Oaked Burton Ale

Oaked Burton This is a heavy one, and definitely a keeper. I wanted a barley-wine-style ale that I could age for ten years, to see how it develops. Oaked Burton was brewed in August, 2008, and it’s maturing very well.

My original tribute to the legendary Ballantine Burton Ale, Oaked Burton derives its name from the tincture, made from a half-ounce of home-toasted oak chips soaked in Everclear, which was added to the secondary fermenter. Significantly, this addition boosts the ABV by almost a point, to about 9.4%.

Oaked Burton is a partial-mash brew that is based on Munton light DME. The mash was 2-row pale barley malt, with additions of four kinds of crystal malt, English brown malt, chocolate and black malts, and roasted barley. Burton salts and gray sea salt went into the boiling water. Maltodextrin adds body. To further boost body and alcoholic content, I added Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Malawi demerara sugar.

Hopped with Northern Brewer bittering, Golding flavor and Fuggle aroma varieties, it is only moderately bitter, with the malt components dominating its profile. The excellent White Labs’ WLP023 Burton Ale yeast contributed its uniquely mild fruity character.

Oaked Burton pours a medium brown with hints of gold; almost an extreme amber. It has a tan, long-lasting head that leaves very little lacing on the glass. The aroma is malty, with hints of oak. The taste is of malt, with caramel, almonds and dark fruit like plum. Roasted grain, oak, and mild alcohol dance in the background. It finishes with a hoppy tang, oaky astringency and an alcoholic warmness.

No one is going to age a commercial beer for ten years these days. The era of the ancient barrel-aged Ballantine is over. But a home-brewer can certainly put a few bottles away for five years, and ten is only double that and well worth the wait–if you’ve got some West Coast Amber to tide you over in the meantime.

Northwest Pale Ale

NWPA I picked up a bottle of Deschutes Red Chair NWPA on a trip through Spokane, Washington, intrigued by the nice label art, and by the brewery’s claim to have created the first Northwest Pale Ale. I’ve never had a Deschutes beer I didn’t like, and the neck ring copy–offering a plush, satiny experience featuring “edges out, layers in”–sounded promising.

Tired of in-your-face, over-the-top hop madness, I decided to check it out. I was not disappointed. Eager to join the NWPA trend, I figured the skiing metaphor suggested a beer that turns agreeably, with a smooth ride featuring layers of citrus, tropical fruit and a malty finish. The label mentioned seven European and North American malts. ABV was 6.2%: assertive, but not the alcoholic blast of some of the runinators.

The Deschutes website now offers a recipe for a Red Chair clone, though it is very light on details. There’s only six malts mentioned, and the hops are Centennial and Challenger, not my idea of tropically fruity additions. Last fall I made up my own recipe, and I believe I came up with a version that nicely represents Northwest Pale Ale.

I started with Briess DME plus some Belgian extra dark aroma sugar and dark candi sugar. I steeped six kinds of crystal malt together with touches of chocolate wheat, cara-aroma, cara-pils and melanoidin malt to put a hint of redness in the color. As I was brewing in early September, I had a chance to try out another West Coast innovation: wet hopping. I used freshly-harvested homegrown Nugget, Willamette and Fuggle hops, added continuously during a one-hour boil.

I pitched White Labs’ WLP 090 San Diego Superyeast for this one, because of its clean flavor profile and relatively high attenuation. I wanted an emphasis on malt and hop aromas and flavors, not yeastiness. The beer started at 13 Plato.

After six days I racked the beer into a carboy and added 6 grams of sea salt. Ten weeks later I added 14 grams of Citra pellets to the carboy, and let it rest for a month and a half.

Finishing at 1.25 Plato this is a dry beer with nice overtones of malt and grapefruit. It pours a golden amber with hints of red. A modestly creamy head drops after a few minutes, leaving lacy patterns on the glass. The aroma is dominated by grapefruit to my nose, with a suggestion of passionfruit. Moderate body, a fruit burst on the palate without a full-on hop assault, and a malty finish. I had one after skiing yesterday–well worth the six-month wait!

Audacious Blackguard Double IPA


Around 2005 a style of beer emerged from San Diego’s craftbrew scene called Double IPA. Like many things Southern Californian, it’s pretty over-the-top. Soon brewers were doubling down on double IPA, leading reviewers to warn potential drinkers they might be brewed with “a ridiculous amount of hops” or were a malty extravaganza.

Of the San Diego IPAs my favorite so far is Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard. It certainly is an aggressive mouthful, but with a smooth balance like a pool parlor grifter. The label copy suggests “you probably won’t like it” but, as BDSM has taken its place in mainstream culture, so has imbibing in beverages for which “you are not worthy.”

Audacious Blackguard started out as a straight-forward IPA recipe I concocted first in July, 2004. Along with equal amounts of four progressively more-roasted crystal malts, plus a touch of black malt, the light malt base was boiled with a moderate amount of moderately bitter Centennial and Liberty hops. The original recipe was pitched with Irish ale yeast, which gave it a slightly fruity but rather dry-finished flavor. Dry-hopping defines the IPA style, and this one aged on Challenger and Eroica. My first taste was a bit overwhelming, but I realized that it was very much like Stone’s Arrogant Bastard.

Spring 2012 I decided to update the recipe. With 12 types of grain and seven hop additions Audacious Blackguard is a salute to its San Diego Roots. But it is very approachable. While it is a nice heavy-in-the-mouth malt bomb, its hop character ranges from piney bitter to flowery citrus. Six weeks of dry hopping with Simcoe and Willamette strains provides the aromatic volatiles.

As a further tribute to my time in San Diego I brewed this version with White Lab’s San Diego Superyeast.

Audacious Blackguard is monstrously malty, with a clean, dry yeast contribution. Finished with a flowery citrus aroma, it’s a nice heavy IPA, very true to the San Diego style. OK, it’s January, good time to check out the north swell at Torrey Pines.

Stout 17

Stout 17abc
In 1973 I was a Gaucho with a taste for good beer, and no money to buy it. Santa Barbara had a store on upper State Street called Wine Art of America. A look inside revealed that they sold the ingredients for beer too. At that time brewing beer was illegal, but buying the makings was not. In fact, since the ingredients were food items, there wasn’t even any tax on them.

The guy in the store was very helpful, and he sold me the ingredients for my first beer, an amber lager made with Vierka Munich Dark Lager yeast. He also sold me a book called The Art of Making Beer by Anderson and Hull. The book was pretty simplistic by today’s standards, but it got me started and fortunately, my first batch was excellent. The recipes were numbered, and I’d made number 1.

Both my dad and I used the book for years, but as others came out over time it got moved to the remote end of the shelf. Last year I picked up a can of Cooper’s Stout malt extract on sale. Thinking about what to do with it I thumbed through the old Anderson book. A lot of memories came back to me. Then I got to the seventeenth recipe. It called for a can of stout wort. It also specified four pounds of corn sugar, a pound of crystal malt and “1/3 stick licorice.” I’d found my inspiration.

Stout 17 starts of course with the can of Cooper’s. Instead of corn sugar it has 900 grams of Breiss DME and 280 grams of Rogers Demerara sugar. For the crystal malt addition I blended six varieties of increasing caramelization. Left over home roasted barley that I’d made for a previous batch went in. Also 50 grams of Hugh Baird black malt.

I had chopped natural licorice root on hand. I also had Paradise seed. I had some Irish Stout yeast. I had my recipe.

Stout 17 uses Challenger hop pellets for bittering and Goldings flowers for flavor. As Irish stouts are low on hop aroma, Stout 17 has no aroma hop addition. This one started at 12 Plato and finished at 2.25. That’s about 82 percent attenuation, making this a very dry stout, with about 5.8% ABV.

It pours nearly opaque black but holding it to the light reveals very dark ruby color. The head is thick, and dark tan. The aroma is of malt, with toasted notes. A very roasty flavor finishes with mild mouth-watering bitterness and an alcohol tang. A very complex, tasty stout!

Big Burton!

Big Burton123
There’s more to Burton-on-Trent than mouth-puckering India Pale Ale. Back in the good old days (the late 1700s) the Burton brewers brewed a brew called Burton Ale. This was a high-gravity ale indeed, but with less of the high hopping rate that distinguishes IPA. It was often barrel-aged for several years.

Big Burton also draws inspiration from the tradition established by Ballantine Brewing Company, which produced a high-gravity ale for special occasions, often given free to established friends and contacts after as long as 20 years in the cellar. I don’t have 20 years to wait, and thankfully this recipe mellows out nicely in less than a year.

Burton salt is an important flavor component of Burton ale, as it recreates the hard limestone ground water of the Burton-on-Trent brewing area. The signature compounds in Burton’s water are calcium sulfate, potassium chloride and magnesium sulfate. Plaster of Paris mixed with Epsom salts, as it were. Fortuitously for Burton brewers, the mixture of minerals in their hard water allows the extra bitter flavor of the hops to come through without harshness.

Big Burton relies on a blend of five crystal malts of increasing darkness, from 10 Lovibond in color to 120 L, to provide a very rounded caramel profile. Small additions of chocolate and black malts complete the roasty flavor. Barley flakes create body and a firm head. Three kilos of Breiss light dry malt extract give it punch, with a starting gravity of about 13.5 Plato yielding around 6.5% ABV.

The full malty background of Big Burton allows it to carry plenty of hop character. High-alpha Summit hops offer significant bitterness, and Simcoe hops suggest citrus-like fruitiness. Centennial aroma hops are added at the end of the boil. White Lab’s Burton Ale Yeast ferments the brew out with a lot of subtle fruity flavors like apple, clover honey, and pear.

Burton brewers also perfected the art of dry-hopping their beer, and Big Burton pays homage to that tradition with an addition of Willamette hop pellets in the secondary fermenter with four weeks further aging. It’s a Simcoe-sensational brew with a nice citrus aroma and malty finish.

Country Bitter

Country Bitter2
This is Country Bitter. Formally classified as an English “ordinary bitter“, there is nothing ordinary about this beer. When I first brewed a country bitter in 1995, I used a strain of yeast that I cultivated from a bottle of Thomas Hardy’s Country Bitter, purchased at Marty’s Liquour in Newton, MA. It was brewed by Eldridge Pope & Co. of Dorchester, England, and is no longer available. I would say my attempt was “spot on” as the Brits would, except it was better.

A bit of research told me that the Thomas Hardy recipe called for 85 percent Maris Otter English malt, and 15 percent crystal malt.

This version of Country Bitter uses 2.27 kilos each of Maris Otter and Fawcett Golden Promise base malts for a 20 liter batch. Golden Promise is Maris Otter’s less toasty, sweeter Scottish cousin. To this I added 800 grams of a blend of 7 progressively-darker crystal malts. A two-hour step-infusion mash developed the sugar content of the wort. Mash pH was adjusted with 8.5 grams of calcium chloride. The boil included a touch of sea salt to add roundness of flavor.

Fifteen grams of homegrown Fuggles hops went into the “first wort” runoff. Another 15 grams went into the boil. Twenty grams of Goldings , 10 grams of Willamette and 10 grams of Centennial hops provide flavor. The wort started at about 14 degrees Plato (1.056) original gravity.

I pitched a generous starter of White Labs’ WLP 026 Premium Bitter yeast, helped along with a half-teaspoon of their yeast nutrient. This yeast from Staffordshire England produces a strong, dry beer with mild but complex esteriness.

I had planned to dry hop with additional Willamette hops but the brew really didn’t need it. It was full-bodied and quite bitter, and as it aged the estery characteristics moderated, and the head became nice and thick. This is the third time I’ve brewed Country Bitter, and I’ll do it again!

ZBO: A New Style of Extreme Umami Brew

Zeer Bruine Oude
The name of this beer, Zeer Bruine Oude, or ZBO, reflects its original inspiration from a type of Belgian beer called Oud Bruin–sometimes known as Flanders Brown. The Oud Bruin beers are typically a dark red-brown color, with medium body and very little bitterness. The “Oud” part (old) refers to the long aging these beers undergo, so that their yeast and bacteria content can develop an interesting sweet/sour flavor.

But because this beer draws inspiration also from Guinness Stout, is is a “Zeer” (very) Bruine Oude. It is an extremely dark red-brown color, with an aroma of dark fruits and malt. In the tradition of Guinness, about 3 percent of the wort was soured by incubating it with lactobacillus delbrueckii from White Labs. To this I added about 7ml of Bio-K+ L. Caesi L. Acidophilus blend in rice extract. About 700ml of wort was drawn off from the main batch, inoculated with the lacto bacteria, and incubated at 27 C (81 F) for 72 hours. This mildly sour wort was then pasteurized at 80 C (177 F) for 30 minutes and returned to the main batch, which was fermenting with White Labs Edinburgh Ale yeast. I felt it appropriate to use Scottish yeast because legend has it that Scotland provided the original Belgian yeast strains.

A complex beer demands a complex grain bill, and this is one of the most, incorporating cara-crystal wheat, chocolate wheat, black prinz malt, cara-pils, cara-aroma, and a Belgian blend of cara-Munich, Special B, biscuit and honey malts. Breiss extra-light dry malt extract provided the base. About 225g of Brewcraft Belgian extra-dark aromatic candi sugar helped boost the original gravity to 22.5 degrees Plato (1.090).

Typically, Oud Bruin beers have little to no hoppy character. This one does, though the hop additions are moderate in deference to the original style. About 12 HBU of bitterness are provided by a boiling addition of Warrior and Perle hops, and a flavor addition of German Hallertau. No aroma hops were added.

The result: a nicely sweet/sour beer reminiscent of Scottish Wee Heavy strong ale, Irish Stout and Belgian Oud. Mildly estery with flavors of malt and dark fruit, an intensely malty aroma, complex malt flavors and a bit more hop assertiveness than either the traditional Bruin or Heavy styles offer. The blend of caramelized wheat and barley malts provide an umami backbone that creates a nice, chewy, satisfying meal out of a pint of beer.

A year after the original brew date, and with three months in the bottle, this beer has a long cellar life ahead of it, during which the flavors will continue to meld and blend. It should be an amazing winter quaff next year!

Umami is where you find it…

It’s hard sometimes for me to get the appeal of McDonalds. There I stand in the parking lot, watching the stream of customers going in to fill themselves with the most emblematic of crummy fast foods. And it ain’t cheap! Why do they do it?

Maybe it’s because it’s the umami bomb for the masses? And you don’t have to TIP A GUY to park your car for you.

That’s right, the unassuming burger is packed with umami. Start with the patty–let’s hope it’s “all beef“. Beef is full of glutamate. Grilling the meat induces the further tranformation of proteins in meat into savory glutamate compounds.

Ketchup, the ultimate taste eraser, is well-known to kids who hate their brussel sprouts. Load ketchup on a burger and you add an almost perfectly balanced blend of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The tomato is full of umami. Cheese is a giant umami blast. Even the bun, with its toasted grain base, is a source of umami. Hold the lettuce. What self-respecting kid takes his burger with lettuce?

Too bad McDonalds doesn’t server beer. I might eat there.

PS: Ask and you shall receive, I guess. Burger King is selling beer some places.

Bombs Away!

umami bombIt has been five years since the Wall Street Journal posted its virtually unnoticed article about “A New Taste Sensation.” It’s about umami, and the way that top chefs and food companies are taking advantage of the natural presence of glutamates and nucleotides to perk up foods from the $185 “Umami Bomb” by cuisinier Jean-Georges Vongerichten to the humble bag of Dorritos.

The sources of umami are equally diverse in their cultural significance. Ketchup has plenty of umami-producing molecules, as do the “diamonds of the kitchen” Black Périgord truffles. Vongerichten’s breathtakingly pricey appetizer uses truffles, along with a Parmesan cheese custard (also high-umami) to carpet-bomb the taste buds of his richly epicurean clientele.

With the ubiquity of its flavors and industry interest, why is the concept of umami still obscure in the mind of the average consumer? Part of the reason perhaps is the influence of the so-called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” (CRS) more impressively called “monosodium glutamate symptom complex.” But while many people claim sensitivity to MSG, and many more avoid it because they feel it is somehow an abominably unnatural additive, double-blind placebo-controlled experiments have found no relationship between glutamates and the symptoms of CRS.

Because of the bad rep associated with chemical-sounding words in consumer’s consciousness, the food industry looks to umami in an effort to deliver highly flavored foods while cutting back on other onerous ingredients: fat, salt, sugar and artificial substances. So the glutamates may be in there, but they’re provided by yeast extract, soy or Worcestershire sauce, cheese, mushrooms, anchovy powder and the like.

What’s the implication for the world of beer? While the average quaffer of “lawnmower beer“may not expect or desire the over-the-top richness of an umami bomb in his or her beverage, I believe that the days of water flavored with beer may be drawing to a close, at least in the large US market.

The commercial brands losing the greatest percentage of sales over the past few years have been the light, virtually tasteless lagers. Meanwhile America now has more breweries in operation than it did before prohibition. And while some of these are taking the addition of umami to what I consider a ridiculous extreme, there is no doubt that beer advocates are returning to the classic, full flavor of the beers from the past. This full flavor is in large part contributed by the umami-producing ingredients in their recipes.

What’s That Umami Doing in My Yorkshire Ale?

Yorkshire Ale2Umami in beer comes primarily from two sources. First, barley malt has considerable protein in it (in the range of 10 to 15 percent) and the largest component of this is glutamic acid. The processes required to turn barley into beer involve reactions that convert this to glutamates. Most importantly though, I believe, is the contribution of the yeast. Nutritional yeast, known for its nutty, creamy flavors, provides a sample of this flavor.

Yorkshire Ale provides a vivid example of fermentation-induced umami flavor. The yeast produces a variety of metabolic by-products that create a well-balanced beer that is malty, and even meaty. The flavors are toasty with estery notes that accentuate the malt ingredients. These ingredients are chosen for their ability to contribute glutamates and nucleotides of a wide variety.

Archetypical Yorkshire Ale is a sweet, full-bodied beer with a deep red-brown cola color. It has a thick head and a mash/roast malty smell. It tastes of bread, caramel, chocolate, nuts, brown sugar, carob and earth. In the mouth it’s robust, mildly bitter and astringent, with a roasted finish.

My recipe relies on brown and chocolate malts, with a crystal malt blend, cara-aroma, and melanoidin malts to develop the glutamates derived from Maillard reactions.

Demerara and extra-dark aromatic Belgian sugar contribute caramel to the profile. Flaked barley provides raw glutamates that also contribute to a thick long-lasting head.

This version is bittered with a highly bitter variety, but in a mild proportion. Traditional English hops provide flavor and aroma that does not overwhelm the malty nose. It comes in at 7% ABV, which makes it, while not a Tadcaster Stingo, a funky, earthy–but in a good way–experience as rich as tucking into a plate of roasted mutton chops.