Monday, November 17, 2014

Dark English Mild

Heating up the strike water
There's been a bit of delay in my getting a post up on this blog, but the Hors Catégorie facebook page has been getting lots of regular brewing updates including a nearly 70 gallon brewday of saison which is now waiting to go into a 60 gallon wine barrel, a 10 HL batch of saison which was a collaboration with a local brewery, blending of sour barrel aged beers, and a string of the posts about the general saison-related stuff I find myself doing on a weekly (if not daily) basis. But I finally got a bit of time to put up a new post. I've been brewing a lot of saisons lately and although I love saison, I was ready to try out something different for a batch or two. Having to prepare 10 gallons of old ale for a barrel aging project and a mistake for one of my yeasts in a shipment of an East Coast Yeast order (which fortunately was corrected as soon as possible) meant that I had a couple different English strains around. I like having a nice malty but easy drinking beer here and there, and as with my saison brewing, lately I've been focusing on trying to make lower alcohol beers with great flavor. So a dark English mild was a natural choice.

My ground malt and the dark grains cold steeping
I found a dry toasty/mildly astringent character that I don't really care for in some of my previous batches of mild and I also find it with some commercial milds I've tried. It is kind of like the flavor of sunflower seed husks. While I don't find it awful, this flavor (which I think may be enhanced by the thinness of the beer) is something I am looking to avoid in milds. I wanted to try ways to get a darker malt character without that so with this batch I tried cold-steeping my grains - my first use of this technique. In brief, the theory behind/advantage of this is that you don't pull out as many rougher flavors like tannins with the cooler temperatures which still getting the color and much of the dark malt flavor out. The liquid you get from this can then be added back at late in the boil, to the hot wort, or straight to chilled wort or the carboy. There are plenty of places to learn more about cold steeping of grains, such as the article by Chris Bible in the October 2014 issue of BYO magazine.

I cold steeped my grains in a 1 qt mason jar, which was an excellent vessel for this sort of thing. The only downside I found in my approach was that my water to grain ratio was way too thick and as a result of this I did not get very complete extraction. I would have needed multiple mason jars for the amount of dark grain I used. In subsequent brews with less dark grain a 1 qt mason jar has worked great, and when I use this much grain again I'll split it into 3 or so mason jars. So anyway, the day before brewday I started cold steeping. With this batch I decided that I would add the liquid from my steeping at the end of the boil, so with 10 min left I poured the contents of the jar into a fine mesh hop sack which I held above my kettle. This is the point where I realized too much of my water was still hung up in the grain and I didn't have a bit of rinsing water around. So my utilization of the dark grains was pretty low on this batch and I'll be ready for next time with a thinner dark steeping.

My (not very dark) mash runoff
The wort was split into 3 carboys with 2 of them getting WLP007 (one of these two also got a small amount of oak) and one getting ECY18. I figured this was a great way to take advantage of the accidentally getting sent a vial of this yeast and to see how the ECY18 English Mild yeast compared to other English strains. By now these three carboys are all bottled up and bottle conditioned (1-1.5 weeks in primary was fine with an appropriate pitch of rather flocculant yeast in a low OG beer like this) and while I've had each of the three treatments at this point, I'll wait a bit more until reviewing all three.

The Recipe

Brew Day: 19 October 2014
Batch Size: 13.5 gallons in carboys
OG: 1.034
IBU: ~14, Tinseth formula
FG: 1.011 for the two WLP007 batches and 1.012 for the ECY18 batch
ABV: 3.0%
Color: about 20 SRM (I haven't really looked too closely to get an exact number yet).

10.6   lb (4.81 kg) Doehnel #24 (UK style light malt, ~1.9 L) -                     63.9%
1.75   lb (790 g)    Doehnel #26 (North American style light malt, ~1.9 L) - 10.5%
1.5     lb (680 g)    Brown Malt -                                                                      9.0%
1.25   lb (567 g)    Crystal 60 L -                                                                     7.5%
1.0     lb (454 g)    British Crystal 135-160 L -                                                6.0%
0.375 lb (170 g)    Hugh Baird Chocolate -                                                     2.3%
0.125 lb (57 g)      Weyermann Carafa II Special -                                          0.8%

*Note: I talk a bit about Doehnel malts in earlier posts like this one. These malts are grown and produced locally by a small maltster. The color and general style allow closest substitute malts to be chosen.

33 g Slovenian Aurora 8.0% aa boiled for 60 minutes

WLP007 Dry English and ECY018 English Mild
1 tsp Wyeast yeast nutrients

Victoria's water is very low in minerals so salt additions are basically the final concentrations.
9 g CaCl2, 5 g CaSO4 in 30qt sparge
13 g CaCl2, 7 g CaSO4 in 43 qt sparge
1 tab whirlfloc

28 g oak - a single piece which was cut from a section of an oak chain from the now defunct Okanagan Barrel Works. This oak went into the primary of one of the carboys and stayed in until the beer was bottled (11 days). I prepped it by rinsing it a couple of times with boiling water and then soaking it overnight in a mason jar full of boiling water. This definitely strips out some of the oak but I was more worried about over-oaking than under-oaking. Also I didn't want to pick anything up in a beer like this, which due to it's low hopping, low alc, and low percent of attenuation is especially susceptible to contaminant microbes.

Mash and Fermentation:
I mashed at 156 F (68.9 C) for 60 minutes. For the fermentation I pitched at 64-65 F (17.8-18.3 C) and kept it there for the first 48 hours. I raised the temp to 68 F (20 C) over the next day (the ECY18 carboy got warmer because I neglected to check the setting of my aquarium heater) and I held this temp for 2 days before letting the beers return to room temp and bottling (at day 7 for the WLP007 carboy, day 10 for the ECY18 and day 11 for WLP007 + oak). The difference in bottling times was driven by how much time I had to bottle rather than each carboy needing different amounts of time.

2016 Update: I'm long overdue in linking the tasting notes into this recipe post. Here are the tasting notes for this brew.

The WLP007 plus oak took first place in the first round (Seattle) of NHC 2015 and scored in the upper 30s in the final round but didn't place. I stored bottles in the fridge but didn't rebrew it, or rather, changed some parts of the recipe in the rebrew and the rebrew wasn't better than the original. Although there was time I didn't want to try again going back to the initial recipe (I had my fill of dark milds for a bit) so the bottles I sent were well past their prime by the time the final round came.
My finished wort was much darker than the mash runnings due to the cold-steeped malt


  1. I'm interested to hear about how the cold steeping turns out. I've noticed a similar astringent character in my milds as well. I re-brewed my mild this weekend, but I fixed an efficiency problem, so I'm looking at closer to 4% instead of the 3.2% I targeted.

    1. Hey Eric, nice, that should still work out well for a mild. I'm really happy with how the cold steeping worked. I didn't get the astringency and odd thin+roast combo in this batch that I've gotten from previous milds. For this batch I ran the cold steep a good amount too thick, which made my efficiency from the dark grain relatively poor (but still sufficient). Next time I would probably back down a bit on the dark malt and run it thinner for a similar resulting extraction. For this batch I added the cold steep shortly before flame out and I am happy with that. I haven't put the cold steeped liquid directly into a carboy (and that makes me a bit nervous microbially-speaking) but I have poured off the cold-steeped liquid into a small pot, boiled it briefly on the stove, and then cooled it and added it to one of two carboys in a split batch. That worked well also. So I would definitely recommend cold steeping for a beer like this.