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Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Twas the Night Before...Beer

Derek & Kim are coming in from the sticks to help me make a batch of beer tomorrow. I wish I got to brew more often, but it tends to get expensive (especially for a hophead like me in the midst of a hop crisis: hops used to be so cheap they were the smallest expense on the ingredient bill; not these days) and what's even more an issue, it's more or less an all day ordeal.

I can't wrestle with 15 gallon pots in the driveway for eight to ten hours when I've got my kids, or on a workday (if we're talking all-grain; I did make a rare extract batch after work one time). I had lots of free days to brew when I was on 32 hour weeks earlier this year, but due to that cut in my hours, I went from having no disposable income to having even less than none.

But I was flush with gift certificates for Bacchus & Barleycorn and I have nothing to do tomorrow except make Oud Grendel, one of my favorite recipes. Added bonus: Oud Grendel is one of the few things I like to make that's not hoppy.

Oud Grendel is a peat smoked Scotch ale. There's debate amongst beer geeks about whether peat smoked malt is appropriate to Scotch ale. It's the kind of malt they use in making Scotch whisky, and it gets the smoke flavor from the peat that's burned in kilning it.

I'm with the pro-peat camp: historically, all beer in Scotland would have had a marked smokey flavor from the peated malt. They didn't know how to make malt that wasn't peated, kilning methods that insulate the malt from the exhaust of the furnace are a modern phenomenon.

Go back a few hundred years, and a Scotch ale would also not be hopped: the Scots adopted hops reluctantly and halfheartedly. Even the Belgians can point to Orval and say, 'See, we do not fear the hop.' The Scots can make no such claim, Scottish beers are about malt.

Right before my marriage finished its collapse, I was gifted with forty pounds of peat smoked malt by a brewer in the other camp, who hates smoked beers and was required by his boss to buy some for the brewpub he worked at. Having made the commissioned beer, he was left with a partial bag he'd never use.

My idea was to make a Wee Heavy with nothing but the peat-smoked pale malt and heather tips. No hops, just the sort of thing you might find in Scotland circa 1500 A.D. Somehow in the process of getting divorced I got distracted and the bag of malt got infested with meal worms and was useless. I guess I could have used it anyway and claimed pestilence made the beer really authentic, but no.

Oud Grendel only has a pound of peated malt in the grist. There's 30 lbs of Golden Promise, 3 lbs of Munich malt and a smidge of a few specialty grains in there, too, but a little peat goes a long ways. And you have to cut back on the hopping rate, even for a Wee Heavy. I'm shooting for maybe 18 IBUs, about ten less than I would without the smoke factor. I learned from the first batch I made like this: the dryness of the smoke flavor and the bitter dryness hops contribute multiply each other. That first batch was awesome once it'd had a couple years in the bottle to mellow out. Cut the hopping way back and you can enjoy a pint in a few months, tops.

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