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  • Bob Monroe

Baby Steps

My wonderful wife helps me by reading every one of these blog posts providing edits and corrections. While she does read the entire post, I’ve been told that I start to lose her interest after a few paragraphs when I start to “nerd out” on brewing science. To help her and others that are interested in my progress but maybe not all the nitty-gritty details, I’ve decided to reformat my posts slightly. Moving forward I’ll begin with an executive summary of my recent trials and learnings, and then if you’re still interested I’ll provide a more detailed discussion farther into the post.

To catch up since the last post, let’s talk about both trial two and three.

Summary of Trial Two

My goal for trial two was to primarily focus on improving my process to hit a higher and more consistent mash temperature, and to improve my sparge technique. The only recipe change was a slight reduction in base malt and corresponding increase in Carapils malt in an attempt to increase the body of the final beer. I also upped the hops slightly to increase the bitterness and make the beer a bit crisper.

With these changes I hoped to achieve a lower attenuation so that my final alcohol content would be below the required 0.5% ABV threshold for non-alcoholic beer.

The results from trial two were promising. I saw a slight reduction in mash efficiency which lowered my starting gravity and I also saw a drop in attenuation as hoped, especially with the Windsor yeast strain. This resulted in hitting an ABV of 0.52% with Windsor and 0.33% with LA-01. This batch also had slightly improved body, less astringency, and was a little more bitter and crisper tasting.

Summary of Trial Three

While trial two did not result in something that was quite ready to put on tap, I did feel it validated some of the techniques I was using and prompted me to begin formulating the first NA beer that I want to release, an English-style brown ale. If you’ve tried Figurehead’s Foxy Throwdown Brown, a classic English-style brown with lots of complex, rich malty notes but still easy drinking, you’ll know where I’m headed with the NA. It pairs well with a wide range of foods, is flavorful enough to stand on its own, and is sessionable enough to drink all the time; basically it’s a great beer and also a style currently not offered as NA (that I have found). So that is what I’m setting out to do starting with trial #3, develop a great, non-alcoholic version of one of the best styles around, an English-style brown.

While I want to recreate Foxy Throwdown Brown as a non-alcoholic beer, due to the process I’m using I have to build a completely new recipe from the ground up. When mashing at high temperatures with very little malt we won’t capture as much color or malt character, so we need to use darker and more characterful malts, and at a higher proportion, to achieve a similar flavor profile. Other than the recipe (you can see the complete recipe in the nerd out section below) the rest of my brew will be identical to trial #2.

With batch #3 I saw further reduction in mash efficiency resulting in a lower starting gravity, and similar attenuation as seen in batch #2. This resulted in an ABV of 0.39% for Windsor and 0.26% for LA-01, both well below the NA threshold of 0.5%. The beer tasted pretty good with notes reminiscent of an English brown, but it lacked body and the richer malt notes that we get in Foxy. Overall, it was a pretty good NA brew but was a little too crisp, drinking more like a dunkel lager instead of an English brown.

Future Trials

Up next will be trial four where I will tweak the recipe to increase the body and malt character of the beer, and then trial five where I attempt a completely different brewing process with some very surprising outcomes.

Nerd Out Section

Ok, here is where I lose my wife, but if you’re interested in some more details about batch two and three read on!

Batch Two Specifics

Here’s the recipe for batch two:

1 lb Vienna Malt

1 lb Munich Malt

12 oz Carapils Malt

0.6 oz Liberty Hops @ 10 min

0.6 oz of Liberty Hops @ Whirlpool

Mash in at 175F.

If you compare this recipe to batch one, I’ve decreased the Vienna and correspondingly increased the Carapils, and also upped the hop additions from 0.5 oz to 0.6 oz. The other big change was hitting and maintaining a higher mash temp around 175F.

Here are the specifics on batch two along with some tasting notes:

The big differences I observed in batch two was lower mash efficiency and lower attenuation. The lower mash efficiency I contribute to a higher percentage of Carapils malt and the higher mash temperature. Carapils, also known as dextrin malt, is a specialty malt that adds additional dextrins to the wort which is meant to increase the body of the beer. The other key characteristic of Carapils is the fact that it has zero diastatic power, meaning there are no enzymes present in the malt due to the way it is processed. My hypothesis is that more Carapils equals fewer enzymes in the mash and therefore lower conversion.

Raising the mash temp to 175 also severely limits the action of beta amylase enzymes in the mash which will lower the mash efficiency and at the same time reduce the fermentability of the resulting wort. The high mash temp will favor alpha amylase enzymes, which if you remember will then create a more diverse mix of sugars and more importantly maltotriose and maltodextrins which will not be fermentable by the yeast. This should theoretically lower our attenuation which seemed to bear out in trial number two.

Batch Three Specifics

Here’s the recipe for batch three:

8 oz Munich Malt

12 oz Carapils Malt

8 oz Brown Malt

8 oz Victory Malt

4 oz Crystal 65

4 oz Chocolate Malt

1 oz Willamette Hops @ 15 min

Mash in at 175F.

This recipe was my first attempt at emulating an English-style brown and utilized various specialty malts to increase the color and malt character of the beer. Because of the small amount of malt used, I needed to use higher percentages of crystal and roasted malts in order to achieve the brown color I was looking for and sufficient malt character. I also used a large percentage (27%) of Carapils in order to increase the body and mouthfeel of the beer.

Here are the specifics on batch three along with some tasting notes:

I think the biggest difference that jumped out in batch three was the very low mash efficiency which resulted in a starting gravity of only 1.010 in comparison to 1.013 in batch two. This further reinforced my hypothesis that lowering the diastatic power of my mash by using less base malt is leading to lower mash efficiency. In this recipe the only malt with significant diastatic power is the Munich malt which only made up 18% of my mash. This is a key insight that will influence my future trials, so stay tuned for that.

The other big takeaway was that in order to emulate the malt character of an English brown I’ll need to do more than just increase the percentage of the specialty malts used. In this recipe I used similar malts as I would use in a standard brown but at increased proportions. To get closer to the malt character I’m looking for I will need to substitute some malts with more characterful or more intensely flavored malts.

Conclusions and Tweaks

Overall batches two and three ended up pretty good and I drank multiple pints of each. I also gave samples to some customers who confirmed that they would drink it, and we even had one customer who repeatedly “ordered” it once he found out we had it in the walk in. While both batches were good, neither quite met my standard for making it officially available for purchase, but hopefully I’m on the right track.

The main goal with trial four will be to increase the body and malt character of the beer to resemble an English brown more closely. Then for trial five I decide to attempt a completely different brewing process with some very surprising outcomes. So make sure you check out my next blog post to learn about these two trials and whether trial five sends me down a completely different path.


1 Comment

Sep 18, 2022

Really loving the Blog! Great to see you documenting your journey for everyone to follow. Keep up the great work!

- Craig (UltraLow Brewing)

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