By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the beer world, there are brews that cover nearly every shade of the yellow-to-brown spectrum. This huge array is possible thanks to the careful addition of grains. Grain doesn’t just add color; it also helps shape the flavor of any particular style. Not unlike hops, the grain helps the consumer identify the type of brew they’re enjoying (or choking down).
What’s Out There?
Although there’s a large selection of grains to choose from and an even greater number of combinations to be used, don’t be alarmed. This is the most exciting part about brewing — the experimentation. Not only is there barley in all of its malted, unmalted, caramel and roasted glory; you can also brew with wheat, rye, spelt and some gluten-free grains that have been given the same treatment to add more dynamism to your batches.
With all of this variety, you can also opt to use a roasted malt that’s had its hulls removed. This provides a great deal of color with only a small amount of roasty character and little-to-no bitter/astringent flavor. Some grains like Chocolate Wheat also offer that flavor and color profile, but it can also enhance mouthfeel.
Of course, the grains you select help you determine the style of beer you’ll brew, but they can also be used in crazy ways to create new, interesting concoctions. The only limiting factor is your imagination.
Experimentation is aided by brewing software. You can also guesstimate by researching the malt and knowing how it’s produced. First and foremost, every grain you use has a measured color that will contribute to the Standard Reference Method (SRM) of the finished product. The unit of measure in the U.S. is called Lovibond. The Lovibond of the grain will tell you where it sits on the range of colors: from light yellow to amber to pitch black. There is a different unit of measurement used by European malting companies called European Brewing Convention (EBC). Thankfully, the conversion to Lovibond is easy and most malting companies provide both measurements.
Just as important as color is the flavor the malt contributes. Using too many specialty malts can result in a product that’s overly sweet or tastes burnt. On the SRM scale, anything above 40 is only adding roastiness. Take care to avoid going overboard with roasted barley, otherwise your brew will have an ashtray-like quality. And if you add too many caramel malts, you’ll be stuck with a cloying finished batch. If either of these things happen, the flavors will not fade with time.
The process of creating specialty malts requires more heat and time to allow the sugars to caramelize, eventually begin to toast and then burn. In the caramel malt world, you have flavors that run from a light caramel note to those that taste like dried fruit or burnt sugar. In the roasted malt category, there are characteristics that range from light toast to charcoal. With the wonderful variety of flavor and color combinations available, grains are definitely the paint on the brewer’s palette. When creating your next award-winning homebrew, remember that there is a spectrum of options.
Squealing Pig Wheat Pale [AG]
Squealing Pig Wheat Pale [Extract]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the month defined by love, passion and presidents’ birthdays, one of the most commonly purchased gifts is chocolate. The sweet treat can be found in many forms, including the ever-popular heart-shaped box filled with an assortment of varieties. That’s all well and good, but the best gift for the beer lovers is, of course, a silky chocolate stout.
Chocolate comes in numerous forms, including liquid, powder and solid. There are also different types, from extra-bitter dark chocolate to white — each along the spectrum providing different aromatics and tasting sensations. For the purposes of brewing, the best rule is to always avoid ingredients with high fat content. Milk chocolate has a high percentage of the cocoa butter back into it along with sugar to give the finished produce a less-bitter finish. This cocoa butter can go rancid in a brew and does not ferment out. That’s not to say to avoid chocolate with any percentage of cocoa butter -- just be sure to not go overboard and end up with an oil slick on top of your brew.
Nibs and Powder
The most commonly used forms of chocolate for brewing are cocoa nibs and cocoa powder. Cocoa nibs are the rawest state of chocolate before anything else is added. The beans are dried and fermented, similar to coffee in order to unleash the natural oils and flavors. Cocoa powder is then just the nibs ground up. Nibs tend to be easiest to work with because they can easily be filtered out of the brew. While they still have a small amount of natural cocoa butter in them, it shouldn’t have any adverse effects on your finished product.
Malt and Milk Sugar
When building your stout recipe, keep in mind that you aren’t limited to achieving that chocolate flavor and aroma from the actual chocolate. Malting companies do a very good job of simulating the taste in their product without the added cost of using pure nibs. Your chocolate beer does not have to be bitter either. Avoiding malt with a very high SRM will prevent the brew from being too acerbic. Another way to enhance both sweetness and mouthfeel is by incorporating milk sugar. Powdered lactose is a non-fermentable sugar that you can add for a silky-smooth finish. Like every ingredient, take care not to use too much since overdoing it can result in a beer that’s overly sweet.
When to Add
Once you’ve decided what kind of chocolate to use and how much, the next step is determining when to add it to the brew. Since chocolate has some very delicate oils that can evaporate, it’s best to not add it early in the boil. But putting in some of the chocolate — about a third of the total amount — at the end of that process can boost the flavor of the beer. The remainder should go in the secondary or even placed inside a bag that’s kept in the keg. If you’re using lactose as well, add that during the last five minutes of the boil since it’s a sugar and can caramelize. Stir well to avoid burning.
Whether you are planning a romantic evening this Valentine’s Day or just happen to be celebrating a three-day weekend because of Presidents Day, enjoying a tasty homebrewed chocolate stout will be more satisfying than eating a box of chocolates.
Chocolate Milk Stout [Extract]
Chocolate Milk Stout [All Grain]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.