Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Does this look funny to you?

For a few brew cycles now I've had a nagging feeling that something is wrong.

I've been on a kick of "British" beers (English, Irish, and Scottish) lately, and have brewed several of these styles in succession. They seemed ok, they tasted good, but yet they seemed oddly dark. Of course, when one makes a brown ale or a scotch it's a little hard to tell, but the feeling was there. Until finally it came to a head when I brewed an Irish Red:

Those of you who are particularly sharp-eyed can see the "Irish Red" written on the label. But even the duller-eyed readers will have to admit that while the beer looks very nice, has a nice head on it, and looks inviting to drink, it is not, well, red.

Why?! I wondered and pondered. I had faith in the recipe, which came from a well respected and trusted source. And I was there when the grain was measured and milled in my LHBS, so I knew that was right. I didn't do anything special in mashing these latest few beers, and while it is possible that heating them the way I do (immersion heating element and gas heat combination) may scorch the wort a bit, to achieve this kind of change I think the wort would have had to actually catch on fire...

It was a mystery. All signs seem to point to something in my process, but what? What could I possibly be doing that would roughly double the SRM value of my beer? And more importantly, how do I stop it (and what'll it cost me?) I was stymied.

And then, a few days ago, I had a thought. What was I basing my color expectations on? Well, I'd put my recipe in BeerSmith, and drew my conclusions from that. But what did BeerSmith use to calculate these color values? Well, whatever was the default setting... Oh....

A quick peek at my recipe in BeerSmith and my LHBS website confirmed my suspicion. I had used Roasted Barley in my recipe which, according to BS, came in at 300SRM. My LHBS, on the other hand, was selling Crisp Malting Roasted Barley which comes in at a whopping 884SRM!. Likewise the chocolate roast (which was part of several other "British" beers) was also 200SRM darker than what I used for my calculations. I changed the value of Roasted Barley in my recipe to the one that I actually used and... Presto! my red ale turned into the exact shade of brown I saw in the glass.

Amazing! Plus, now that I know what my recipe actually made I could look it up and figure out what to call it. It certainly wasn't an Irish Ale, but it did fit quite well in the category of Brown Porter. Nice. I'll take it.

So from now on I'm going to make sure I know what I'm actually getting when I buy ingredients. This may sound obvious, but it's not. There's such a verity of malts out there that may have similar or even identical names but wildly different characteristics, that you have to really know what you're getting if you want to make a particular kind of beer. I'll keep that in mind for the future. In the meantime, I have a whole bunch of nice, eminently drinkable brown porter to get through. And then I'll make an Irish Red. One that will actually be, well, red.