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Ask the Experts: Randy Mosher

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Randy Mosher is an author, lecturer and consultant on beer styles and brewing. He is an instructor for the Siebel Institute in Chicago and the author of three books on beer and brewing:The Brewers Companion (Alephenalia, 1991), Radical Brewing (Brewers Publications, 2004) and Tasting Beer, (Storey Publications, 2009).

Additionally, Mosher is a branding packaging and new product consultant for an international range of clients in the brewing and beverage business.Randy Mosher is an author, lecturer and consultant on beer styles and brewing. He is an instructor for the Siebel Institute in Chicago and the author of three books on beer and brewing: The Brewers Companion (Alephenalia, 1991), Radical Brewing (Brewers Publications, 2004) and Tasting Beer, (Storey Publications, 2009).

Additionally, Mosher is a branding packaging and new product consultant for an international range of clients in the brewing and beverage business.

Jared from Wyoming asks:
I have a particular affinity for brewing Belgian beers, yet am continually vexed by my inability get the terminal gravities lower. I consistently get attenuation rates of 75-80% (well within the manufacturer's description for the yeast), yet would like to get my gravities even lower (say, to 1.010 or so with a HG beer). I always use sugar in my Belgian beers (at a rate of up to 10%), yet I'm still yearning for that incredible dryness that commercial examples have. There must be some secret that some of us at home are missing out on. HOW DO THE TRAPPIST BEERS FROM BELGIUM THAT SO MANY OF US ADORE ACHIEVE SUCH A DRY, CRISP FINISH? So many homebrewed versions taste overly sweet and underattenuated. My understanding is that mashing at lower temperatures will result in a slight loss of body in the finished beer -- can this be made up for with some dextrin malt? What percentage of the grist would you recommend dedicating to crystal malts? Other than pitching a ton of yeast, properly aerating your wort and using yeast nutrients, how can homebrewers achieve that dry finish that characterizes Trappist beers?

Many thanks, Randy. I'm a big fan...

Mosher answers:
Well, you don't have a lot of detail for me, so I'll just discuss generalities. Good yeast practice is indeed important, especially as the strength increases. Yes, that light-on-their-feet quality is one thing that makes Belgian-style beer so lovable. First, most stronger beers (7%+) are brewed with sugar added. This ferments completely and creates a dry palate. You could go to 20% in stronger beers. That's where Duvel is at, I believe. For paler beers, just regular old sugar/sucrose or corn sugar are really neutral, although things like Thai palm sugar might add another layer of flavor. Darker beers can use Belgian brewers' caramel (notice I'm avoiding the confusing term "candi sugar") or dark, partially-refined cane sugar like piloncillo, rapadura, or others. They have wonderful flavors and a long tradition in brewing. Don't bother with the big rocks. They're just stupid expensive for what little character (if any) you get out of them. For a dry beer, mash on the low side--145-147°F (63-64°C). A lower mash should just make beer more attenuated. Body is all about protein--think thin jell-O. A protein rest usually will reduce the body. I wouldn't add dextrin malt if you're going for a dry beer. I wouldn't use any crystal in any Belgian-style beer unless you have a specific purpose for it. Look at melanoidin, aromatic, dark Munich, that sort of thing, Crystal makes a beer heavy and sweet, among other things. If you're using extract, check around and see if you can determine how fermentable it is. Some of them, I believe, will finish higher than others.

Jason from Colorado asks:
I thoroughly enjoyed Radical Brewing, particularly "Forward into the Past." I guess in general I appreciated your perspective on the World of Beer - past, present and future. You mention my all-time favorite base malt, Mild Malt, several times and seem to be equally surprised at its lack of popularity. Per most brewing texts you mention that it has low diastatic power and is poorly suited to the handling of adjuncts. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this statement found on Munton's website, "Mild Ale Malt -Made using slightly higher nitrogen than pale malt, mild has good diastatic activity allowing the use of a high percentage of adjuncts in the grist formulation." Is this just wishful thinking on their part? I've tried to get a comment from them multiple times with no response. Any thoughts? Have you come across a degrees Lintner rating for this grain? What would you say is the max percentage of adjuncts this grain can handle?

Mosher answers:
Your question just points out the fact that every malt is different, and each maltster does somewhat different things, so you really need to be able to read the malt analysis and adjust your brewing accordingly.

I would say that if they claim high diastatic power, then it's very likely to be true--otherwise they'd have a very dissatisfied bunch of customers. In that context, I would guess that "high" probably means up to perhaps 30% adjuncts. Do remember if you use rice or corn that they need to be boiled/cooked first before mashing.

Jeff from California asks:
What is the best way to raise mash temperature in a converted cooler type mash tun?

Many of my beers have little head formation and poor head retention. Can my mashing technique affect the stability and size of the head in my finished beer?

Mosher answers:
You are pretty much limited to a decoction or additions of near-boiling water. The second is a good way to do a mash-out, since you're going to need to add water anyway as part of the sparge--this just moves it up a bit. More exotic methods include adding hot rocks, heated stirring paddles and live steam injection, a method I've never had the courage to attempt. Of course, that's what RIMS and HERMS systems are designed to do, so if you're a step-mad brewer, one of those types of systems might be the ticket. But in all-malt beers, it generally isn't necessary to do a step. I'd say if you don't have some very specific reason for doing a mash step, leave it out.

Most modern malt is designed to be used in a single-infusion type of mash. Don't know what you're doing, but your other question deals with step mashes, so I'll assume for the point of this question that you sometimes do them. With all-malt beers, this is a good (and by good I mean bad) way to break down the "good" mid-length proteins that are the main component of bubbles and of beer body. Malt beers with a protein rest may appear somewhat thin in body and lack the proper head. Sometimes the simplest way is the best.

Drew from California asks:
Randy, as someone with a pedigree in playing around with beer, I want to know two things: What new twists with your beer have you been playing with recently and what's your favorite "standard" beer to brew?

Mosher answers:
I've been too busy with travel this fall to do much brewing of my own, but I've collaborated in several. In Argentina, they greeted me with a 6.5% amber ale brewed with yerba mate, the ubiquitous tea that everybody sips nonstop down there. Has a fruity, pleasant and definitely tea-like herbal character. Quite nice.

As I walked into a beer festival there, my hosts pulled me towards two half-barrel (hectoliter?) brew systems and said "You're the brewmaster. What do we add?" Both brews, a porter and an American brown ale, were about to come to a boil. I tripled the hops in the brown--that's what an AB is, right?--and also added a bit of black pepper and nutmeg. For the porter, I thought about it for a minute, and then said "Dulce de leche, una Kilo." This is a caramel goo that Argentines just about eat with shovels. It was everywhere, especially for breakfast and in giant desserts. And yes, it's delicious--just milk and sugar boiled down into a thick, spreadable caramel. We ended up skimming off a cup or so of fat from the top as the wort boiled.
The wort tasted delicious, and the little old ladies in the hall were quite interested.

Along with the Chicago Beer Society, I brewed a batch at the Goose Island brewpub with brewer Jared Rouben. He's a chef by background and has been doing collaborative brews with many of the high-profile chefs in Chicago, with great results. For our beer, we brewed a black white beer we called "Partial Eclipse," seasoned with bitter orange peel, Chinese coriander (very sharp, almost eucalyptus aroma) and just tiny amounts of star anise and Chinese/Szechuan red flower pepper (prickly ash), which has the unique property of making your mouth go numb when you chew on it. The beer ended up being pretty tasty if I do say so myself, and the spices were subtle enough that none of them could be picked out.

I didn't have time to brew in Australia, but I did manage to make it home with several different interesting honeys, including one called "sugar bag" that is made by the native stingless Australian bee, plus a bunch of spices:

Tasmanian Pepperberry: fruity, peppery, sweet (like licorice root) and in the end, a kind of a mustardy or grains-of-paradise hot.

Strawberry Gum: leaves of a type of eucalyptus tree with a striking fruitlike aroma.

Lemon Myrtle: leaves with a super-clean lemon-drop aroma.

Anise Myrtle: Ditto, but anise-like.

Roasted Wattleseed: A type of acacia seeds that have a sort of peanut butter-like aroma.

I'm also involved in a commercial project here in Chicago to create some Mexican-American craft beers, so we've been working with the flavors of that fantastic cuisine.

So plenty to work with there. I'm working on a new homebrewing book, and definitely want to include a global perspective in there. Should be a lot of fun.

My "standard" beer is a classic wit, and I love my own above all other versions (it's the only one I feel this way about). Wit is great because, well it just is, and also because it's a great vehicle for adding other flavors. Last batch I split and did some plain, some with an Asian citrus called a calamansi, which has an intense butter tangerine flavor, and another portion got a can of muscat winemakers concentrate added, inspired by a beer I tasted in Italy earlier this year.


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