Brewing Best Practices – Add Base Malt to Increase Potency

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I scored some birthday cash back in October and spent part of it on Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, a book I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while. It’s worth the price of admission. John Palmer provides some excellent insight about grain varieties in the introductory section, and throughout the recipes Jamil Zainasheff includes awesome nuggets of wisdom such as this:

Many new brewers mistakenly think it is necessary to increase the level of specialty malts when making a higher-alcohol beer. That is incorrect, and doing so will make an over-the-top version of the beer. The increased base malt will add the additional body, alcohol, and some malty flavors and aromas, so there is no need to change the specialty grain amounts, unless you are making a larger or smaller volume of beer. (125)

This is great to know…not something that I realized. I see this working really well with styles like Dubbel, Porter, Stout, Belgian Strong Ale and of course Scottish Ale, the section where this quote comes from. Basically any style that has a natural range of strengths built into it and that has a defining set of specialty grains that darken the wort.

Pick up this book ASAP. I think reading this alongside Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers might be the ideal way to learn how to make your own recipes.

Goldilocks Homebrewing

The closest I’ve ever come to having a “Murakami Moment” was during the celebratory dinner after my high school graduation. We went to the Crescent City Brewhouse in the French Quarter. I’m not sure whose genius idea it was to take a bunch of 18-year-olds to a brewpub, but we had dinner (no booze, of course) and then went to Tipitina’s for an all night party: The real goal of the dinner and celebration was to keep us all out together somewhere safe with a moderate level of supervision.

But the damage had been done: As we were leaving the brewpub I caught sight of a giant mural on the wall that depicted the entire brewing process from grain to glass. (I can’t remember what it looked like, but in my mind it’s rendered by Diego Rivera.) I decided then and there that I would brew beer that summer.

Although the Internet was still in its infancy, John Palmer had already uploaded his book How to Brew, which had all the information I needed. Fortunately I also had two friends up for the challenge and a local homebrew shop that was willing to outfit us. (Alas, that homebrew shop did not survive Katrina. RIP Brew Ha Ha.)

We bought kits, boiled them up, threw them in a carboy, and sure enough they fermented for us. We never measured anything and only barely kept the fermentations at reasonable temperatures. That’s how I brewed for a long time until—13 years later—I finally managed to get through Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers and upgrade to an all-grain brewing setup.

But going all-grain wasn’t easy. You can still buy all-grain kit beer, but I was determined to brew less blindly than I had been before. It was also frustrating to dig through the resources for building equipment, many of which assume endless supplies of money.

Once I got everything going, I started putting together my own explanations. The result is “Goldilocks Homebrewing.” I’m not a great homebrewer (yet), but I am a good teacher and a decent writer, and if you’re just getting started, I can help you.

Pre-order now, and the book will be out on November 1st, which is conveniently Learn How to Brew Day!

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