Sunday, I finally cooked up my Smoked Maple Stout. This sweet stout recipe features smoked malts and maple syrup to give it what should be a warming and comforting flavor for a cold winter night. Not that we have cold winter nights in Atlanta – at least not really so far this year. Based on how complementary the flavors of maple and smoked pork are (like in pancakes with bacon and in maple-flavored sausage links), this sweet and savory duo should be a knock-out. The smoke should be a pleasant accompaniment to a night in front of the fireplace, too. I just hope between the time it’s finished fermenting and the time it’s all gone we have at least one cold night on which to truly enjoy it.

I used Grade B maple syrup this time. My experience is that Grade A, the more common grade (though still less common than “pancake syrup” which is just high fructose corn syrup with maple flavoring), doesn’t leave enough maple flavor. Since maple syrup is mostly sugar, like honey, it dries a beer out leaving it stronger and lighter in body. So simply using more maple syrup isn’t the solution to getting more flavor since that just leads to a stronger, lighter-bodied product that can easily get too dry to make good beer. That avenue would simply require too much syrup to get a nice, rich maple flavor, and the result would be a maple braggot – closer to mead than to beer.

Grade B has more “impurities” in much the same way that dark brown sugar has more impurities than does light brown sugar. In brown sugar, the impurity is rich and beautiful molasses. In maple syrup, the impurity similarly is the strong-flavored undertone that makes maple syrup taste “mapley”. Grade B is what is typically called for in baking to provide a good maple flavor, so it makes sense that it should also be the syrup of choice for flavoring beer.

I also used a different variety of smoked malt than in past smoked beers. In the past, I’ve only used peat-smoked barley malt. Peat smoke has a very earthy dirt character to it that can lend a pleasing earthiness to the final smoked beer. It is also intensely smokey. You only need a few ounces in a 5-gallon batch to get a noticeable smokey aroma and flavor.

Award-winning brewer Jamil Zainasheff, however, recommends never using peat-smoked malt in beer. He instead suggests to stick with German smoked barley malt known as rauch malt – which is smoked with beech wood. I originally concocted my recipe to use the Jamil-certified rauch malt, but a discussion with Doug, the homebrew store owner, led me into another direction. He said that he has problems moving rauch malt for two reasons:

  1. Home brewers use smoked malt far less frequently than other specialty grains.
  2. The consistency in commercial rauch malt available here is terrible.

He has observed it himself and has received complaints from customers about the smokiness of rauch malt varying considerably from one bag to the next. For that reason he only sells rauch malt in 10-pound quantities (the size of the bags that he gets from his supplier). I told him that I didn’t mind buying a 10-pound bag since I have other smoked recipes and could probably use it up after only 4 smoked batches (which admittedly would likely be spread out over a year or more since my palate probably couldn’t handle four smoked beers in a row). He then directed me to a better alternative: fresh applewood-smoked barley malt. He smokes it himself at home using English Pale malt as the basis. The intensity he acheives is a little more consistent than he’s found with German rauch malt, and – like peat-smoked malt – it is much stronger in smokiness than the German alternative. So instead of using two pounds of rauch malt (which admittedly could be too much or could be insufficient – depending on how smokey was the bag of rauch malt I’d acquired), I would only need to use about 6 ounces of Doug’s applewood smoked malt. And I didn’t have to buy ten pounds of it – just the six ounces that I needed.

Applewood works well with bacon and sausages, so why not barley malt?

The actual brewing was mostly uneventful. It seems, however, that something has to go wrong every batch of late. This time it was the manifold of my mash/lauter tun. Apparently it wasn’t fitted to the tun’s opening at the bottom very well. Stirring the mash, I felt the brew spoon hit something plastic that wasn’t on the floor of the tun like it should have been. Stirring a little more revealed the manifold, freely drifting in the mash. So when the saccharification rest was complete, I had to pour the mash into the kettle, re-attach the manifold in the tun, and then pour the mash back into the kettle. This, of course, results in bubbles and aeration, which is generally bad with hot wort as it can lead to possible oxidation in the finished product (which means shorter shelf life and greater chance of stale flavors like wet cardboard). I’ve “poured” the mash before and never noticed any significant level of oxidation in finished beers, so I’m not really too worried about that…

Also on Sunday I kegged Hump’s Bitter. I think this is probably the best example of the style I’ve ever whipped up. Past examples have ranged from being too bold and hoppy – like an American Pale Ale instead of an English Bitter – to being too dry and not malty enough. This one strikes a nice balance of bready maltiness with a firm but far from overpowering hop bitterness. It still tastes a little green, so it will likely taste even better after another few weeks.