hist-brewing: Fwd: Re: Several questions (Gruit Ales)

NATHAN T Moore NTMOORE at SMTPGATE.DPHE.STATE.CO.US
Fri Jul 7 07:28:29 PDT 2000


I asked some questions of Adam off list that he was kind enough to answer and he thought maybe the list would find some interest in the correspondance.  So, here are the two emails (Q & A):

Nate wrote:

> Sorry to keep bothering you with all these questions.  I just have a few things I am wondering about in preperation to attempting a few of your recipes.  I trust that these methods are well tested and proven by time, but many of them go against a lot of my past experiences and understanding there reasons I believe will help me in properly brewing with these methods.
>
> First, your procedures at times call for grinding some of the malt to a fine flour.  This will definitley increase the efficiency a bit, but it will also increase the risk of having the flour form clumps and of obtaining a stuck mash.  I can not think of any flavor effect of this so why is it done?
>
> You mentioned that the complex mash schemes are very important, ie stepping up the mash slowly for 3 hours.  Why is this done?  I can understand the importance of it with very undermodified malts as some of your home-malting friends may have, but with modern commercial malts I can not see the advantage and it will dramtically increase the brew day and effort.  What flavor differences does this result in?
>
> About the short boil, you mentioned you you limit the boil to about 30 min and it improves the flavor.  What flavor changes does this result in?  Usualy this will cause increased DMS or cooked corn aroma that I personally am very sensitive to and do not care for in my beers.
>
> In your most recent recipe, and sorry if I am jumping the gun a bit, you call for making a juniper berry tea and adding it directly prior to serving, you have also recomended similiar to this in the past  Does the flavor of the juniper change that much if you add it and then the ale is allowed to age?  I do not want to ruin an ale by adding the berry tea to my keg and then not finishing it in short enough order.  Would I be better off making a extract and adding it to the mugs, or adding the berries to the mugs?
>
> Thanks for your help.
>
> Nate

Adam replied:

Good to hear from you,

    I certainly have no problem with trying to help serious brewers give a shot at making folkish/historical ales.  One thing that you should keep in mind is that old fashioned production methods do result in a different final product then modern ales.  In part this because the use of  gruits, shaving and such require different approaches to the problem of production that would not be suitable for a straight forward malt, hops, water and yeast recipe.
    In modern terms i would suggest that one compare the mash technique used by traditional Lambic brewers as a point of reference to the issue at hand.   While one does not need to use complicated deconcoction mashes and unmalted wheat to make a reasonable imitation of  a Lambic no brewers that i know who have tried both ways prefer the latter results over the former.
    As an amateur antiquarian and as a judge of traditional beverages historical accuracy is rather important not just because it's cricket but because you can taste a real difference.  If  i recall correctly, you are a member of an antiquarian organization called the  SCA which has, i presume rather strict criteria for the historical basis of the entries submitted for competition.  Now this is not to suggest that one ignore technological advances in malting or water chemistry or to suggest that you should build a
Rostbunn and a coolship in order to have a decent approximation of  the old style your making.  Rather, i would suggest that  when you consider altering an old recipe that your making for he first time that you make adjustments that are in keeping with technological progress.  Specifically, reductions  in fermentable, altering the water profile to the target area etc.   If a change will alter the flavour profile of the style then i would recommend against it.
    In terms of your specific concerns i would recommend the following:
1.)  Generally speaking you are correct that malt flour can produce all of the undesired effects you mention when used in excess.  However, in the quantities called for in the recipes in question you will in all probability not have a problem.  If you feel uncomfortable with the use of any quantity of flour then i don't think you'll sacrifice anything other then a point or of extraction by not using flour.  Lots of old recipes advocate the practice because even when you use modern, highly modified malt you still
have a low extraction by modern standards because of the lack of sparging and recirculation which is ubiquitous today.
    Also, you should remember that older style ales had, with some exceptions, rather high starting gravities.  As an example, in the old days, the famous Midlands mild was often as high as 1.060!  In the days before sparging and when malt was quite dear every additional point of extraction was vigorously sought after.
2.) The issue of the complex mash regimens was covered in part earlier.  However, a few points should be added at this time.  One point worth considering is that several of the recipes that i have submitted call for unmalted cereals which certainly makes for a more involved brew day.  While in some cases one can readily substitute modern malt with no lose of character if you were to do away with more then half  the unmalted wheat in my most recent recipe i think that you would really be missing something.
    While it's true that these mash methods are not as critical as they  were when poor malt was available you will need to get more from your mash do to the lack of a sparge.  Most importantly, the real mash regimens provide the wort's body with greater complexity (which in my view is always better) and produces a more substantial, mouth feel.  While i do not know the specific chemical reason why this is the case i do know that i have found a similar effect when making the more exotic Belgian and German hop based
ales.  In short,  i think you will be much happier with your final product if you use the old mash method.
3.) I am frankly puzzled by your mention of DMS being a product of a short boil as i have always had that particular off flavour attributed to factors other then the length of  the boil.  If you have had problems with DMS production is would suggest that you look to areas other then the length of your boil.
    Basically, partial boils or boils of short duration are meant to conserve fuel which is a big concern out here.   Also, longer boils are needed to provide better hot brakes so to encourage protein fallout and trub removal.  The ales that i have written about are not clear by modern American standards and have look similar to Thomas Hardy and other English real ales as a result.    Longer boils are necessary for alpha acid extraction which simply is not an issue with gruit ales. But when all is said and done a
short boil is not needed to make the ales that i have written about.  Because fuel is plentiful in the States longer boil would provide for a clearer looking product
and it certainly won't hurt the ale.
4.) The issue of the juniper berries is some what tricky as i have never made the table ale in a way other then what i described.  Basically, the juniper is meant to provide an aromatic addition to the ale rather then impart a more complicated flavour profile.  If you allow the juniper tea to age along with the ale you would have a more muted, but clearly present, accent.  While i would take off a point or two for the aromatic component of  such an ale in any contest i judge that may not be an issue for you.  As far
as placing a small amount into your horn/jug prior to pouring the ale is concerned i know that many prefer it that way.  It may lend a flavour too assertive for you so restraint is recommended.
    Oh, it just occurred to me that the readership may have similar questions so do you think this exchange should be sent in?



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