The Rav­ages of Time

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

Neil Fisher of Weld­w­erks Brew­ing de­scribes his ap­proach to recipe de­sign and brew­ing process for mak­ing bar­rel-aged stouts that stand up to ex­tended ag­ing.

Time is a trans­for­ma­tive in­gre­di­ent in wood-aged beer, and brew­ers ought to con­sider the ef­fects of time as they en­vi­sion the beer they ul­ti­mately want to pro­duce. Neil Fisher of Weld­w­erks Brew­ing (Gree­ley, Colorado) walks through his ap­proach to recipe de­sign and brew­ing process for bar­rel-aged stouts, shar­ing what he’s learned about mak­ing beers that stand up to ex­tended ag­ing.

LIKE MANY BREW­ERS, WHEN we loaded into bar­rels our first ren­di­tions of the beer we’d later name Me­di­anoche, we planned on then-stan­dard 9- to 12-month ag­ing process, and the recipe we used (which was sim­i­lar to the home­brew recipe I shared in the Spring 2014 is­sue of Craft Beer & Brew­ing Mag­a­zine®) re­flected that. It was a big beer with a long boil and a high start­ing grav­ity (28–30°P, around 1.120 stan­dard grav­ity), and while it tasted great af­ter a year, we saw the po­ten­tial for mak­ing it bet­ter by re­con­struct­ing the recipe to stand up to longer ag­ing in the bar­rel. When we let that 9 to 12-month

recipe go for 14–15 months, the base recipe started to dis­ap­pear, and over time the re­turns di­min­ished.

We found that we like more age than we thought, so we went back to the draw­ing board to de­sign a hardier beer, hav­ing learned quite a bit over that first year of tast­ing our bar­rel-aged stout as it aged. We thought we could make it bet­ter, and that was all de­ter­mined by how much pa­tience we could have with the bar­rels. The first step was to in­crease the grav­ity, which we pushed up to around 35°P (1.154 SG).

I’ve been delv­ing into the science of it, and one thing I learned was that a de­gree of Plato is not in­ter­change­able be­tween malt and other sug­ars. They mea­sure the same, but the way we drink and ex­pe­ri­ence them and the way they age are all dif­fer­ent. A de­gree of Plato that you de­rive from dex­trose is dif­fer­ent from what you de­rive from su­crose is dif­fer­ent from mal­tose or fruc­tose. I’ve seen that it’s more a prod­uct of the mat­u­ra­tion of sugar and the ef­fect of the ox­ida­tive re­ac­tion—how that im­pacts our per­cep­tion of sweet­ness—and I think mal­tose is prob­a­bly the most del­i­cate in giv­ing you the ben­e­fit of mouth­feel with­out cloy­ing sweet­ness in the fin­ish. Maybe it’s ho­cus pocus, and there are plenty of brew­ers who find suc­cess adding sugar in dif­fer­ent ways to achieve their al­co­hol and grav­ity goals, but for what we want in a stout—a beer with chewy body and a lux­u­ri­ous mouth­feel that can hold up af­ter 18 months in a bar­rel—malt is the only way to achieve it.

Our ABV and at­ten­u­a­tion haven’t re­ally changed—we’re start­ing five points higher and end­ing five points higher—but an­other thing we’ve no­ticed is that our all-malt fer­men­ta­tions are health­ier than those in which we use more sim­ple sug­ars. Fer­men­ta­tions with sim­pler sug­ars such as dex­trose tend to spike ini­tially, and while they still fin­ish out in the same place af­ter 7 to 8 days, we see cleaner fer­men­ta­tions with all malt. The growth phase is pretty nor­mal with malt, where when we’ve added 3–4°P in sim­ple sug­ars, it re­ally throws off the fer­men­ta­tion char­ac­ter.

A de­gree of Plato is not in­ter­change­able be­tween malt and other sug­ars. They mea­sure the same, but the way we drink and ex­pe­ri­ence them and the way they age are all dif­fer­ent. I’ve seen now that it’s more a prod­uct of the mat­u­ra­tion of sugar and the ef­fect of the ox­ida­tive re­ac­tion—how that im­pacts our per­cep­tion of sweet­ness—and I think mal­tose is prob­a­bly the most del­i­cate in giv­ing you the ben­e­fit of mouth­feel with­out cloy­ing sweet­ness in the fin­ish.

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