When you brew BigHop a couple times every week for nearly 10 years, eventually there will be the occasional mis-step. We had one a couple weeks ago when we accidentally substituted the large percentage of a character malt (Munich) in the grain bill with Crystal 60L Malt. For those that don't know what that is, Crystal Malt is a specialty malt used to create body and sweetness in a finished beer, as the sugars it brings are largely unfermentable. In smaller amounts, this sweetness is what provides the balance to the hops in a beer like BigHop or Pedal Pale Ale.
In LARGE amounts like we got with this error, you end up with a thick, malt-bomb of a beer that's pretty out of whack, and kind of useless... that is, unless you step back and consider what you just brewed, and what you might be able to do with it.
2014 is the year we're launching our "Sour Beer" program in earnest. We've already got 4 wine barrels full of Illustration Ale working with Brettanomyces in our tasting room, and there's plans for a batch of 100% Brettanomyces-fermented BigHop and a Lactobacillis-fermented Berliner Weisse this summer. This year will also see the long anticipated revisiting our our "Sourdough Kvass". (Anticipated by ME anyway!) This is all made possible by the addition of an old dairy tank that we recently added to our fleet. Having a devoted equipment to handle these funky beers is the best way to avoid cross contamination of these persistent fermenting agents into our "regular" lineup of beers.
So, back to our malt-bomb: The fermenting agents in a funky beer not only love regular fermentable sugars, they also eat the sugars that regular ale yeasts like ours hardly touch... sugars that come from grains like Crystal Malts. But some of them also hate hops. But luckily we saw the problem early and saw what we could do with this beer while running off the mash. So we were able to stop and change course to skip the large hop additions that BigHop usually gets. Our sour beer program just got a swift kick start!
Our seat-of-the-pants-plan was this: Ferment this batch as usual with our house ale yeast, see how it tastes, and if it's the malt-bomb we expect it to be, move it into another tank and start the funky fermentation. As it turns out, the finished beer is on the sweet side, but not nearly as crazy sweet as we expected it would be. (Think Scottish/Scotch Ale) So we're splitting this 20bbl batch in half and taking it down two paths to see where it leads us...
- Crystal Ship went on tap yesterday at the brewery, and has turned out to be a nice little beer! Especially for those liking something on the malty side, and almost completely hop-free.
- Crystal Schip will sit for another 3-6 months on lacto and brett, and we'll see what we get from it.
For the record, that odd spelling of the name is intentional. Crystal Ship is of course a reference to the accidental ingredient substitution, as well a musical reference. Crystal Schip is a nod to a "Koolschip", the shallow, open-topped vessel that the Belgians use to cast their fresh wort into, inoculating it with the airborne flora of their region.
There was a third version of this name... and in fact it was the first version we used during the brew day. We'll keep it at the ready in case things go horribly wrong and we have to dump some of this batch. But so far, it looks like there will NOT be a beer that we have to refer to as Crystal Shit. (A more obscure musical reference.) So we've got that going for us.
Enjoy the happy accidents!