Last year I brewed a beer for a friends birthday. At the time the friend was a keen whisky drinker and not so much a beer drinker (though he is now very into ‘craft’ beer) so I wanted to make the beer as close to whisky as possible.
This meant taking some lessons from whisky brewers and adding them into my beer – things like using smoked malts and aging on wood.
I put together a bit of a mish-mash (pun intended) of a recipe;
1kg Dextrose (12.5%)
6kg Maris Otter (75.0%)
0.30kg Smoked Malt (3.8%)
0.50kg Dark Crystal 120L (6.3%)
0.20kg Carafa III (2.5%)
25g Centennial @ 60 minutes (22.58 IBUs)
I soaked 100g of heavy toast, American oak chips in Red stag cherry bourbon before adding to the fermenter at the end of fermentation.
The beer itself I remember being pleased with – it had the whisky style profile that I was looking for, malty with a thick smoke character and wood character. It was a pleasant, warming beer that I was happy to give as a gift.
Now almost a year on I have found 3 bottles in the back of my garage and I’m excited to give them a try to see what the extended period of aging has done for them.
I don’t go to the extent of purging my bottles with gas when I bottle my homebrew, I’ve never even been particularly careful about oxygen pickup – I simply transfer using an auto syphon from my fermenter straight into my bottles. I add sugar directly to the bottles because I’ve never achieved good results dosing sugar solution into the fermenter (just a personal choice, I know loads of homebrewers do it this way and have no issues!). So I don’t deliberately introduce oxygen at packaging but I also don’t take many precautions against it.
That being said, I was hoping the melanoidins created by the complex maillard reactions from the dark crystal and carafa malts might have helped counteract any oxygenating effects that could have occurred in that time.
I thought a few other things might be on my side with this beer too;
- The ABV of the beer was relatively high at over 7% and higher alcohol beers tend to age better than low alcohol beers.
- The beer contains some pretty complex flavours such as smoke and wood as well as dark malts and complexity can increase and improve with age.
- The bottles were in my garage so have been out of the light in a fairly consistently cool environment (heat speeds up the aging of beer so the fact these beers were quite cool should work out in my favour).
- The beers haven’t moved for a year – no stirring up of sediment or agitation which could damage the final beer taste.
So, the only thing left to do was taste the beer…
The beer has darkened significantly to a thick black colour. The smoke from the peated malt is what comes through first with some oak and treacle in the aroma. Smoke and burnt coffee are predominant in the flavour with some higher alcohol coming through. The beer has become a little unbalanced after so long but isn’t as unpleasant as I expected. The dark malts and complex flavours definitely helped this stay drinkable but overall it was much better fresh!