I have not been a huge fan of American Barley Wines, in general. The current trend, as far as I can tell, is to basically make a slightly stronger and far less attenuated Double IPA with way more Crystal Malt. This all adds up to, in my opinion, a big, sticky mess.
Personally, I like a Barley Wine than leans a little bit heavier on the barley. I love Double IPA, but I don’t love the trend of IPA taking over the entire beer market. What I like even less, though is a big, strong beer that is sticky sweet with loads of Crystal Malt. Brewed to the gravity that I think is appropriate for a Barley Wine, i.e. 1.100 and up, I think subtler malts bring plenty of character and complexity that, when added to the high level of alcohol, long boil and extended aging times required for a Barley Wine, simply get muddled with too much specialty malt.
I decided, after my first disappointing attempt at a Barley Wine, that too much specialty malt was probably just any specialty malt at all. Munton’s Crisp Maris Otter Pale Malt has plenty of flavor and with twenty-five pounds of it in a five gallon batch, there is character to spare.
Once I decided to go the single malt route, the idea to go single hop as well seemed obvious. Even more obvious, though was the decision that East Kent Goldings would be the hop of choice. I have used East Kent Goldings more than any hop other than maybe Cascade. It is the go to choice for any British style beer and works great for bittering with its mid-range acid content, flavor with its herbal tea like character and an aroma that intensifies the tea notes while staying smooth.
There was, honestly, not a lot of thought put into those ingredient choices. A lot of thought went into the hopping schedule, but really, the biggest decision was what yeast to use. Ultimately, I landed on White Labs’ Brithish Ale, also known as Ringwood. I had used this yeast a couple of times before with mixed results, but falling in line with other peoples’ experience, I found that if given enough time to clean up after itself it created a distinct and deliciously malty beer.
Since I was looking for an antidote for the overly hopped American Barley Wines and planned to give the beer plenty of time for age before bottling, this seemed like a good choice. It did end up making one of my favorite beers that I have brewed thus far, but ultimately, in this year’s second batch, the yeast was the one thing I decided to change. I found that the hop character was mostly lost in this beer. The malt, alcohol and complex fermentation notes were all fantastic, but I wanted a bit more of those delicious EKG hops to come through. I will talk more about that decision later this week, though.
For now, with all of the ingredients covered, I’ll spend a little bit of time on the process. Yes, I used twenty-five pounds of Maris Otter Malt in my ten gallon cooler mash tun. According to the internet, this is about the maximum that you can reliably fit to mash in a ten gallon container. I fully believe that to truly make a Barley Wine, it is necessary to push your equipment to its limits. Considering this was a single malt beer, the malt bill was very easy to calculate.
I wanted a full bodied, malty beer without any specialty grains, so I pushed the mash temperature as high as I was comfortable with. I normally keep my mashes very close to 150º and have never used a 158º mash on any other beer, but it worked great for this. I mashed for seventy-five minutes, which was longer than I normally did at the time. Considering the high mash temperature, I don’t think the extended mash was necessary, although I’ve gotten into the habit of longer mashes in general since making this beer.
For the hopping rate, I pushed a little past what is standard for an English Barley Wine, at least according to my brewing software. I doubt that, at this gravity, my bitterness extraction is nearly as efficient as iBrewmaster says. So while the BJCP guidelines say that up to 70 IBUs are appropriate for this style and iBrewmaster says that this beer should be 85, I thought it would be well within the arena. The results bore my reasoning out. The bittering was perfectly balancing. The hop flavor and aroma were slightly lacking.
I added two ounce of hops with twenty minutes left, two at flameout and another two ounces in the dry hop. I still think this was an appropriate amount, despite wanting a bit more hop character in the final beer. I hope and believe that the change in yeast will help bring out more of the hops in this years batch. Despite the lacking hop character, this is still, as I said, one of my favorite things that I’ve ever made.
I recently entered the beer in the Lititz Craft Beer Fest Homebrew Contest. The beer was brewed last November and entered this August and I had no reservations about that. Fresh is normally best, but this beer has aged gracefully. More vanilla notes have come out as the alcohol mellows and the hops were already lacking, but the bitterness still balances.
There are about twenty bottles of this beer left in the basement, a lot more than I’d expect because I feel like I drink it all the time. That is the lovely thing about a beer that you only drink of per sitting, though. I can’t wait for this year’s batch to be ready so I can try them side by side. I will have tasting notes for the original later this week and the new one when it is ready around the holidays.
Old SMaSHY (2013)
Style: English Barley Wine
Brew Date: November 27, 2013
Serve Date: February, 2014
100% Maris Otter
Hops (90 minute boil):
4 oz East Kent Goldings @ 60 min
2 oz East Kent Goldings @ 20 min
2 oz East Kent Goldings @ Flameout
2 oz East Kent Goldings Dry hopped 7 days
White Labs WLP005: British Ale Yesat (Ringwood)