Anything I’m Fermenting

November 22, 2008

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 7

Getting near the end of this series on the Champagne of Beers – you may have noticed that I combined two characteristics – low bitterness, and no hop flavour or aroma. That was simply because it really didn’t serve any purpose to separate them – both related to the use of hops. Here are all the characteristics I am aiming for, with the one’s already discussed struck out.

1. Very light colour

2. Fizzy, but without much head

3. Alcohol content of around 8% abv

4. Noticeable acidity

5. Light body

6. Clear – minimal cloudiness

7. Low bitterness and no hop flavour or aroma

8. Fruitiness

9. Dry (i.e. not sweet)

8. Fruitiness. When beer is described as being fruity, it usually means that some of the flavours noticed in the beer are more usually associated with fruit – raisin, prune, plum, wine, cider, banana, citrus, etc. Occasionally it means that fruit have been literally added to the beer at some point.

Champagne, being a wine, is made from grapes, a type of fruit. So while champagne is not usually described as fruity, it is only because that would be stating the obvious (wines are sometimes described as being ‘fruity’, if fresh fruit flavours are very noticeable). Fruitiness in beer is sometimes a good thing, and sometimes undesirable, depending on the style and the drinker’s expectations. Many Belgian ales, continental wheat beers, and English ales have pronounced fruit flavours. Golden lagers – the major type of beer produced currently – are generally devoid of them, and they would be considered a fault. Certain American ales have strong citrus flavours that come from heavy hopping with certain types of hops.

These fruit flavours come from many sources – the malts used, the yeasts used, and the hops used. In my case, my malts will not contribute much fruit flavour. On the other hand, using a lot of cane sugar as part of the grain bill is said to contribute to wine or cider flavours, although this is a result of the yeast more than any flavour in the sugar. Usually beer makers try to avoid this cidery-ness by using dextrose – a sugar different from sucrose. Another thing I hypothesized may help is using jasmine rice for the rice in the beer – thinking the jasmine is somewhat fruity. I have just cooked a batch of the rice, and it really does not have much of a scent other than rice. So either the rice I bought does not have a strong jasmine scent, or that the scent is so subtle that it is unlikely to make it through mashing and fermentation.

Yeasts are not just the agents of fermentation in beer, they also contribute enormously to the flavour profile of the beer. Many beers with essentially identical grains and hops nevertheless taste very different due to different yeast strains at different breweries. Even if the breweries started with the same strain, the yeasts will evolve differently in the different breweries, leading to differences in flavour. Yeasts produce the esters and polyphenols and other chemicals that cause the fruit flavours in beers. The yeast strain I’m using (I just activated it an hour ago) is known for making fruity and spicy flavours in beer. This obviously works well for my objective – even the spicyness is not really a problem I think. It also likes to ferment at relatively high temperatures. Higher temperature ferments tend to produce more flavours – again sometimes a good thing (as in many ales) and sometimes not (as in many ‘clean-tasting’ lagers and ales).

In terms of the hops – in theory I could add some American-style hops to the secondary fermentor to provide the citrusy flavours associated with them, and not worry about bitterness. However, I’m holding off because strong citrus scents are not usually associated with wines, and because dry-hopping would add a lot of regular hop flavours, something I am trying to avoid (in order to distance the ‘champagne of beers’ from beer.)

In sum, I hope to get fruit flavours from using a lot of cane sugar, from using a yeast known to produce fruity flavours, and from fermenting at a relatively high temperature – around 20 to 22 degrees.

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