Saturday, 9 February 2013

Black Malt

I don't like black malt in a beer. It imparts a nasty burnt, acrid taste to the finished product and I wish brewers would stop using it to colour their dark beers! Actually, I think most have, preferring instead to add chocolate malt, which not only imparts the desired dark colour, but also contributes a lush chocolate-coffee flavour which is much more acceptable to my palate.
I am writing this because the other day I cracked open a bottle of Harvey's 2012 Elizabethan Ale, which was included in a selection box of the brewery's beers that I received as a Christmas present from a work colleague.The blurb on the side of the bottle states "An exact replica of the "Coronation Ale" brewed by Harvey's Brewery in 1952 and marketed as Elizabethan Ale. In contrast to its modern counterpart, the original recipe includes flaked barley and black malt. This dark barley wine with its full, rich malt character is well hopped with local Fuggle and Golding hops and is brewed in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.".

I instantly recognised the black malt, which was hardly inconspicuous and lurking in the back ground! My familiarity, and dislike of this ingredient, dates back to my home brewing days, when having just mastered the technique of full-mash, rather than extract, brewing I keenly followed some of the recipes in the late Dave Line's "Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy". A number of recipes, particularly those for darker beers, included a proportion of black malt in the grist. I think this was more because the vastly superior chocolate malt just wasn't available for the home brew market but, unfortunately, black malt was.

I remember being disappointed with both the flavour and overall balance of beers brewed using this malt, and made a resolve not to use it in the future. Later, when Graham Wheeler's brewing books appeared, chocolate malt had become available to home brewers, so I was able to recreate a whole variety of porters, stouts, old ales, dunkles etc. that were much more in agreement with my palate.

The taste of Harvey's 2012 Elizabethan Ale therefore brought back a few slightly unpleasant memories, but was for me, as well as for the brewery themselves, an interesting look back on the world of brewing 60 years ago.

Black Malt - made by roasting high nitrogen malt at a temperature marginally below that which would carbonise the grain. Used to add flavour and colour to mild ales, porters and stouts. Black malt should  not be used in high quantities else its flavour becomes overpowering.

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