English base malt comparison

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I recently became curious/excited about trying out different English base malts, ever since I tried some fabulous English style beers that I found out were brewed with Optic as the base malt.

I very often will experiment with different grains, but I've always had a hard time not tweaking more than one variable so I can never quantify the exact differences I'm getting.

Recently I had some time on my hands so I ordered 6 different base malts, enough for a one gallon batch each of each of the different base malts, and decided to do a true single
variable SMaSH beer side by side assessment.

I decided to compare American 2-Row, Maris Otter, Golden Promise, Halcyon, Optic, and Pearl malts. All except for the American 2-row are English grown barley varieties typically used as base malts in brewing.
  • American 2-row is often a blend of spring barley types
  • Maris Otter is a single variety 2-row winter barley
  • Golden Promise is a single variety 2-row spring barley
  • Halcyon is a single variety 2-row winter barley that is a cross between Maris Otter and a barley variety called Warboys
  • Optic is a single variety 2-row spring barley
  • Pearl is a single variety 2-row winter barley

The recipe specifics were: 2lbs of base malt, 4g of Fuggles at 60 minutes, 4g of Fuggles at 30 minutes.

English base malt comparison - ndrice - screen-shot-2013-11-12-at-6-53-55-pm-424.png

All the grains were mashed for 1 hour at 150F. In almost all of the cases 1.75 gallons of wort was collected and boiled for 60 minutes to achieve a final wort volume of 1 gallon. Wort was cooled using my copper wort chiller, then transferred to a 2 gallon bucket and 2g of Safale-S04 was pitched.

English base malt comparison - ndrice - screen-shot-2013-11-12-at-6-53-20-pm-423.png

I brewed, chilled and pitched all 6 one gallon batches on the same day, then I let them ferment for 7 days at 68F. After fermentation I bottled the beers.





From left to right:

American 2-Row OG: 1.058 FG: 1.010
Maris Otter OG: 1.061 FG: 1.013
Golden Promise OG: 1.061 FG: 1.012
Pearl OG: 1.064 FG: 1.010
Optic OG: 1.061 FG: 1.010
Halcyon OG: 1.065 FG: 1.012

I will say that they all had significantly different aromas in the mash and the hydrometer samples I took (the liquid in the glass) were all very different as well.

Photos of the brew day and process can be found here:

http://ndrice323.imgur.com/all/

I cracked the beers open and gave a proper tasting after the beers had bottle conditioned for 12 days.





I'll start this off with the caveat that my palate is experienced if not educated. As with all things beer, YMMV.

I first tasted all six back to back in the order that I have them pictured. The head on all of them was white and about 1/8th of an inch thick. I didn't pour aggressively, but I kept these on the low end carbonation-wise to keep in line with some of the more common English styles of beers. I then ate a few oyster crackers and drank some water.Tasted them in the reverse order. Ate some more oyster crackers and drank some more water and tasted them in no particular order.

These were my initial impressions.

2-Row

Bready. Very light. Very slightly sweet with a smooth light graininess. Very faint twang. Probably from S-04 yeast. Serviceable if a bit nondescript. It's amazing how you can just tell this is the base malt for a lot of commercial beers. It tastes "familiar."

Maris Otter

Toasty on the nose. Much nuttier than 2-row. Slightly sweeter and more caramelly flavor. Toasty sweetness comes through. Toasted bread.

Golden promise

Very mild aroma. Flavor is slightly sweet. Cracker sort of breadiness. Grainy. Sweetest of the six. Pleasant.

Pearl

Slight sweetness and caramel on the nose. Faint "green" almost vegetal aroma. Not unpleasant though. Medium caramel flavor with a smoother mouthfeel than the others. Sweetness carries through.

Optic

Very little nose. Slight oat aroma. Flavor leans towards the sweet grainside. Maybe a little rougher than the others. Almost grassy. I like it though.

Halcyon

Light nuttiness in the aroma. Grain is more present. Subdued caramel. Maybe a bit like the crusts from white bread. Really clean. Light nuttiness is nice. Very mild.

The three that stood out for me as the most distinct from each other were Maris Otter, 2-Row, and Optic. The Optic smelled like a clean barn(not barnyard though). Good horse feed. A definite rough graininess that I could see complimenting some styles very well. Maris Otter was definitely the most toasty of the 6 with some deeper more rich flavors.
2-row was, like I said, kind of "familiar" tasting. There's a reason it's the base malt for so many good beers. It's pleasant, unobtrusive, and doesn't assert itself in any particular way.

All that being said, however, I think my favorite was the Golden Promise. The residual sweetness resulted in a fuller mouthfeel without being too much. The cracker-like breadiness gave it a crisp flavor that balanced out the sweetness nicely. I still think there are some styles that would benefit from this kind of flavor more than others, but in the right place, this seems like a really nice malt.

After I fermented these out, I did a little digging around about the yeast that I used, Safale-04, the Whitbread strain and noticed that some people mentioned a twanginess about the finished beer. All of these definitely have a slight twang. I'm hoping it clears up a bit with time, but that's one flavor that came across in all of the beers.

It was a fun experiment.

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35 COMMENTS
Posted: 
November 12, 2013  •  05:48 PM
Excellent post! Informative and fun to read. I completely agree that golden promise (Thomas Fawcett, in particular) is THE Cadillac of base malts. I use it in almost every recipe, as I prefer it's residual sweetness that adds body and a lasting finish.
Posted: 
November 20, 2013  •  04:29 PM
Interesting article. Too bad some of these malts are hard to find in Canada.
Posted: 
November 22, 2013  •  06:00 AM
Great article! I want to try this myself for fun.
Posted: 
November 22, 2013  •  04:11 PM
Fantastic! I too like to mix up my base malts. I brew extensively with Maris and am about to keg up my first with Golden Promise. I am intrigued by the other two for sure. Thanks for the write up!
Posted: 
November 23, 2013  •  11:56 PM
Awesome post! Thank you for posting your results, it's quite useful, especially to AG n00bs like myself.
Regards, GF.
Posted: 
November 25, 2013  •  03:30 PM
Fantastic and informative post! I have only brewed with 2 row, Maris, and Golden Promise. Might try the other 3 sometime. I agree with your notes about Maris and GP, though I've never done this kind of structured study before.

I have brewed 2 beers with S-04, and I think the "twang-i-ness" is from the yeast. I brewed a brown ale at about those fermentation temps and it was very present initially. It did subside after 8-10 weeks in bottle and the beer became pleasant. The second brew was fermented on the bottom of the yeasts range and it had much less of this off flavor. I am probably done with S-04, just so many other yeasts I prefer over it.
Posted: 
November 25, 2013  •  04:26 PM
I like this kind of test!

I've used Maris Otter before, and I love it. Looks like I need to try some Golden Promise and maybe Optic or Halcyon, too.

Any noticeable difference in the body of the beers?
Posted: 
November 25, 2013  •  05:39 PM
@jimdkc MO, Halcyon and GP definitely had a fuller mouthfeel. Body was more pronounced whether through residual sweetness or more toasted characteristics. American 2-Row and Optic were thinner, but still had good character.
Posted: 
November 25, 2013  •  09:59 PM
Very well done! I am impressed by your tasting notes at the end. Doubly impressed by the amount of time you put into this experiment.
Posted: 
November 26, 2013  •  01:25 PM
Fantastic. Thanks for posting this!
Posted: 
November 27, 2013  •  12:05 AM
Nice,I would have liked to have done this myself. Although I did get a number of base malts like different German- base-malts to name a few, the last season I brewed,just pretty different grainbills but mainly ipa's.Would have liked to brew the same beer but couldnt resist using other unexplored color malts and such. Did you know there are different types of Maris Otter,like floor malted for instance?
Posted: 
November 27, 2013  •  06:25 PM
Great article. I'll definitely take this into account the next time I'm building an English recipe.
Posted: 
November 28, 2013  •  01:01 PM
Great experiment, thanks for sharing. This gives me another reason to try Golden Promise. I've also been disappointed with S04 when fermenting at the higher end of it's range.
Posted: 
November 28, 2013  •  02:09 PM
Interesting! Thanks for sharing!
Posted: 
November 28, 2013  •  10:18 PM
What maltsters were the malts from?
Posted: 
November 28, 2013  •  10:30 PM
@JRems The Maris Otter was from Crisp, the rest were Thomas Fawcett. American 2-Row was Briess.
Posted: 
November 29, 2013  •  06:44 PM
Awesome article!
Posted: 
November 30, 2013  •  06:18 PM
It's worth it to note that some of these come in a floor malted variety which are much less modified than american 2-row. Making them, in my opinion, more fun to use as they respond a lot more to mash temperature changes.
Posted: 
December 3, 2013  •  11:26 AM
We love using maris otter & golden promise. BOTH have outstanding flavors & color, perfect for any english ale. We just made a Sam Smiths Winter Welcome clone. Very basic, maris otter, crystal 60 & carapils, fuggles & east kent goldings. We used the liquid english ale yeast (1 qrt start). Smelled incredible when cooking. Great experiment though, doing things like this pays off later on when selecting grains. Thanks for this.
Posted: 
December 5, 2013  •  03:38 AM
Nice article, thanks. Maybe at some point in the future you can do something similar but with US-05 to really focus on the grain and not get distracted by the yeast.
Posted: 
December 7, 2013  •  07:30 PM
Awesome stuff, thank you for doing this experiment and providing insightful tasting notes.

I wonder if the twang that may have been from the Safale S-04 yeast was caused by the high temperature for that yeast as its ideal range is 59-68F (15-20C).

Maybe i'll join the experiment ranks and give testing that a go one day :)
Posted: 
December 8, 2013  •  02:16 PM
Great article and a fun experiment.
Posted: 
December 18, 2013  •  11:12 PM
Great Article!

Out of all of these, I think the Optic is the most underused base malt (at least by my customers). Its a great malt that has a slight bready sweetness to it when it warms up, very nice in English and Belgian style pale ales!

Really a great experiment, congrats.
Posted: 
December 21, 2013  •  05:42 PM
@Varroa All of the malts available at Torontobrewing.ca
Posted: 
December 24, 2013  •  04:10 PM
Haven't done anything with Golden Promise as of yet, but that definitely sounds like it would be pretty pleasing to the palate in an APA or the like. Thinking about getting a sack on our next bulk order and doing some test batches...

Thanks for posting this! Interesting read.
Posted: 
December 26, 2013  •  04:20 PM
Nice. Great information. One day I will have to do something similar to actually experience the tasting.

Though I would have preferred that the bottles were aged 3 weeks or longer. I have opened beers at 14 days and again at 21 days and found a considerable difference. For the better with the longer time.
Posted: 
December 31, 2013  •  06:08 AM
Great post, cheers
Posted: 
January 1, 2014  •  12:08 AM
Great Job on the experiment, well done. Because of this, I plan on trying Golden Promise for myself, I've never used this malt before.
Posted: 
January 8, 2014  •  10:19 PM
great write up, very helpful
Posted: 
January 10, 2014  •  08:02 PM
Big Golden Promise fan here. I've been interested in trying optic and halcyon. This will push me to try now.

I could see this being done as a comparison between US/Canada 2-row maltsters, and US/Canada pale ale malt.

thanks for the effort!
Posted: 
January 11, 2014  •  03:24 AM
thank you for doing this!
Posted: 
January 16, 2014  •  07:01 PM
Thanks for puting in the work. Great info.
Posted: 
January 23, 2014  •  09:43 PM
This is great. I was just putting together a recipe and I was trying to decide between 2-row and Otter... guess I will be going with otter!
Posted: 
February 6, 2014  •  07:45 PM
I use Marris Otter for all my beers. I have been planning on trying Golden Promise based upon the advice of a pro brewer friend.
Posted: 
May 1, 2014  •  11:56 AM
Great experiment, great information. Thanks for taking the time.
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