Saturday 28 February 2015

Making diastatic brown malt

When I got my current job, which involves malting as well as brewing, my first thoughts were could I make diastatic brown malt? To someone not a beer obsessive this might sound slightly odd but bear with me.

Historically brown malt was made in such a way that it contained enough diastatic enzymes that when used for brewing the starch it contained would convert to sugar without having to add anything else to help this process. This meant brown beers could be made from 100% brown malt. In 1770 James Baverstock used a saccharometer to show that brown malt provided much less sugar than pale malt. This caused the popularity of brown malt to decline and how beers were made changed. Nowadays brown, and even black, beers are made mainly from pale malt, with small amounts of darker malts proving most of the colour. Brown malt is still made today but by a different method and it does not contain any enzymes so it is not possible to make a beer using 100% modern brown malt.

When I got let loose on the maltings at work I diverted a small amount of unkilned green malt I'd made to try producing the historic type of brown malt. I'd looked at an old malting text book to see the sort of temperatures and times that were used when kilning brown malt, but sadly I didn't look closely enough. I put the still wet grains into a hot kiln despite knowing that moist heat would be more damaging to the enzymes. I hoped they might undergo something similar to the in grain mashing of crystal malt, before drying out and leaving a sweet and enzymic brown grain.The samples I tasted during the kilning did indeed get sweeter, but by the time the grains had dried and developed colour the enzymes were well and truly knackered. When I tried mashing them stayed resolutely starchy.

Looking more closely at Stopes I saw that before grains were kilned they were pre-dried, a process called "withering", which I have since seen mentioned in a contemporary text book. Basically, when kilning malt you have to heat it gently when it's moist and only when it's had most of the moisture driven off can the temperature be increased to the point that colour will develop. Thought things were done differently in Stopes day the first part of this process is still called withering by some.

Somewhat disheartened by my failure I tried again by baking some lager malt in the oven at home. Lager malt is the least kilned and most enzymic malt I had to hand, which I thought would be closest to withered but unkilned malt. References to old fashioned brown malt also call it "snap malt" due to the sound it made during kilning, or "blown malt" due to the way the kilning made the grain swell up, perhaps like torrified wheat.

When the malt was baking I could certainly hear it snapping, but the amount the grains swelled in size looked minimal. Once a suitable brown colour had been reached I stopped baking and tried making a mini-mash. Even more dishearteningly this was also a complete failure.

I knew the damn stuff could be made so I sat back for a re-think, and looked again at some correspondence I'd had with Ben Heaven*, someone Ron Pattinson had put me in touch with, who had already successfully made diastatic brown malt.

The path to my salvation lay in re-reading something I'd already been told: there were different types of historic brown malt. In the 1700s it would have been diastatic but by the 1800s when Stopes book was written it was probably not. With this information I decided to forget trying to follow Stopes instructions and simply see what was the brownest malt I could make that would still have enough enzymes left to break starch down to sugar.

I tried to bring a bit of scientific rigour to this process and devised a simple malt baking experiment. I baked lager malt at 200°C and after 30 minutes started taking 50g samples every five minutes. Not having a mill to hand I had to crush these using a rolling pin which was a tedious business I have to say.

50g of malt after crushing
More mini-mashes were made in a thermos flask:

I used a 3:1 liquor to grist ratio, preheated the flask with boiling water and mashed at 64°C. To ensure maximum time for starch conversion I then left the flask over night before testing for starch. 

On with the iodine

My experiment revealed that 45 minutes was the limit to which I could bake to and still get starch conversion. Even then it was right on the edge and though no blue black colour was made there still seem to be some colour development. When analysed the malt had a colour of 80 EBC, which puts it as darker than modern amber malt, but paler than modern brown malt. This sounds about right for a diastatic brown malt, as I'd already found roasting malt until it's the colour of modern brown malt destroys all the enzymes.

After I'd finished my experiment I noticed that I could have saved myself a lot of effort. Two publications I already owned, Old British Beers and How to Make Them and Radical Brewing both contain pretty much the figures I'd found for making brown malt. Oh what an ass I am.

Having worked out the conditions for creating my malt I needed to scale up production. I'd read brown malt was kilned with a shallow bed depth so I made a crude shallow wire tray. It was a bit of a bodge job but I was getting impatient by this point.

The tray would hold about 2kg of malt so it took a few goes to make enough malt to brew with, as I wanted enough to make a strong beer. To save on wasting electricity over a series of weeks I baked a tray of malt every time I had a spud in the oven. I'm sure I had a photo of the baked malt somewhere but I can't find the damn thing, so I'll get straight to the brewing. Here's a picture of the mash after a bit of recirculation:

The wort was suitably brown and had cleared which was a good sign (when wort is still starchy it stays opaque)

Then it was on with the boil, plenty of Goldings, England's oldest hop variety, added. I consulted Ron's proper book to find a suitable hopping rate.

Rolling boil

I managed to get a gravity of 1.073:

As other brewers had found all those years ago the mash efficiency was much lower than for pale malt based beers. I've not yet worked out the efficiency I get with my current mash tun, but extract was at least 20% down on what I get with normal ingredients.

The fermentation started well but stopped much sooner than normal, so low fermentability as well as low extract. I can see why this malt stopped being made. The poor fermentability did mean that the beer has the sweetness I was hoping for back when I was wondering if some sort of crystallisation occurred in the making of this malt. There was also of course a lot of roasty flavour to the beer, but not a lot of the astringency you get from the highly roasted modern malts used in modern porters and stouts.

To try and get the gravity down a bit further I added a culture of Brettanomyces claussenii after primary fermentation. It's highly likely Brett would have helped ferment historic stouts and porters. It certainly helped to beer dry out a bit, and then lead to my bottles over carbonating. Ho hum.

I can't detect any Brett flavour in the beer, it must be over powered by all the roastiness from the malt. The taste of the beer is certainly similar to the beer made with 40% modern brown malt by Head in the Hat brewery, but I can't think of any other commercial beer like it. It's a pleasant enough drink but it's not the tastiest stout (or is it a porter?) I've drunk. Dare I say it it's one for interest only.

I've currently got another batch sitting in a fermenter to which I added a mixed culture. I'm going to leave that one a year before trying it, which if nothing else will again be interesting.

I'd like to have another go at making diastatic brown malt from scratch instead of using lager malt as a starting point. Sadly I don't have "muck around with things that interest you but have little practical value" in my job description so I haven't had a chance yet. Still, my annual appraisal is coming up so maybe my boss can be persuaded to allow this vital change.


* Ben has now set up his own brewery: Bondgate Brewery. It looks like it's on a very small scale but I see from the webite that limited edition beers made using historic ingredients are released occasionally, so those of you who can't get to the Florence or brew your own might still have a chance to drink historic style porters or stouts.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Remembrance of Things Past

When I was briefly back in Prague I got the answer to something I've been pondering for a while. Meeting some people at a brew pub by a monastery I wandered into the smoking bar first.

I guess that's the monastery
When I think back to how pubs used to be I miss the smell of fags. Ah, in those days pubs smelled like pubs, not of toilet cleaner, or farts, or nothing. But being in a bar full of smokers I didn't feel all nostalgical about how pubs should be, I just thought "god, this is minging". I may miss the smell, but it seems not the smoke.

Thanks to the helpful staff I soon found the people I was meeting and could get on with my networking. The food was great, and the beer was pleasant enough. Unfiltered, but also unfined so hazy, they even had an American style IPA for those that prefer their beer to taste of grapefruit. 

Waiter in an IPA top

Friday 20 February 2015

British beer at its best

When I was last up North I had a very pleasant surprise when I got to the pub - the Black Sheep bitter was excellent. The mates I was staying with said there were two pubs close by, one a bit foody and one an old boozer. It was an easy choice to make so we were soon in the public bar of the Glendenning arms.

They only had two beers on, and I'd had a tip off the landlord drank Black Sheep bitter so I went for that. I've not previously thought much of Black Sheep's beers, finding them pleasant enough but a bit dull. This time though was a revelation. Despite the beer's modest strength (3.8% ABV) it was packed full of flavour, the tongue coating bitterness leaving me wanting more after each sip. Even the indignity of being served through a sparkler didn't have the usual adverse effect.

Not tasting of grapefruit it probably didn't count as craft beer but it was without doubt world class beer and I was happy to drink it all night.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Beer and food pairing - Don't bother

I've tried, I really have. At least once a year I go to a beer and food pairing event, and I try to take it in. I can even remember cut, complement and contrast, the three ways beer is meant to interact with food. But the latest event I went to sent me right back to my long held view that food should be got in at sensible hour before you get to the pub, and the drinking done without any distractions.

I was up at the Florence pub, home of Head in a Hat brewery. Unlike Mordue brewery this one has the more typical everything crammed in as small a space as possible look.

A wide range of beers are produced, in part using recipes inherited when it was taken over and in part drawing on the work of Ron Pattinson. I don't think I'd describe any of them as delicious, but several were interesting. A wheat beer made with Whitbread B yeast was pleasantly drinkable but unsurprisingly lacking in flavour. A sour beer made by inoculating lactobacillus into the wort before boiling went down well with the sour beer fan at my table but wasn't to my taste. Though this method definitely gets the acidity level up the beer lacked the complexity you get from long mixed lambic fermentations. How it would compare to a Berline weiss I couldn't really say as my experience of them was, and will remain, limited.

Of the beers based on historic recipes the 1805 porter was the one I was most pleased to see, and being made with 40% brown malt had a distinctive taste reminiscent of a beer I made using 100% diastatic brown malt.

As to the food we were given a range of courses to share between three of us. Some were good, some were not so good. And none of them went with any of the beers.

Friday 13 February 2015

The ethics of crowd funding

Another brewery is raising money by crowd funding and once again I'm troubled. The first time I saw this was when a prominent craft brewery offered a small share of the company at a very high price, shortly after selling a chunk of shares to another business at a much lower price. The shares were all snapped up by dedicated fans of the brewery, and share ownership did give discounts on purchases so it could be thought of as expensive fan club membership.

The latest brewery crowd funding share offer values the company at over eight times its turnover. Now, my interest in economics seldom goes beyond "it's high time we abolished money" but I can't help but think that this doesn't look like a great investment. Fan club type benefits are again offered to shareholders, this time on a sliding scale.

It's the general unsoundness of these monetary investments that troubles me. Is getting your fans to pay a premium for token share holdings in your brewery a decent way to run a business? I suppose it does make your customers more involved with the company, even if it's only akin to having a fan club. Or is it simply cynically milking your most dedicated customers for all their worth?

Thursday 12 February 2015

A visit to Mordue brewery

I was up north last weekend for an old comrade's funeral. It was very sad to see him go, but I think we gave him a good send off. And I'm sure he would have approved of the route I took to the crematorium - as my mate Rob is the Head Brewer at Mordue brewery I called in there first.

Mordue won Champion Beer of Britain back in 1997, and though I haven't seen their beers often there's no doubt they make decent stuff, as their large collection of prize certificates will testify.

Here's a couple of the more recent ones
Unlike the cramped conditions in which most microbreweries are found at Mordue there's plenty of space, so rather than just stand in one spot whilst each vessel is pointed out we had a proper tour.

The 20 bbl brew house
Cask store

High-tech brewery stick

Rob in the hop store
A wide range of beers are made and the samples I had were excellent. The more unusal offerings come out under the brand of "Panda Frog", a name which originates from Rob's home brewery.

In fact I've still got a "Panda and Frog" vintage ale in one of my beer cupboards (the "and" was dropped when it went commercial). The last of its kind, that particular Panda Frog may well be extinct soon, as all this writing is making me thirsty!