Drinking with Santa

A Pint of Bad Santa 2012

While it is still too early to seriously start drinking, the giant pooch-screw that was this years Bad Santa brew session  concerned me.  As such, I’m trying Bad Santa a month earlier than I should, to see what it has become.

The pour is good – a nice, long-lasting rocky head forms, and is accompanied by an aroma dominated by ginger, but with detectable hints of malt, honey & cinnamon. The beer is darker than expected, but this was expected given that I had to decoct a few times to get mash temperatures to where they were supposed to be. Despite using irish moss in the boil and gelatin in the keg, this beer has a bit of a haze.  I nerded out and tested a sample at work.  No yeast were seen under the microscope, eliminating suspended yeast as the suspect.  An absorption spectrum did not reveal a strong absorption peak at 280 nm (the absorption peak of tryptophan), making a protein haze unlikely. The addition of iodine created a weak absorption peak at 580 nm, meaning that residual starches are the most likely culprit1.  Given the mash issues I had, the presence of starch is not unexpected, but oddly, the iodine test of my mash was negative.

Take home lesson – fancy lab machinery can pick up things missed by the tools we home brewers normally keep in the garage.

The taste was different from previous years – much sweeter and thicker in body; again, likely due to the excessive cooling of the mash.  Cool mash normally = dryer/thinner beer, but the the huge degree of cooling combined with decoctions to warm the mash could very easily have contributed unfermantables that added body & sweetness to a beer.  The level of sweetness is higher than I’d prefer, but is not overwhelming. As expected, ginger dominates the reminder of the flavour profile, along with hints of cinnamon and honey. The balance of these is spot-on previous years, but more ginger would have been nice to balance the excessive sweetness of the brew. The hop bitterness is low, probably due to the higher-than-planned sweetness (which tends to reduce the sensation of hop bitterness). Happily, there is no lingering after taste – I was concerned that my decoctions may have extracted some astringency from the grains.

I’m now convinced that the higher-than-expected gravity was a real thing, as two pints of this brew in close succession is quite intoxicating; the third pints lead to a numb face – a sure-fire sign of high alcohol content.

Overall, this is not the bad santa of previous years – sweeter, less balancing bitterness – but it remains a good beer.  Hopefully it will balance out better with some additional ageing.  Strangely, I think it is a nicer beer with the fuller body and sweetness, but more hop bitterness and ginger are needed to balance it better.

If I’m feeling ambitious, I may do a double-batch of this next year – one brewed as its supposed to be, and another brewed more like this years batch – be it, with more hops & ginger thrown into the mix.

1. Xiao Z, Storms R, Tsang A. (2006) A quantitative starch-iodine method for measuring alpha-amylase and glucoamylase activitiesAnal Biochem. Apr 1;351(1):146-8. [paper]

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