03 February 2017

Once you go brown

Session logoThe announcement of the topic for this month's Session came just a day after one of the most sublime experiences of my year in beer so far. Our host is Joe at The Fatal Glass of Beer, and his topic is "Brown beer" signifying, as indeed it does, old-fashioned beer from "a bygone corduroy-trousered era". Well there's nothing wrong with corduroy beer and I'm here to tell you why.

Among the handful of beer recipes I brew repeatedly at home is a low-gravity job I call a brown porter. It uses brown malt as the primary speciality malt -- about 10% or so of the grist -- seasoned with just a token bit of roast barley or black patent. I love the moreish mocha flavour that brown malt delivers when used in sufficient quantity, and it's something that one rarely seems to encounter in commercial beers. Until a couple of weeks ago, anyway.

The gloriously named Touching the Scald was brewed by Galway Bay Brewery in collaboration with the author of Scaldy Porter, Whiplash. It's 4% ABV, badged as a brown porter, and tastes extremely similar to the sort I make myself, though haven't done so in quite some time.

The visuals aren't great, possibly in keeping with the name: it's a muddy dun colour with a rubbish head that disintegrates soon after pouring. There's a flinty aroma of burnt grain husks coupled with very dark-roasted coffee beans. I was expecting something quite harsh, but no. The first impression on tasting is creaminess: a sweet and frothy cappuccino effect, with a Galaxy chocolate bar on the side. But despite the latte smoothness, it's lightly textured with a busy sparkle and a dry finish which makes it supremely thirst-quenching and refreshing. It was an absolute joy on a winter's evening but I think it would really come into its own in the summer.

As it happened, head brewer Will from Galway Bay was in Against the Grain as I was drinking it, and when I quizzed him for details he mentioned that the brown malt was difficult to work with, requiring some very delicate temperature controls in the mash. That's not a problem in my brewing because I just steep the stuff, but maybe there's a reason that brown malt, and therefore supremely delicious brown beers, aren't so commonplace.

I don't know how long this one will be around for, so grab it if you see it. It may just change your perceptions of boring brown beer.

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