So it turns out that I was wrong about my malt stocks in my last recipe, and squirrelled away in a corner of my basement was a poorly sealed quarter bag of maris otter. As in a quarter bag of what any right-thinking individual would have immediately realized was stale malt.
Apparently I’m not a right-thinking individual.
Seeing as it is fall, and bitters are one of my favourite styles of beer, the path forward was “obvious”. A small order to Ontario Beer Kegs brought in the rest of the malts I needed, a bunch of Fuggles, some mead making stuff (stay tuned) and unexpectedly (but quite fortuitously)…a free packet of British Ale I from Omega yeast labs.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I planned on rebrewing what passes for my usual best bitter recipe:
- 1.045 OG
- 86.5% Maris Otter
- 5.5% Aromatic Malt
- 5.5% Crystal 120
- 2.5% Special Roast
- 30 IBUs of your favourite British hop (60 min boil)
- 14 g flavour addition of your favourite British hop (20 min, assuming 20L batch size)
- 14 g aroma addition of your favourite British hop at flame-out
- Burtonized water profile
- Whatever English yeast is on hand
The Stale Malt Saga Begins
In hind sight I should have tested the maris otter malt before brewing with it. As soon as I started grinding it was obvious something was wrong. Instead of a mix of husks and course flour, my mill instead pushed out something that looked like puffed wheat. Fluffed-up kernels with bits of barley hull stuck to it. Clearly the malt was damp and not milling right.
But it was too late for me to to backtrack – the character malts were mixed in, and I had “ground” half the malt already. I milled the malt a second time – with no apparent effect – and went ahead with my brew-day. The mash temperature was dead-on the planned 67.5 C after strike-in. I extended the mash from the usual 45 minutes to 60 minutes to help convert the malt. Following a normal sparge and boil I found myself with 20L of wort that smelled and looked right. But a hydrometer reading revealed a lower than expected gravity (1.038 instead of 1.045).
The ferment was uneventful, with final gravity reached in 3 days, and the beer kegged after 10 days in the fermenter.
In a stroke of irony, the week this beer was ready to drink was also the week Brulosophy came out with a podcast on brewing with stale malt.
Tasting Notes: Stale Malt Bitter
Appearance: She looks pretty – clear as a bell, nut brown with a long-lasting fluffy white head.
Aroma: You can tell with the first sniff that something is off with this beer. Instead of a lovely malt note, with hints of earthy/woody hops, there is instead the aroma of wet cardboard. Perhaps cardboard whetted with malt, but cardboard none-the less.
Flavour: The beer tastes stale – dull, lifeless, weak hop character, with a hint of sweetness in the end of the sip.
Mouthfeel: This part is not off – malty, low carb and silky. Not at all bad!
Overall: Ironically, I kind of like it – it reminds me of the old, stale bitters we used to get shipped over from England back in the 90’s. Who knew that you could mimic months in the hold of a ship, a week in the back of a tractor trailer, and who-knows-how-long on the shelf in the beer store.
That said, I’m not brewing any more stale malt beers.