Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mumbling About Malt

One of the themes of conversation on Saturday whilst sat with James and his wife was how one's taste in beer develops and changes as you get older. Perhaps it is better to say "as you try more types of beer" rather than "get older", although that is, in itself, irrefutable as it suggests changing beer taste is a sign of maturity, or getting old.

A common thread seemed to emerge, along the lines that after a while people get tired of the extreme beers and want something they can drink plenty of without having their tongue raped and a minging hangover for the rest of the weekend. Of course we still want our beers to have plenty of flavour, its just that we aren't looking for the next hoppy high or alcoholic buzz on a Friday night. The answer is of course session beer, and if you read this blog regularly you will know that session beers are my kind of beers.

Perhaps then, this development in palate leads to a greater appreciation for the role of malt? One phrase that, while I understand its use, I really don't like is describing malt as the "fermentables", it almost forgets that malt is the backbone of flavour in beer. When I am planning new beers, it is always the malt that I think about first, whether planning for colour or flavour. In recent dark beers I have started using Carafa II de-bittered rather than black malt as it has less of a harsh astringency, I have started mixing up Caramel malts so as to get a range of caramel and toffee flavours, instead of just using one for colour and sweetness. One malt I have enjoyed brewing with has been Special Roast, which gives an almost orange hue to a beer and distinctly nutty toffee taste which stands out from caramel malts.

I like hops, but I find myself appreciating the subtle nature of malt more and more, and so I find myself drinking more brown ales, porters and stouts, beers that have a complex set of flavours instead of a single defining characteristic.

2 comments:

  1. I have been thinking about this very thing myself recently.
    Early on (I'm talking 1969/1970) my taste was very much tuned to highly hopped beer (the IPA which I drank regularly back then was by all accounts easily 60-70 IBUs). My own early brewing efforts reflected that preference. And, as the so called 'craft' brewing movement was taking hold the availability of beers of that type multiplied rapidly and I naturally gravitated towards them. Unfortunately, with the growth of the small brewing industry, it seems that along the way a high hop rate became a kind of a benchmark of 'quality' beer for many people (despite the probability that some brewers were hiding a multitude of brewing sins behind the often dominating bitterness. LOL).

    It was my first taste of Traquiar House Ale around 20 years ago that got me thinking in the other direction, and as a result better than half of my own brewing is dedicated to beers that are more malt forward (and long aged as well). I still love a pungently bitter IPA (as long as it is well made), but my real preference lately has seemingly swung toward more balanced efforts. Not sure if it's my aging palate, a more evolved atitude towards beer, or both. Either way, I have come to respect a well balanced or even a very malty beer as something special. I think is the best test of a brewer's skill, whether commercial or amateur. The current fad of high alcohol hop bombs seem to me to represent the easy way out for many brewers. I think that a well balanced or even a malt forward beer is more of a challenge to get right and is a better gauge of the brewer's skill.

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  2. I am starting to turn to malt bombs, getting away from my hophead status. I still love big hops, but feel that "everybody is doing it".

    Now that I have began brewing myself, I have found that I don't want to make all huge hop beers (which I thought I would), and instead am looking at balanced and malt heavy recipes. I found this surprising to me.

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