I vote we go back to the Slaughtered Lamb. – Jack Goodman, An American Werewolf in London
Homebrew inspiration can come from strange places. My favorite homebrews are the ones that were inspired not just by an imagined set of flavors, but by places I’ve visited, stories I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, etc. I love using the language of malt, hops, and yeast to tell a story about something more than beer. The trick, though, is that brewing is not an abstract art. A good concept might make for a great conversation starter, but no matter how high-concept a brew is, if it doesn’t taste good I don’t want to be stuck with five gallons of it (I graduated from a Catholic university in New Orleans, but that doesn’t make it a good idea to brew a crawfish & Bananas Foster porter with Trappist ale yeast for the alumni picnic). Finding the right balance between concept and taste is the ultimate goal.
In spring 2011, Lisa and I visited the United Kingdom for three weeks and spent a lot of time in pubs. We drank real ales from so many regional breweries whose names I can’t remember (except for Brains – #1 among zombies in South Wales) served at cellar temperature, often from beer engines – though at one awesome hole-in-the-wall in a one-road hamlet in Scotland I think I remember drinking beer dispensed from a cardboard box. The taste and aroma of real British ale, even the sight of the interior of a British pub, are vivid and powerful memories for me.
In summer 2012, I saw John Landis’ 1981 film An American Werewolf in London for the first time and my nostalgia was kindled by an early scene in the film at a fictitious Yorkshire pub called the “Slaughtered Lamb”. So I brewed a special bitter with English malts and American hops that I named Kessler’s Rampage Special Bitter in homage to the film’s main character and titular werewolf. Not long after I kegged it my sister-in-law and her husband, a native Sussaxon*, came to visit for a week and emptied the keg while I wasn’t looking. I took that as a compliment, and decided to brew it again this summer.
The 2013 version was 94% (8 lbs) Fawcett’s Optic malt, reportedly the base used by Fuller’s and other UK breweries. 4 oz each of Crystal 40 and Crystal 150 rounded out the grain bill. Last year I used Crystal 120 instead of Crystal 150, but otherwise the malt profile was the same in both versions and pretty typical of the style. The mash was one hour at 155°F.
The hops were my chance to freestyle. American homebrewers can be pretty predictable in their hop selections for English pale ales – occasionally someone might get bold and use a little Fuggles, but generally it’s either East Kent Goldings, East Kent Goldings, or another … what’s it called? oh yeah, East Kent Goldings. I suppose that’s what judges look for in competition, but the lack of originality disappoints me. American pale ales and English pale ales are cousin styles, and I see no reason why American hops can’t play a role in a damn fine English bitter if the right ones are chosen – i.e., probably not the 4 C’s (though I suspect someone has done it well).
In 2012, I used exclusively American hops in keeping with the inspiration (you can see both recipes here). For 2013, I deviated with one English hop in the mix:
- 0.5 oz Warrior (15% AA) at 60 minutes
- 0.5 oz Progress (6.6% AA) at 15 minutes
- 0.4 oz Willamette (4% AA) at 5 minutes
Although Progress is English and Willamette is American, both are Fuggle derivatives, so I thought they would pair nicely together despite being a slight variation on the original inspiration. Consider it an homage to Jenny Agutter’s character Alex in the film, the English love interest of the American David Kessler (yes, I can rationalize anything with my artsy symbolic bullshit).
I pitched Safale S-04 into the wort with an OG of 1.046. True to the old adage that “English yeast do it faster,” the fermentation bottomed out at 1.010 less than 48 hours later, leaving me with an ABV of 4.7%, palpable but still sessionable. I kegged it after 4 weeks, and after 2 weeks under refrigeration it’s just starting to get good enough to drink.
I don’t have any of last year’s batch left over to do a true vertical tasting, but I’m a little disappointed in this year’s model. I’m not sure the Progress hops were a good addition (sorry, Jenny). I’ve used them in more robust English-style beers like porters and stouts to great effect, but with so little malt character to hide behind, I’m getting a strong tropical fruit flavor though it is mellowing with time in the keg. The other fault is less diacetyl than I like in this style, though it may be hiding under all those Progress hops and may become more obvious as the hop flavor mellows.
So the beer’s not perfect. But considering I half expected the skies to open up, swarms of locusts and some ancient BJCP curse to fall upon me when I put hops other than East Kent Goldings in a special bitter, I think I’m still coming out ahead. I don’t get the feeling of being an American lost in Britain in this version, but my second Transatlantic ale experiment is good enough to brew again. And again. Until I get it right.
*Sussaxon: a native of East or West Sussex. My brother-in-law assures me this although this term is technically accurate, no one uses it. We both like it because it makes us think of the people of Sussex as mud-splattered, armor-clad Saxons performing great acts of manly savagery like raiding cottages across the southern coast of Great Britain. They’re not.
Here’s an interesting postscript and mea culpa. I just listened to a Basic Brewing Radio podcast released December 13, in which Mitch Steele, head brewer at Stone Brewing Company and author of a new book IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale (which I received for Christmas, and it looks like a great read) advocated:
minimizing use of crystal malts in IPA, [which] adds a level of sweetness and malt intensity that [can] kind of mask the hop character … as the beer ages, the crystal malt immediately turns into that dried raisin, fruit character which really knocks the hop character down.
He recommends rye, wheat, or even light Munich malts as a substitute, and says he prefers these malts to crystal in his own IPA recipes. He said that Stone doesn’t often use rye particularly in their beers due to lautering concerns with their brewhouse equipment, but he would like to.
I was always under the impression that crystal was more or less a necessity in IPA, to add exactly the kind of residual sweetness that Steele cautions against. Far be it from me to disagree with him, because he literally wrote the book on IPA, and Stone’s selection of great IPAs speaks for itself. I’ve deduced that Mr. Steele practices what he preaches, and the grain bill for Enjoy By IPA – a beer he had significant creative control over as head brewer – contained little, if any, crystal malt.
It was that sweetness of crystal malt that I was expecting to find in Enjoy By IPA and missing (well, maybe not “missing”, because the beer was spectacular). I incorrectly identified it as a lack of melanoidin flavor, when it was actually a lack of caramel flavor. Caramel flavors come from using stewed, sugary crystal malts (also known as caramel malts; surprise, surprise) in beer. Melanoidins, on the other hand, are the toasty flavors associated with German beers that one gets from decoction mashing and boiling malts such as Vienna and Munich.
Assuming Enjoy By IPA had Munich in its grain bill and not crystal – as per Steele’s own advice – what I was probably tasting was melanoidin. Or at least a subtle, barely detectable background of melanoidin that allowed the hops to take center stage; as opposed to caramel flavors competing with hops for the spotlight in the name of balancing bitter and sweet.
Maybe that’s exactly what Mitch Steele realized, leading him to his decree. If so, I like his style; and I’m going to learn from it. My last IPA had 1 pound of crystal malts compared to 1.5 pounds of Munich, a 2:3 ratio. How much better would the hops taste if I changed that 8 oz of crystal and 2 pounds of Munich (1:4)? Or only 4 oz of crystal (1:8)?
The real tragedy is that December 21 has come and gone, and I won’t be able to find Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA again. If I do, it’ll be past date. It seems kind of heretical to drink a beer called “Enjoy By 12.21.12” after the date on the label, doesn’t it?
This will be my last post of the year. Happy new year from the Zyme Lord, and I’ll see you in 2013.