So let's blend . . . and taste . . . and coassssst.
I've never really thought about blending beers before. Other than mixing old sours with fresher batches or trying to salvage an unbalanced beer, it always struck me as gimmicky. Recently, somebody in our homebrew club discussed blending for the purpose of entering more styles of beer into competitions. Now I'm not that gung-ho about winning medals so again it didn't really interest me.
However, another local homebrew club has a competition coming up (the BOSS Charlie Orr Memorial Chicago Cup Challenge) and we're trying to encourage as many entries as possible in an attempt to win the coveted Chicago Cup. I currently have a Helles (which is a little too hoppy and will probably be entered as an Dortmunder Export) and a Dunkel that I think are quite tasty, so it occurred to me: maybe I could blend them to make an Oktoberfest and a Vienna lager! Some initial tests suggested some good possibilities, but tonight I picked up a Dortmunder (Ayinger Jahrhundert), a Dunkel (Flensburger) and a Vienna (Capital Wisconsin Amber, which is admittedly "loosely based" on the style) so I can both compare my beers to commercial examples and see if blending can make a Vienna. (On a side note, I couldn't find any commercial O-fests in March so I'll have to go by memory on that.)
So first, the comparison of my Helles (Export?) to Jahrhundert... Mine is a tad darker (a deep gold rather than straw) and somewhat opaque. It's actually weird... My first keg was crystal clear but this second keg just doesn't want to clear up. I took this second keg to Wisconsin and back but would think it would still drop clear after a couple weeks. Anyway, back to the beers. The Ayinger has more of a traditional Pils aroma whereas the Helles has a deeper breadiness. Mine is also both richer and hoppier; almost like a Maibock/Helles Bock. I think the balance is about the same; mine is hoppier, but also maltier. I'm almost tempted to enter it as a Helles Bock; while at 1053 it's way low for a Maibock (1064 minimum) it really tastes big. But it's clean, and too hoppy for a Helles, so I guess a Dortmunder Export it will be. (What's annoying is it would be perfect as a Kellerbier, but I already have on specialty beer--my Gose--and you can't enter two in the same category.)
Next, my Dunkel... Similar color and clarity to the Flensburger. The Flensburger's aroma is much more pronounced with sugar and caramel notes, almost sweet tea-like. Mine is far more muted. Flavor-wise, theirs is kind of hard to explain. I'd say the Flensburger is more toasty, like there's a touch of Carafa in there. It's also more grainy. Mine tastes a little fuller, rounder. Overall, however, I'd say these two are much closer than the Exports were. Bitterness is just about the same. It's just that tea-like flavor that I generally associate with crystal malts (mine was 100% Munich, so I wonder if they used some Pils and Caramunich malts in addition to the Munich).
So now it's time for blending! First I figured I'd compare the Wisconsin Amber (the Vienna lager) to the Flensburger Dunkel to see how they differ. I poured a little of the Amber to do a color comparison and it's a tad lighter than the Flensburger Dunkel. Taste-wise, the Amber definitely has a little more Pils-like character to it. It's lighter on the palate and less sweet. Definitely seems like maybe a 2:1 Dunkel:Helles ratio would work. Let's find out...
Much like the comparison between the Exports, the big difference here is richness. Color-wise, the Amber is a little lighter than my blend, though I'm worried that a 50-50 blend will get the color right but be too hoppy. The flavor seems to be fairly good (mine is a tad hoppier, but not much) but there's still a fullness to mine that I'm not getting in the Amber.
Based on the first blend, I tried a 50-50 blend and as I suspected it's closer in flavor profile but hoppier. Hmm...
The last thing I tried was a 2:1 Helles:Dunkel ratio for an Oktoberfest. O-fests have a decent range of color, with Oktoberfests consumed in Germany being a deep gold and exported versions being more copper, almost red. This particular blend (the one pictured at the top of this post) came out a nice honey orange. The taste was pretty damn good, too. The richness of the Helles with a slight toastiness from the Dunkel. Again, it's a tad hoppy but certainly by U.S. standards this would pass as a style-appropriate Oktoberfest.
In the end, I decided to go with the 50-50 blend for my Vienna and a 2:1 Helles:Dunkel ratio for the Oktoberfest. I'll be curious to see how each does next week. In the meantime, this has opened me up to new possibilities regarding future beers... Could I brew ten gallons of one beer, five gallons of another, and end up with a 5-gallon keg of three different styles? Seems entirely possible to me!