Base Malt Experiment

Left to right: Rahr 2 Row, Rahr Pale, Fawcett Golden Promise, Fawcett Marris Otter, Munton's Marris Otter

Last summer, I decided I wanted to explore what base malts bring to the beer in greater detail.  While you can read about these malts, and hear all these descriptions, I wanted to see, and more importantly taste, the difference.  Is Marris Otter was worth the increased price vs. a good old North American 2 row?  However, I also saw this as a chance to try some other versions of base malts, such as North American “Pale” malt designed to more mimic British malts vs Golden Promise, the Scottish malt praised for its smooth malty flavor, and backbone of many a Scottish Whiskey, not to mention many a Scottish Ale.  So, I came up with a plan to make these for a side by side comparison.

First up, I knew I did not want more then a few bottles of each, so I decided to do 1.25 gallon batches.  I used a Brew in a Bag (BIAB) technique for this.  I would take the grain, and crush it, and put it in a muslin bag.  Then I would bring 2 gallons of pretreated water (chlorine removed) up to 170F, and I would put the whole bag in the pot, and then the whole pot in the oven at 150F.  This would sit for 60 minutes, then I would remove the bag, and let the wort drain from the grain into the pot.  After that, I would bring the wort to a boil, and I used 1/2 an oz of Willamette hops (4.7 alpha) for a full 60 minutes boil.  This was then cooled in the sink in a water bath, and finally the cooled wort was poured into a 2 gallon plastic bucket fitted with an airlock, and fermented with Nottingham yeast.  I did this over the course of about 2 weeks.  Each was fermented in my basement at an ambient temperature of about 70F.    The gravities are as below:

Rahr 2 Row:  OG 1.044, FG 1.014, 3.9% ABV

Rahr Pale: OG 1.050, FG 1.017, 4.3% ABV

Munton’s Marris Otter:  OG 1.050, FG 1.020, 3.9% ABV

Fawcett Marris Otter: OG 1.041, FG 1.005, 4.7% ABV

Fawcett Golden Promise: OG 1.041, FG 1.005, 4.7% ABV

Each was then bottled, and allowed to carbonate.  These beers were made in the summer of 2010.  I remember enjoying the Golden Promise quite a bit, and the Munton’s Marris Otter.  I found some bottles left over in the basement, and decided to taste them again side by side.

Tasting:

Rahr 2 Row — hazy, light straw color, sweet, malty, grassy smell.  Light malt sweetness, very clean, not much aftertaste

Rahr Pale — hazy, golden color, malty, hint of caramel sweetness on the nose, taste is more of the same, caramel notes to the malt.  Finishes quite light and clean.

Golden Promise — slightly hazy, straw color, more grassy, very pilsner like on the nose, with a spiciness in the back.  Full, sweet, malty, finishes sweeter, very smooth

Fawcett Marris Otter — slight haze, straw, lightest of the 5 in color, toasty with some faint grass in the back, no real caramel smell.  Sweet, round malt flavor, with a bit of a dry, toasty aftertaste

Munton’s Marris Otter –  rich golden color, fairly clear.  The aroma is caramel, with a bit of a drier, toasted note at the end.  Taste is more toasted, little caramel sweetness, finishes quite clean.

Critique — Very different flavors.  The Rahr 2 row has a very clean slightly malty taste.  It tastes like a decent Canadian lager to be honest.  Finishes pretty clean.  The Rahr 2 row, by contrast is much sweeter on the nose, and on the tongue, but also finished much cleaner then the British malts.  Golden promise was quite the surprise.  It smells like a pilsner, sweet and grassy, and even has a bit of a spicy aroma I characterize with German hops, but it has this very sweet, very smooth malty taste that just keeps going.  I really liked this malt, and could see it being an excellent choice for more malt driven beers.  It makes sense, this is the base malt of Scottish Ales, which are very malty, but I taste it, and I think more Maibock.  The Marris Otter malts are very different.  They have more of a dry, toasty note to them.  I understand the “crackery, biscuity” description often applied.  Both finish drier then the other 3.  I would call it more of a bite, but that is relative to the other beers, they are both pretty smooth.  The Munton’s is much darker, and has more of a caramel note to it, which I prefer.  I would use the Munton’s over the Fawcett for a bitter, I think you get more flavor from this malt.  If I was brewing a big stout, or anything with a lot of strongly flavored malts or ingredients, I would probably use the Rahr 2 row, because it was the cheapest, and I don’t know how much any of these would really come through in that environment.  A good bitter, scottish ale, or even a barley wine could be made very easily out of the British malts with very little adjuncts needed.

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