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Muddled malt character

When I make hoppy beers, they turn out fine. When I make something that is a little more malt-forward, they end up OK, but not as good as I’d hoped. I have a hard time getting a beer with a fairly complex malt bill to taste really good. The malt character just gets sort of muddled.

As an example, I made an Amber recently (Jamil’s recipe):
9.5# Maris Otter
1# munich
.5# Victory
.75# C-40
.5# C-120
37 IBU
.75 oz Columbus @ 60
.25 oz each of Centennial and Cascade at 10 min. and 1 minute
US-O5

I get a bit of sweetness from the Crystal, but the hops seem to dominate this beer even with the small additions.

I’m thinking this problem may stem from the fact that my water chemistry changes fairly often where I live in KY.

Any other ideas or tricks you’ve found to make the malt character more clear?

I went through a couple year period where I experimented with creating more complex malt flavors in my APA’s and AIPA’s. I ultimately came to the conclusion that when dealing with a hop-focused beer, excessive malt flavor complexity clashes with the typical hop flavor and bittering. There is a reason that most successful commercial versions of these styles have a very simple malt bill. It works best.

Water chemistry is another place that helps put the right edge on the beer flavor. My LHBS, Great Fermentations, had 2 otherwise identical IPA’s on tap this weekend with their only difference being proper acidification of the water and gypsum addition in one. The unadjusted version had a malty initial impression followed by a slight harshness. The adjusted version was drier and crisper and more focused with an even balance in malt and bittering. It was a pretty good exhibit of the drying effect of sulfates and the reduction in hop harshness that the slightly reduced wort pH provides. Be aware of your water alkalinity and use acid or acid malt to get mash pH into the right range to avoid extracting grain or hop tannins and polyphenols into the wort. Bru’n Water has the tools for figuring out what you should do with your water. If the water varies that much, you should get hardness and alkalinity test kits for aquarium use so that you can assess what your water is currently at.

Your impression of ‘muddled’ flavor is exactly the way I termed my attempts at ‘improving’ the APA and AIPA styles. I ultimately found that simpler 2-row with a minor addition of 40L to 60L crystal provides that narrow malt flavor that doesn’t clash or muddle the hop flavor or bittering. I haven’t tried a darker crystal, but it might be worth a try with just an 80L or 120L crystal addition and 2-row.

Enjoy!

I agree with the former post, it is most likely a water/pH issue. That said, try making your hop additions as first wort and flameout, instead of the 60/10/0. I’ve found that first wort hopping the bittering addition seems to “mellow” the bitter a bit and aids in bringing forward the malt character of a beer.

[quote=“mabrungard”]I went through a couple year period where I experimented with creating more complex malt flavors in my APA’s and AIPA’s. I ultimately came to the conclusion that when dealing with a hop-focused beer, excessive malt flavor complexity clashes with the typical hop flavor and bittering. There is a reason that most successful commercial versions of these styles have a very simple malt bill. It works best.

Water chemistry is another place that helps put the right edge on the beer flavor. My LHBS, Great Fermentations, had 2 otherwise identical IPA’s on tap this weekend with their only difference being proper acidification of the water and gypsum addition in one. The unadjusted version had a malty initial impression followed by a slight harshness. The adjusted version was drier and crisper and more focused with an even balance in malt and bittering. It was a pretty good exhibit of the drying effect of sulfates and the reduction in hop harshness that the slightly reduced wort pH provides. Be aware of your water alkalinity and use acid or acid malt to get mash pH into the right range to avoid extracting grain or hop tannins and polyphenols into the wort. Bru’n Water has the tools for figuring out what you should do with your water. If the water varies that much, you should get hardness and alkalinity test kits for aquarium use so that you can assess what your water is currently at.

Your impression of ‘muddled’ flavor is exactly the way I termed my attempts at ‘improving’ the APA and AIPA styles. I ultimately found that simpler 2-row with a minor addition of 40L to 60L crystal provides that narrow malt flavor that doesn’t clash or muddle the hop flavor or bittering. I haven’t tried a darker crystal, but it might be worth a try with just an 80L or 120L crystal addition and 2-row.

Enjoy![/quote]

This is great info. I’m brewing an IPA right now with 2-row, munich, and a little C-40. I’ll try a little more gypsum to see how it turns out.

But, what sort of tricks are there for brewing something that requires a complex malt bill? Say, an RIS, or porter. When you’re brewing something that is going to be more malt-centric, is there something to consider other than just balancing the water chemistry more towards chlorides and away from sulfates? For me, when I taste a commercial example of a malty beer, they just seem to have more clarity of flavor.

Thanks again.

Its not an issue of malt complexity, its an issue of trying to combine high malt complexity, hoppiness, and bittering into a single beer. With a RIS, hoppiness and bittering are low or modest and that doesn’t interfere with the desired high malt complexity that those beers are known for.

This is like an adage we have in the engineering industry. You can have it: Fast, Cheap, or Accurate. Pick two. You can’t have them all. You can have it: Malty, Bitter, or Hoppy, pick two.

[quote=“Chinaski1217”]…But, what sort of tricks are there for brewing something that requires a complex malt bill? Say, an RIS, or porter.
[/quote]

I would respectfully disagree with the notion that RIS or Porter require a complex malt bill. I’ve made my share of ‘kitchen sink’ versions of both beers in the past, and ultimately found that the much simpler versions I make now are far better, more focused, and have much more character.

The best commercial porter I ever had was in a brewpub (which was unusual because I usually don’t have high expectations for brewpub beer) and after a coversation with the brewer I learned that it was simply Pale Malt, Extra Dark Crystal, and just a touch of black malt. And it was really, really fine.
It was a real eye opener. At least it was until I drained the fourth pint…my eyes were closing pretty rapidly after that)
:cheers:

I gotta agree that the problem is too many competing flavors. Do you know any great chefs that make meals using everything but the kitchen sink? I would focus on 2 complementary flavors and balance those well. Most of the greatest beers ever made use a single malt or hop.

A shameless plug…check out my article on recipe formulation in the latest issue of Zymurgy.

Thanks for the replies so far. I’m trying to work on simplifying things now in my recipe formulation, but when I made that amber referenced in the post above, I was surprised by the results given the amount of different malts.

So, for commercial breweries who are a making beers with a bunch of different malts, how are they getting those clear flavors? Is it simply a matter of balancing the percentages of specialty malts? Like, dialing back the crystal from 7% to 5% to allow the base malt to shine through…or something like that?

And Denny, I did read your article, but clearly need to revisit it.

Thanks again.

There are no “magic numbers” for % of various grains. It’s partly a creative process, partly a process of repeated brewing with small changes. I’m a big advocate of brewing the same recipe over and over, changing one thing at a time, til you get to what you have in mind. Have you done that with some of the beers you’re dissatisfied with?

[quote=“Chinaski1217”]When I make hoppy beers, they turn out fine. When I make something that is a little more malt-forward, they end up OK, but not as good as I’d hoped. I have a hard time getting a beer with a fairly complex malt bill to taste really good. The malt character just gets sort of muddled.

As an example, I made an Amber recently (Jamil’s recipe):
9.5# Maris Otter
1# munich
.5# Victory
.75# C-40
.5# C-120
37 IBU
.75 oz Columbus @ 60
.25 oz each of Centennial and Cascade at 10 min. and 1 minute
US-O5

I get a bit of sweetness from the Crystal, but the hops seem to dominate this beer even with the small additions. [/quote]

Those are aggressive hops. Perhaps try using something with a mellower character.

Are you keeping track of your water? The water profile can have a big effect on the perceived hop character as well as the overall profile of the beer. If you are brewing all grain beer, IMO you need to know what your water profile is and make sure that needed adjustments are made to suit both general brewing needs and compatibility with the style being brewed.

The other thing worth mentioning here is that while it’s certainly not totally whacked I think your grist bill is more complicated than necessary. With rare exception, less is more. Adding too many specialty or “accessory” grains to the list often will leave you with a muddied result. The Victory and 120L crystal here seem to be particularly suspect. A good UK pale malt shouldn’t need a lot of help and those two are probably doing more interference than support. I’d consider eliminating both along with the Munich (I hope you didn’t use that crappy American Munich malt :cheers:

Not yet, but I’m planning on doing this with a Rye IPA I brewed. I used 1272 yeast and tried to rush it by letting it get to 70 a few days into the ferment. I think this is why it ended up too fruity for me.

This is something that I think might be suspect. Here in Northern KY, my water profile changes fairly often and sometimes varies widely. I’ve had my water tested 4 times and gotten different results each time. I try not to worry about it and keep mineral additions to a minimum, and I’m usually just shooting to get calcium in the neighborhood of 50 ppm in the mash. If it’s a hoppy beer, I’ll use more gypsum, if it’s malty, I’ll use CaCl.

Seems like, as far as grain bill goes, most are saying to keep it simple. The Amber recipe I made was from Brewing Classic Styles; Jamil’s book of recipes.

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