I've got my stout into the whisky cask. I originally intended to leave it there quite a while, perhaps until at least December but possibly for as much as 6 months. I've been warned, by somebody who I do occasionally heed advice from, that much more than two weeks is pointless and possibly detrimental. I know that people sometimes leave beer in oak casks for considerably longer than 2 weeks and the results are often well received. Paradox, of course, being one of the main ones. I like this beer, and just to make sure my memory on the subject wasn't playing tricks on me, I tried one again last night. In a recent discussion it was pointed out to me that the beer takes on various off flavours. Really? OK, perhaps you could imagine damp cardboard if you try hard, sherry like flavours perhaps and a definite felt tip thing if you close your eyes and concentrate. In my view stout tastes like that anyway. Of course the SmokeHead whisky is at the fore, that smoky peaty flavour makes it and I imagine is all the stronger for the six months in the cask.
Last week Jeff Pickthall dragged me kicking and screaming1 to the revamped Mill at Ulverston. A nice place but was suffering one or two teething problems, after all it had only been open a few days. The key attraction was Rodenbach Grand Cru. Wood aged for 2 years and brettanomyces used during production, this is a very distinct beer. Jeff observed a hint of balsamic vinegar. It's certainly acidic and sour, but with a balance of wood and musky ageing that really does work; or funky, as Jeff describes it.
We than tried Aecht
GSchlen fkerla Rauchbier. We observed the aroma of smoked salami, or some other similar meats. That, you could say, is a very strange smell to be coming from a beer. Actually, it made me feel quite hungry, which I should have made more of a point about as I'm sure the next day was all the more painful due to the lack of solid substance that night. But I digress, I loved the beer and will be seeking out similar in the future.
We managed to escape for a few hours on Saturday night down to another eccentric pub in Cumbria, The Prince of Wales. They were having their annual stout, porter, mild and strong ales weekend. Stuart also likes to "compost" beers. These are beers that are kept in cask for anything up to 3 years, although disappointingly most were much younger on this occasion. Unfortunately the Punk IPA had all gone. I was sort of hoping he'd kept the cask of Final Frontier I'd given him. Sadly, it shot it's load all over Stuarts cold store during the summer. Being premature isn't a problem I generally suffer from these days.
The aged beers remaining were certainly a mixed bag. Some were quite nice and fruity, as I've noticed with older cask beers. Some were not quite so successful tasting definitely musty and old. Some had sherry flavours that I quite liked, but I'm sure others would claim that they were oxidised. All of this gets me to the point of wondering when a flavour is an "off" flavour and when it is not.
I discussed my whisky cask stout with Stuart, who is a great experimenter and prepared for the result to be rubbish rather than risk having never tried the experiment. He thinks I should leave it in the cask for 6 months.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Vinegar is an off flavour. Well not if it's deliberate and in proportion. A fruity sherry flavour could be due to oxidisation, but not necessarily to the point of spoiling a beer if the overall effect is better due to age. I can usually detect something similar to damp cardboard in many stout style beers. I know that it cannot be oxidisation of the made beer in all cases. After all, roasted barley is oxidised to some extent by the roasting process, how else does it get so black? I know that I normally like phenols if they are in a dark beer. Mind you, phenols are simply catastrophic in a light beer. And as for Gueuse, well how can something so wrong actually work?
So, how am I going to know if the flavours developing in the whisky soaked oak that contains around 240 litres of black stout will be good? How do I really know when the optimum time is for removing the beer and putting it into neutral containers for final conditioning? Finally, if the end result is a little unusual, will it be wrong or just different? A special beer, like me, my mother said I was special.
1No, really, I only popped into his place in the hope of a cuppa. Never did I imagine that he might have the idea of going out for a drink, it was not on my mind at all. He forced me to drink copious amounts that evening, in various pubs and on an empty stomach as well. The next day didn't go well. Of course to his face I would declare that is was a great night of beer exploring, one doesn't want to upset friends now, does one?