Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Off flavours or not?


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 GSchlenfkerla 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."
Mark Twain
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.

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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?

23 comments:

The Beer Nut said...

"Gchlenferla" is a new one. It's "Schlenkerla", for the record.

Got to see some stout going into a barrel a couple of weeks ago, and it'll be there longer than a fortnight, I'd say. I'll post about it later in the week.

Williams Brothers Brewery said...

Our 20 Year Anniversary Fraoch (Heather Ale) was aged in ex sherry whiskey casks for almost a year. Roughly 10-11 months.

Woolpack Dave said...

Well, I've only got the empty bottle as a record. How am I supposed to tell if it's an "S" or a "G" in that Gothic font?

The Beer Nut said...

If it looks like a G, it's an S. Simple.

Moggy said...

2 weeks sounds like a plan that way i might be able to time my next trip to the lakes with it's unveiling ;o)

The Beer Nut said...

*cough* And when it looks like an f it's a k.
/spelling Nazi

Woolpack Dave said...

That's a "k"? - getaway!

The Beer Nut said...

I'd never lie to you, Dave.

Woolpack Dave said...

Thanks Beer Nut, I'd already decided it was time to do research and found the site. Perhaps I should consider Googling beers before I blog them.....

Barm said...

If it looks like an f, it might also be an s. There are a number of possibilities.

Actually a fair few German breweries have removed the long s from their labels in recent years (notably Fürstenberg and several Kölsch brands), as even Germans have trouble reading that stuff these days.

Anonymous said...

I reckon it'll be just about ready towards mid/late-August 2010.

Washy

Woolpack Dave said...

Now then Moggy and Washy, I'm sure there are plenty of people who will be wanting it to be ready just when they happen to be here.....

Mark said...

Dave, interesting post... If the off-flavour is meant to be there, then great, if it's just 'off' then bad. I love a little sourness if it's intentional. I like sherry if it's old and strong. I like hints of marmite if it's *really* old and strong.

I like the more esoteric beers but sometimes it is difficult to tell if it's intnetional or just off. Brewdog's Atlantic IPA, for example.

Oh, and if you bottle the stout then save me one :)

Barm said...

Years ago I used to drink Rodenbach and gueuze whenever I got the chance. I had to stop eventually as I found I was losing the ability to tell when a pint of real ale at the pub back home was past its best. It gets difficult once you've trained your palate to accept sourness as an acceptable flavour.

Woolpack Dave said...

Mark, Moggy, Washy and anybody else who is interested, I was sort of planning to put quite a bit in bottles. I was thinking of 750ml with corks, I've even got a monster corking machine for the job, but I would need to buy a pallet of bottles, which is too much at the moment. So simple 500ml with crown tops will have to do.

Anyway, I'll be looking at some sort of special arrangement for bloggers so they get to try some.

Barm, good points although I think I can tell the difference between a stale beer and one that is esoteric. I hope, anyway.

Velky Al said...

Dave,

Now imagine that smokiness from Schlenkerla (if you can get your hands on their rauchweizen then you are in for a treat), toned down, paired with chocolate and Fuggles and you pretty much have the smoked chocolate porter I sent you.

I think you would find people liking it!

Sorry for the shameless plugging, I discovered today that one of my other beers was made in a decent size batch in the Czech Republic and went down rather well, so my ego has swollen ever so slightly.

Tim said...

Vinegar is an off flavour. Here Here, too much acceptance and deliberate marketing of stale beer is going on at the moment. Y

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Curious if this is going to a plastic firkin from the barrel, and if any conditioning will be lost in the process.

The barrel also says that you racked it in January.

...anticipates Stoopid Yank comments...

lagerfrenzy said...

Dave, off flavours are of course only off if they aren't supposed to be there according to 'generally accepted' flavour profiles. If you're trying something new then I think it is up to you to make your own mind up. I used to spend many a happy Thursday on a taste panel in a lager brewery, criticising one beer for having a particular flavour and appreciating the same flavour in one of the 'dessert' beers we had afterwards.

Ed said...

From what I heard from a bloke at Fullers I would guess at that strength of beer things will be happening straight away from the microflora in the barrel.

Woolpack Dave said...

Al, don't worry about shameless plugging, you're a friend on here!

Tim, perhaps you are right, but I've had some very interesting beers that have flavours normally considered off. Of course these are speciality beers and not for your general necking.

BUL180 - Stoopid Yank! Actually, the issue of ensuring adiquate condition of the finished beer is something that is concerning me. I might have to re-prime and re-sead. Also, there are some advantages of copious amounts of extranious carbon dioxide in this situation.

lagerfrenzy - yup, can't disagree there.

Ed, if it were a plain oak cask I might agree. The cask was bunged straight after the whisky was removed. It was around 55% so there should be little living in the cask. However, wood is porous so anything could happen. There is certainly some fermentation occurring right now.

Velky Al said...

Stop it Dave, you'll make me blush!

Zythophile said...

" ... much more than two weeks is pointless and possibly detrimental ..."

The March beer served at noblemen’s tables “in their fixed and standing houses is commonly of a year old” and sometimes “of two years’ tunning or more” - William Harrison, 1577.

If well-aged beer was good enough for the Elizabethans ...