Wow! Two blog posts inside of a week? I know, crazy…

Title Bout

Hump’s Naughty Monk Ales

On the left, with visibly greater carbonation (though about the same level of head retention), we present the draught version of Hump’s Naughty Monk Ale. And, on the right is the bottle-conditioned version of the same brew.

Let’s conduct a side-by-side tasting, shall we? Or, as Michael Buffer would say, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

But first, some background…

The draft version was made using real watermelon juice. It was served only draft so as not to re-ferment (serving temperature is much cooler than even the low end of the range for the yeast that fermented this brew). The bottled version, on the other hand, was flavored with watermelon extract. Both beers, before their melon incursions, were the same – one five gallon batch split into two.

The base beer is a Belgian Tripel – malty, spicy, and strong. At kegging/bottling time, the bottled version appeared to be much lighter and clearer. The watermelon juice added some color and cloudiness to the draft version that extract could not provide. However, the darker brew in the photo is the bottled version. I suspect it is suffering from chill haze, since the bottle was only in the fridge for a couple of days. The draft version, however, has been in the fridge for a couple of months, so any chill haze has probably precipitated already, leaving behind a brighter beer.

I originally suspected that the draft version would be a much better brew than the bottled version. Immediately after adding extract, tasting the bottled version (before it actually went into bottles) seemed to confirm my suspicion – very, very strong and annoying watermelon character that overpowered the beer. The draft version also had a very strong watermelon character, but seemed more refreshing and appealing. But now that the bottles have conditioned, I felt it was a good time to try them side by side to see how they’ve turned out.

Back to the match…

The draft version looks nice due to its color and brilliance as well as its thick frothy white head. The bottled version, though conditioning for over a month, still needs a little more carbonation. Its darker, cloudier appearance also makes it look a tad lifeless next to the draft version.

Appearance: Draft wins!

The draft version has strong aroma of watermelon with a slightly vegetal character. The bottled version has a much softer watermelon character that has a distinctly candy-like (Jolly Rancher?) tint. Both exhibit bready, cakey malt notes and spicy phenols from fermentation.

Aroma: Bottled wins!

The draft version has a very smooth blend of watermelon juice and abbey-style strong beer. Both are distinct. The slight vegetal character in the nose dissipates and, luckily, doesn’t emerge on the taste buds. It has a dry but malty (with touches of soft fruit) finish with a pleasant watermelon and oatmeal cookie aftertaste. The bottled version has a much more muted watermelon character (what a surprise considering how it tasted before going into the bottle!). It is a very crisp and strong ale with notes of spice and fruit. The malt character seems strangely muted compared to that of the draft version. It has a very dry finish with a touch of alcohol bitterness. It is warming with a short, crackery aftertaste. The bottled version is actually very nice and much better than I expected. The watermelon character blends so seemlessly that it is pleasant and far from overt. The draft version, on the other hand, almost has too much watermelon. However, in the end, the draft version tastes fresher and also has slightly stronger malt and yeast presence that gives it a slight edge.

Flavor: Draft wins!

The draft version has a very smooth mouthfeel that is slippery and creamy around mid-palate. The bubbles provide a soft, pillowy frothiness that pampers the tongue. The bottled version seems a little thin and is very, very crisp. Despite not pouring with a thick head, it feels like it has much higher carbonation. The bottled version is quite drying – obviously a stronger beer (which it really is since the draft version was “watered” down with alcohol-free watermelon juice). Though the level of carbonation is more lively and more appropriate in the bottled version, the draft version just slightly edges out the bottled version for its creamy and full-bodied texture. The watermelon juice probably may have a bit to do with the mouthfeel as well.

Mouthfeel: Draft wins!

Overall, these are much closer than I expected. I expected the draft to be the hands down winner, but they’re really close. Tasting them side by side, it is obvious they aren’t the same beer. The different characters imparted by watermelon juice vs. watermelon extract are immediately apparent. But, despite the contrast, they do share a strong “family resemblance”.

The draft version edges out the bottled version, but just slightly. If the draft version only smelled like the bottled version then it would be perfect! But the slight vegetal character in the nose isn’t a big enough distraction to keep it from winning this challenge. It simply looks better, tastes better, and is smoother. Admittedly, it has a slight advantage in the smoothness department since it is about 8.6%abv compared to 9.2% for the bottled version.

Overall: Draft, for the win!

What a fun experiment! Just one reason out of so many that this hobby rules.