Saturday, March 01, 2008

Of Bocks, stouts and porters...

A couple converging events have led me to better understand stouts and porters (as I am fairly ignorant of the styles... especially porters).

First things first... We entered our Christmas Bock in the BABBLE Brew-Off and received the results this week. It did not fare well. The problem, as I suspected, was that we entered it in the Bock category, and it's really more of a hybrid style. While nobody noted anything technically flawed (aside from one judge perceiving a smoke character that I'm not noticing... maybe a dirty bottle?), the consensus was that it was too dark and bitter to be a Bock. I think if I had hit my O.G. and gotten it to Doppelbock strength it would have been more appropriate, though still on the dark/bitter side. Anyway, I had a certified judge try the Christmas Bock at a homebrew meeting a while back and he suggested I enter it as a robust porter. Being the stubborn person I am, I chose not to, but since then I re-read the BJCP description for a robust porter and I'm thinking it works. It's a little light on the roast notes for a porter, but otherwise it works (note that fruity esters should be "moderate to none," so I think I can get away with the fact that I used a lager yeast).

Now here's the next part of my story, which seems unrelated at first... I racked the Cocoa Puffs Stout to a keg on Wednesday. I recalled that when I racked the beer to the secondary, it tasted remarkably like the Christmas Bock and seemed to be missing some stout-like quality. Now that it's been infused with Cocoa Puffs, it has a nice sweet cocoa taste up front and a bitter, dark chocolate finish (almost a little too bitter in the finish... we'll see how it finishes up). Anyway, when I was formulating the recipe, I started with the basic recipe for my None More Black stout which I aged on espresso beans to make my None More Buzzed Coffee Stout. However, at the last second I decided to substitute chocolate malt for the roast barley. My goal was to get more chocolate flavor in the beer.

Of course, at the time I wasn't thinking of the general rule that stouts have roast barley and porters have black malt. Now I realize the difference, and I also realize I made a Baltic porter, not a sweet export stout. But it's great because I feel like have an infinitely better understanding of what roast barley can bring to the party (and what its absence leaves out). I also better understand how porters relate to robust porters, how robust porters relate to Baltic porters, how Schwarzbiers relate to robust porters, and how Baltic porters relate to Bocks. I don't know if anybody else understands, but sometimes you can read something a hundred times but not really understand it until you do it yourself. That's how I feel right now. So I'm pretty excited.

Anyway, the Drunk Monk challenge is coming up. It now appears I'll be entering a robust porter and a cocoa Baltic porter, despite the fact that I've never intentionally brewed any porter whatsoever. It's funny... On one hand I feel like I should stick with more simple, traditional recipes and make small changes so as to avoid surprises like these. On the other hand, it's these surprises that can lead me to understand how these different malts work. I guess the real answer is a combination of the two. Keep things simple (like simply substituting chocolate malt for roast barley) so that you can understand where the flavors are coming from, but don't be afraid to do something a little drastic.


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