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It’s a great time of year to think about brewing – and soon enough, drinking – big beers. Think stouts, imperials, porters and barrel-aged versions of just-about-anything. Proximity Malt offers a robust palette of base, specialty and roasted malts that brewers can tap to create rich, complex, and silky dark beers. After all, isn’t that what we crave when days grow short and nights grow cold?
I visited with two of our newest Sales Reps, Greg Fleehart and Kelly Kiger, along with our Director of Quality and Safety, Matt Musial. We talked about some of this year’s early release dark beers in their neighborhood breweries. We deep-dove into the relationship between a deeply satisfying dark beer, and the suite of malts—base and otherwise—that a brewer uses to create them.
SW: Kelly, what big beers do you find yourself bringing home, now that winter is almost upon us?
Kelly Kiger: I want to say right off that bat that I love beer. Period. But, if we’re talking dark beers, while nothing’s better than sitting around the campfire with a good Imperial Stout, it’s still 75 degrees here, so campfires aren’t happening quite yet. In recent days, I’ve found three favorites within about 10 minutes of my home, which, during COVID times, is just about right.
First is Percent Tap House’s (Harrisburg, VA) Winter Warmer called “Winter Sender.” It’s a 7.3% ABV ale, brewed with Proximity Malt’s Vienna as base. And, a blend of dark crystal and chocolate rye malt. Late additions of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and pomegranates and vanilla conditioning create that irresistible seasonal layer. Another is Pharr Mill’s (Harrisburg, VA) Santa’s Naughty List, which is an American Stout brewed with a combination of chocolate and black malts. They use brown sugar and marshmallows, and finish off with nutmeg and cinnamon. From the first sip, you are reminded of Christmas.
I love these beers not only because they’re nearby (although that’s a good start!) but also because they’re full-flavored, complex and remind me of all that’s good about winter. I’ll leave the technical talk about the methods and malts behind great stouts and porters to Matt and Greg –
SW: About that, Greg – as a brewer, what’s your secret to creating recipes for a delicious imperial stout or a standard strength stout or porter?
Greg Fleehart: It comes down to a few things. First, just to follow up on the brewing side: the difference between an Imperial and a standard Stout is mostly the ABV. they both have about the same amount ofroasted and specialty malts. I tend to prefer a plain base malt for an Imperial Stout because it’s a little more extract and fermentability to get to higher ABVs.
For a lower ABV stout I would definitely go with the Pale Ale malt or 100% Munich or Vienna. I’d encourage people to try out a dark beer using Prox Mild…. I think it’d be extraordinary, since that malt has got so much character. Moreover, the fermentability would be slightly less, leading to more depth in the finished beer.
I think Proximity’s crystal malts are incredible. Our dark crystals, say from 60-120, really complement and take the edge off the roasted malts, across the board. I prefer a combination of roasted dark and crystal malts, alongside a robust base malt – pale ale, mild, Vienna. I’m aiming to get the best flavors out of both. You’ve got to be careful with hop additions to not overblow it with IBUs. Ferment clean, and you’re there. And obviously a malted oats addition would be great for any stout.
SW: What would Malted Oats bring to the party?
Greg: Texture and mouthfeel. When people think of stouts, they think of chewy, they think of dense…. In other words, lots of texture and dextrin. Malted Oats really bring the silkiness and espresso-foam characteristic that’s so popular and difficult to replicate with anything else.
SW: How do you characterize your grain bill’s role in ‘big’ beers, like Stouts and Porters?
Matt: When it comes to big beers…the season’s stouts and porters: What are our descriptors for that word? What’s the opposite of ‘big’ when it comes to beer? Well, it’s generally a beer with plenty of flavor and ABV, but with a remaining thin-ness in the sensory experience.
In order to make a beer with enough mouthfeel, we have to be able to control mashing. To control mashing we need either 1) the right equipment for decoctions/step mashing, or 2) techniques to lock it in. One way to do that is to use specialty malts that have a depressed enzyme package (DEP). The base malts that have that DEP typically have been higher kilned.
SW: Matt, you’ve mentioned Prox Red as a base malt option for ‘big’ beers. Why?
Matt: With Prox Red we’ve shown we can get this beautiful colored wort and maintain the body. When we did our trials at O’Connor Brewing in Norfolk, VA, the Prox Mild could get there, but the Prox Red brought notes of the higher crystal roasted. The difference is it comes with enough enzymes to use as a full package.
SW: Any favorites around your stomping grounds?
Greg: A great example of an all Proximity Malt awesome ‘big’ beer is the GABF gold winning ODIS – also from O’Connor Brewing. It’s a Dry Irish Stout that masters the blend of PXM Crystal 80, dark chocolate and base malt. The result is a super dark beer with deep chocolate and roasted nuts, coffee notes and a dry finish.
SW: We’re really excited to be a part of that recipe – huge congrats to the O’Connor Brew team and all the ‘big beer’ category winners at GABF this year! Contact your sales representative with questions about how our malts function as part of a great ‘big beer’ recipe.
(By the way, here’s an amazing article from Jonny Lieberman of Maltose Falcons on “Thinking Big: Getting A Handle on Brewing Big Beers”)