Thursday, June 30, 2011
Hazelnut E.S.B. / Base Beer Tasting, and process REVEALED
Finally, here's an evaluation of the hazelnut beer I made a few months ago, and details on the hazelnut product I used as well as how I used it.
First, let's discuss the process, which I kept secret at first, but I promised I would get to. The hazelnut product I lucked into is produced by Freddy Guy Hazelnuts in Monmouth, Oregon. Clarissa and I regularly stock up on their dry-roasted hazelnuts at the PSU farmers market, and they are just great nuts. We put them in salads, breadcrumb mixes, desserts, and also we just snack on them when we have the munchies. A few months ago they had a little sign up that said something to the effect of "We sell hazelnut press cake for brewers, ask about it!" Hazelnut press cake is a by-product of their hazelnut oil. After the hazelnuts are pressed to extract most of (certainly not all of) the oil, a still very flavorful and largely oil-reduced hazelnut cake is left behind. As we all know, oil is the bane of foam stability in beer, and may muddle up the beer flavor in other ways.
Fritz, one of the owners of Freddy Guy, has experimented with hazelnuts in his own homebrew. He typically uses a pound of nuts in 5 gallons, 5 minutes from the end of the boil, to achieve a good hazelnut flavor in his brews. While this would be a great way to introduce them to a recipe as a homebrewer, I am always thinking of how this might pan out on a commercial system. First off, I would worry about about small chunks of hazelnuts slipping into the heat exchanger, which could be very difficult to get back out. It seems like they might even plug up or stop a runnoff completely in a worst-case scenario. Maybe not, but it could be a risk. They could be bagged up, but that would be 30 or more pounds to bag up for a in a 10 barrel brew. My aim with this homebrew was to isolate the the hazelnut contribution by having a clean version of the beer to compare it to, so I decided to add my hazelnuts to half of the beer post-fermentation.
I added 1 lb., 2 oz. of hazelnut press cake to 4.5 gallons of the base beer. The beer had finished primary fermentation and the "clean" half was racked directly to a keg. I prepped the hazelnuts by adding them to 1 quart of boiling water to semi-sanitize them. They do soak up liquid and they soaked up the quart of water completely, so they will decrease your beer yield if they are not rehydrated in some way. Then I funneled them into a large carboy which was then purged with CO2. The beer was transferred on top of this and kept at 68-ish for 2 weeks. I would have only kept it on for a week, but then, you know, life happened, and it just sat around in my back room until I found time to empty out and clean a keg to transfer it to. I periodically spun the carboy to get the nuts back up in suspension. I did see a small trace of oil on top of the beer, but I just tried to leave it behind when siphoning to a keg. The kegged beer was not fined. I just had about 3/4 inch of the dip-tube cut off to leave any sediment at the bottom.
Base Beer: Nutty, carmelly malt aroma, light citrus/fruity esters from yeast and late hops, but malt-balanced. A touch of tobacco aroma at the end. Deep copper-red hue, good clarity but not crystal clear, with light bubbles. Low foam stand, probably just from lower carbonation. Flavor is malty, like a good amber ale, with plenty of caramel and biscuit flavor from malts and high level of crystal malts, but not cloying. Hop flavor is moderate, spicy, and grassy. Medium-full bodied mouthfeel, finish is dry. Nice drinking beer, not really an E.S.B., more of an American Amber. I could see having a couple of pints in a row with dinner or a yard-work session.
Hazelnut Beer: Exactly the same in appearance as the base beer, no excess haze or particulate, and both have a light wispy head. Aroma is definitively hazelnutty, but it is different than that of a hazenut-extract beer (i.e. it does not smell like hazelnut-flavored coffee or Torani syrup). There is a certain smooth, creamy, nut-buttery quality to it, a light floral perfumeyness, as well as a dry-roasted presence. It's not restrained, it's very much the dominant aroma, but still smells like beer. The hops are not as present in the aroma, and the malt plays a background role. Flavor is like the base beer, but with a sweeter presence similar to almond extract, and a slight dry-roasted nut finish. Not as bitter or hoppy (going back to the base beer for a taste it seems really hoppy in comparison) but it has a nutty dryness at the end. Overall, I think it really captures the essence of the hazenut. The flavor combination works, and I would say it's a very drinkable beer. All the same, maybe the hazelnut level is a bit (like 25%) too high, because I think after a pint of this I would be ready to move on to a different beer. The hazelnut aroma/flavor seems to be powerful enough to potentially stand up to a stronger base beer like a porter or stout.
If you are interested in obtaining some press cake for brewing, and if you do not live in the area, you should contact Freddy Guy's via their website. It looks like they have a mail-order page, and although they do not have the press-cake listed their, I'll bet they would be willing to ship it if you asked nicely. It looks like minimum orders are $25, so you might want to go in on it with some friends or buy some other stuff too. I can't say the exact price they would charge for the cake, but it is probably a pretty good deal.