The Brown Ale Cometh

My work space pictured above.

Last we spoke, I was regaling you with my mild exploits (both noun and adjective). The cask version was neither under- nor overwhelming. It simply “whelmed”. Either I did not seal the cask completely (entirely possible) or fermenting down to 1° P really tired the yeast out. As a result, there was even less carbonation than what would be considered appropriate for the relatively flat profile of cask-conditioned beer. Yet, I enjoyed this version more so than the kegged iteration and I got a chance to tap a cask for the first time (and without much mess!) I was apprehensive, for sure, and warned one of our regular patrons sitting unnaturally close to the cask on the bar about what may transpire. Rather than gladly move down a seat or two to avoid the potential Gallagher Effect, he looked at me silently and dared me to splash him, communicating solely with his gaze. No pressure.

Moving on, my next masterpiece might be tapped this week or next. I was given less than 24 hours to devise and source a recipe in order to keep the pilot train on course. I chose one of the more boring (but sneakily diverse) styles of  “brown ale”, a style so nondescript it’s just named after the color of the beer. Given the circumstances I feel it came out very well. It’s ostensibly in the southern English style though amped up to 11 in nearly all aspects. Maybe an “imperial southern English brown”? I don’t style so good.

I’ve brewed a lot of beer on a variety of different systems and I feel I have pretty good handle on the basics. With that in mind, I have been trying to work with a new ingredient or technique with each of these pilot brews. For this batch I attempted a technique known as “mash capping”. See, our space is actually not very big for a 4,500 BBL (and growing!) brewery and much of our inventory is shuttled to and from an offsite warehouse. So with such short notice I devised a recipe based on what we had on hand. That meant I was committed to using “pale chocolate” for my color addition. Based an SRM calculator on the Interwebs (of dubious accuracy, I know) my brown ale simply wouldn’t be brown enough unless my grain bill was something like 15% roasted malt. Had I actually done that the beer would likely be unpalatable: acrid, acidic, and charred. Not to mention it would seriously mess with my mash pH since roasted malt has an acidifying effect.

Enter mash capping. Instead of adding all of the roasted malt at dough-in, I started with a nominal amount, let’s say 2% – 4%. Once the mash is complete and run-off begins, I sparged until the liquor on top of the bed started to clarify and then sprinkled another couple of pounds of milled pale chocolate on top of the bed. The sparge liquor on top immediately darkened to the color of Guinness, which made me nervous at first. The key is to remember that the later runnings from your sparge will be much lighter, in density and color, than the first. The goal is to average the color out. I’m not sure there are any calculators that accurately account for capping, but I just eyeballed the color of the kettle and added more pale chocolate whenever I thought it was lightening up too much.

It worked out splendidly and I now have a beer that is deliciously malt-forward and can be described only as brown.

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