Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 1, No. 31
Simple approach, complex flavors

April 5, 2001

A brewer can't guarantee that when somebody like Stephen Beaumont or Michael Jackson samples his or her beer that descriptors such as toffe-ish, shortbread flavors and layered maltiness will follow. However, don't think those flavors are an accident.

Brewers in Portland, Ore., for the Craft Brewers Conference toured breweries of the region yesterday. Among the stops was Laurelwood Public House & Brewery, a Portland brewpub that opened only recently. One of the beers was an impressive 13-month-old barley wine, with a giant citrusy aroma and flavor that made it taste young and a massive malt backbone that showed its age. In a word, it was complex, with signs that it will get more interesting if allowed to grow older.


Brewer Christian Ettinger was able to show off the beer because he was also the brewer at Old World Pub & Brewery, which operated in this location before closing last year, and the beer spent the time the brewery was dormant taking on plenty of character.

Yet, while some brewers toss a wide range of ingredients into a barley wine in their quest for complexity, Ettinger likes to keep it simple. He uses just three malts in the beer, and the last is primarily to improve its appearance. That's his approach to all his beers. He would rather use fewer malts and make sure they are all fresh. "There are plenty of things you can do in the brewhouse to make the beers different," he said.

We've all been in brewpubs where the lineup of beers is brewed with basically the same ingredients and the beers taste pretty much the same -- one will be darker than the next and perhaps a little stronger but the flavor is boringly similar. Not so at Laurelwood. You wouldn't mistake the crisp Vienna for the hoppy India pale ale or the roasty stout.

"I figure that a barley wine is an imperial IPA more than anything," Ettinger said, explaining how he built the recipe in his head. "I took my existing ideas for an American IPA and beefed them up, gave them steroids."

Ettinger brews true to style, so he begins thinking in terms of original gravity (see last week's Beer Break), color and flavor. "Then I think, How do I get there?" he said.

In this case, he started with a massive base of two-row pale malt. "I knew I wanted more malt character, that's where the huge dose of C-60 (60° Lovibond Crystal malt) came in," he said. About 5% of the malt bill is wheat, to enhance head retention (high alcohol beers need that boost).

Crystal malts add unfermentable dextrins to beer for body and richness. There are a wide variety of crystal choices (the number refers to darkness of the malt, which contributes to the color of the beer and 60° is at the low end of what are considered dark crystals). Each variety has a unique flavor, and Ettinger particularly likes the 60-C.

"I intensified the color with a two-hour boil," he said. The result is a reddish-to-mahogany barley wine that would look perfect held up to the light of a roaring fire.

He also used Nuggets and Fuggles, but 90% of the hops are Cascades, which large additions for flavor and aroma. "What's more American than Cascades?" he asked.

It's that simple, sort of. Just as it is one thing to read a recipe in one of Emeril's cookbooks and another to make the dish, understanding flavor is only part of the brewing process. For instance, in discussing the weight of his barley wine in the mouth, Ettinger noted, "The body isn't so much from the crystal as the fact that the yeast (kills) itself with alcohol and can't go any farther (leaving more fermentables in the beer)."

Tasting notes

Brewed by the Grebbestad brewery in Sweden

Michael Jackson's tasting notes:

Bright, deep, orange color. Very creamy head. Creamy, malty, fruity, aroma (apricot pie?). Syrupy, malty, palate. Fruity, orange-peel, slightly spicy, dryness in the finish, with late warmth. 8.1% abv.

No longer brewed

Stephen Beaumont's tasting notes:

It would also be an understatement to say that the beer had held up well through the years. From the complex, nuanced aroma of treacle, raisin, prune and mild barnyard to the still lightly fruity front, the bold, molasses-y and faintly smoky middle and the dark chocolaty finish with light notes of tanned leather, the ale was a masterpiece.