smokey and burned out a lot of water. It cooled to a nice espresso flavor. Not what I was expecting, but I am fine with it.
Toasted malt is a light, 27L malt. I baked this for 25 minutes at 350F. It is definitely very toasty/biscuity. Almost with an acrid finish. I expect that to dissipate and mellow out after a couple weeks.
Crystal 20L & 60L
For the crystal malt I soaked it in water for just shy of three hours. I drained the water and put it in the oven cold. I set the temperature to 200F and cut the temperature around 155F. I then proceeded to hold it at 150-160F for an hour. I had to periodically open the door to cool it down from 160F. For larger amounts of grain I might have done this for as much as three hours. This emulates the mash process where the water soaked in the grain activates the enzymes under heat and the starches convert to sugar so they can be caramelized. After that, I baked for another hour at 220F. At this point I took out the 20L and returned the pan of grain to the oven, raised the temp to 300F for 15 minutes. This gave me the 60L. I don’t believe I got great conversion on them because the crystal malt is still fairly grainy. I probably should have done the whole three hours. Oh well, too late now.
Here is a pic of the 20L:
Sorry, I forgot to take one of the 60L. Here is the total blend of specialty grains for one batch. You can see a lot of the grain is the same sort of toasty color, even the crystal malts, which make up the majority of the grain.
Here is a bag of the final product. You can see there's several different colors in the bag, which means I didn't just toast and burn some grain.
And here it is compared to regular pale malt (how it started):
The brewing went off without a hitch. Unfortunately I have forgotten the proper boil volume for my 1 gallon container so I had to boil down the beer by boiling for longer. It's not the end of the world but it pisses me off. Beersmith says 1.14 gal will render 1 gallon, but with a 1 gal/hr boil off that's impossible. Other calculators I use say I should end up with 2 gallons but I always end up with way more. I think I am miscalculating grain absorption somewhere... I don't seem to lose very much during the mash on a smaller batch. I'll have to work on that.
Well at any rate I gave it a little taste to see how it is pre-fermentation. It is sweet with an acrid finish, probably from overdoing the black malt a bit. I guess we'll see how it is when it's all done.
I'll add the lambic solera within the next week or two once I get all my thoughts sorted out and draft it all so it makes sense rather than post up the as-I-brew-jumbled-thoughts style posting it begins. I'll give the lambic a separate section to the left so I can keep a separate log of how it progresses and the different steps I take with it.