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.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
Toasty on the nose. Much nuttier than 2-row. Slightly sweeter and more caramelly flavor. Toasty sweetness comes through. Toasted bread.
Very mild aroma. Flavor is slightly sweet. Cracker sort of breadiness. Grainy. Sweetest of the six. Pleasant.
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.
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.
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.