Sunday, 21 February 2016

Tasting Notes: English Ales with Brettanomyces

Here are some short tasting notes about some of the British stock ales I made last year.  I've made links to the original posts, which included recipe details and historical background.  All three were aged with brettanomyces clausenii.

As you can see, I've decided to stop using the appearance/aroma/taste etc. breakdown for tasting notes, since I don't find it a very natural way to write or think about my beers.  In future I'll be writing down my own overall impressions, but also including any notes I get from friends/fellow homebrewers/competition judges.


Based loosely on recipes for nineteenth century IPAs.  For a long time (i.e. the better part of a year) this beer was almost undrinkable.  The combination of massive amounts of hops with elevated sulfate levels gave it a rough and soapy bitterness that was not at all pleasant.  I was worried it was never going to turn a corner, but I'm happy to say that its really come together in the past few months, to the point where I'd say it is probably one of my favourite homebrews I've made.  That's not to say its not still incredibly bitter, because it is, but the edges are much smoother and the soapiness has becoming a more subdued minerality.  Combine that with a soft, barnyard funk from the brettanomyces, and the overall impression is something like a cross between De Ranke XX Bitter and Orval.

I find the brettanomyces aromas quite pleasant, and I'm usually quite leery of beers that have a lot of brett-related phenolics. On sipping, the beer is sweet for a second but then bitterness and minerality wash over your tongue.  Its very dry, but with same slightly fuller mouthfeel as De Ranke, which I associate with the use of large volumes of hops.  I am excited about this beer, but I can imagine that it wouldn't be to a lot of people's tastes (which is fine by me, because I don't have many bottles and I don't plan on sharing them).  I will be making another batch for next year, and also trying similar hopping-rates and extended ageing in a beer fermented with saison yeast.

Stock Ale

This was based on an 1887 recipe for Fullers XXK in Ron Pattinson's book.  Its been in bottles for a while now, but I haven't been enjoying the beer very much at all, though I can't point to any glaring flaws.  The aroma is interesting: a mix of shoe leather, some plastic, cherries or maybe even a bit of strawberry.  I can see the whole thing becoming increasingly sherry-like as it ages, as it has that slightly sweet oxidative character.  The taste is very slightly tart, and a bit astringent, with some alcohol warmth as it goes down and around the sides of the tongue.  I think the biggest problem is that the mouthfeel is a little thin, which means that the mid-palate is really lacking.  I can see this beer being a great way to add a bit of complexity to a younger, more full-bodied beer, but by itself it is a little insipid.  I didn't finish my glass, which at least meant it was still around for me to take another photo next morning when the light gave a better indication of its colour.

Stale Porter

This beer was also based loosely on a recipe from Ron's book, this time for an 1831 Keeping Porter.  I wrote some earlier tasting notes here.  Since then, the beer has smoothed out quite a bit.  By itself it is slightly tart and vinous, with aromas of berries, bread, and chocolate.  Quite unique.  The body is thin, which again makes the beer by itself underwhelming, but where it really shines is in blending at serving with a younger, fuller beer.  I blended the last few centimetres in my glass with an imperial brown porter brewed by a fellow homebrewer, where it provided a light and tingling acidity that completely changed the finish of the bigger beer.  In a side by side comparison, it was also surprisingly noticeable in the aroma.  From now on I'll be drinking most of this in blends made at serving.  The small 187ml bottles are great for that purpose, I just need to find time to brew a Running Porter for the blending.

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