When I was a beginner brewer, after I had learned the ingredients, the mash information and learned how to all-grain, after I had done a few all-grain brews and gotten my system down to repetition where each brew day went smoothly and I could churn out beers relatively easily, I thought that beer brewing was simple. Granted, it's easy to make drinkable beer, and not that difficult to make pretty good beer, but I never really admitted to myself that I wasn't making great beer. Sure, my stouts and IPAs were really quite good, but I chalk that up to having such strong flavored ingredients that they cover up many of the flaws of the brew. I still hesitate to say that I make great beer, but I truly think that as many have said before: controlling fermentation temperature brings your beer up by a big notch, and I am that much closer to making great beer.
As brewers, we all have bad batches sometimes. Personally, I've gotten sloppy with sanitation before and ended up with malt-vinegar tasting beer, or sour porters that were not intentional. I've had over heated beers that taste like bananas from the isoamyl acetate. As Peter Bouckaert from New Belgium said: "If you want to be good, you're going to have to dump some beer.". I've always felt guilty about dumping beer, but I always tell myself that "It's just because you've got strict quality control". Afterwards, after whipping myself for repentance (a la DaVinci code), I would move on, enjoy the better beers that I have around, and try to do better next time. Certain beers seem to be cursed for me, and I just could not for the life of me get one that tasted the way I wanted it to. Scottish and Irish ales were such a beer for me. Primarily, I think it was that I was expecting a lager level of cleanness in the flavor, and a malty background that shone without inhibition, and I couldn't get that clean character using ale yeast and no temperature control. Not to mention, Wyeast 1056 just never did it for me, and I could still pick up on a particular compound it produced that I didn't like. This beer, this scottish ale, is the first time that it's worked out properly for me and I've been happy, and I think it has everything to do with maintaining the steady low temperature and using scottish ale yeast.
Funny enough, as I write this I remember how often I've scrutinized a new batch and turned up my nose at the esters in a batch that I've wanted to be clean, while as I write this I'm thinking of my dubbel (post to come), which came out entirely too clean because i fermented it in my basement during a Canadian October. I may have to remind myself to brew belgian beers in the heat of summer, so they have the opportunity to produce their characteristic esters, because I have this weird offset brewing rhythm where I'm brewing Pilsners, IPAs and Belgians in winter, and making my stouts and browns in the summer!
I realize that this isn't a proper scottish ale recipe, and that I was heavy handed with the crystal malt. Apparently you're supposed to rely on kettle caramelization and a dash of roasted barley for the colour and caramel flavor, but I don't have time for that.
YAWP! Scottish -/80
OG: 1.051 FG: 1.012
.5# Crystal 75
.25# Crystal 120
.25# Crystal 40
.25# Amber malt
1.25 oz Fuggles 60 mins
Fermented @ 58*F with Wyeast Scottish Ale
(using my sexy new fermentation chamber)
Appearance: Light red, bordering on a burnt orange colour, white lasting head. This beer is lighter than I expected, but I should have expected it. This beer could use an ounce or two of roasted barley to darken the colour a bit more.
Aroma: A bit grainy, caramelized malt flavors are apparent. No esters come to mind.
Flavor: Toasty, caramelly, tastes like a commercial red ale (in the best way possible). There is just a hint of dark caramel flavor like cherry, which tempts me to get rid of the C-120, but I like it still. There is a good balance of bitterness, and despite the heavy crystal malt this beer doesn't come off as sweet, but pretty well balanced.
Mouthfeel: Moderate carbonation, moderate body. It isn't over or under carbonated, and it isn't overly thick or thin.
Overall: I like this beer a lot. I think it could use a final few tweaks such as a bit of roasted barley, but I really think this beer is the first batch of a new era of temperature controlled brewing for me. It is approaching commercial quality, and I couldn't be happier. I think this beer might benefit from a tweak to the water chemistry as well, which I will explore in my next post about my first lager.
Thanks for reading!