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Failure can Still be Delicious

Posted by homebrewdad on 2/20/2014 at 10:40:35 PM


At the end of 2013, I brewed my oatmeal toffee stout.  The idea was that I would end up with a stout featuring smooth - not overpowering - roastiness, some complex malt character, and some sweet tones.  Specifically, I was hoping to end up with a noticeable toffee flavor in my beer.

I framed up what looked like a solid recipe with the input of /r/homebrewing and Designing Great Beers, as well as inspiration from Yooper of and Jamil Z.  I decided to go fairly low on the crystal malts, and to stick to crystal 40 and 60, as the descriptions I read suggested that these yielded the most toffee flavor.  I picked a yeast strain (WLP004) known to throw a little diacetyl - the idea being that a slight butter flavor would combine with the caramel from the crystal malt to give toffee.  Finally, on brew day, I boiled down a gallon of my first runnings into a little over a quart of syrup, a process that would supposedly really help the caramel and toffee flavors to bloom.

I bottled this beer after four weeks in primary, and in contrast to my typical patience, I opened the first one just after two weeks in bottles.  Luckily for me, carbonation was already solid.

A week later, I have enjoyed a few of these beers, and feel pretty confident in assessing what I have.

Appearance-wise, it's a very attractive stout.  The color is black as midnight in the glass, though if you hold it up to a strong light, you'll notice that the beer is quite clear, and you get some dark red highlights bleeding through on the edges of the glass.  A get a finger's worth of dark tan foam that leaves a cap which hangs around through the entire glass. 

Aroma is dark malts, bready, toasty.  No detectible hop presence at all (which is to be expected, as I only used a bittering addition). 

Mouthfeel is nearly perfect for the style - nice body, delightfully creamy on the tongue.  Carbonation level is a little lower than I personally prefer, but it's certainly acceptable. 

Taste... ah, yes.  What I've been waiting for. 

Flavor, to me, is very reminiscent of Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout - a smooth roast is the first thing on the palate, and it really runs the show.  I get some definite toastiness, and enough of a malt backbone to hold its own, with some nice complexity to it.  Sadly, though, I have clearly missed the mark on the caramel - and especially, the toffee - flavors I was shooting for.  There is very little sweetness at all to this beer, and the caramel notes that are there are quite subtle.  As for toffee... if it's there at all, it is too mild for me to pick up.

If I let the beer get quite warm, the sweeter flavors bloom to a degree, but I still never pick up on the toffee that I was hoping for. 

Understand, this is very much a delicious stout.  It's definitely a failure, but it's a very enjoyable variety of failure. 

In the meantime, I have gone back to the drawing board on the subject of toffee flavor in beer.  Originally, I wanted to achieve the flavor simply through grain selection and process, but after my failure, I started looking at adjuncts (particularly, D-45 candi syrup and Lyle's Golden Syrup).  Further homework suggested that candi syrup was not the way to go for a stout, and the Lyle's connection seemed tenuous at best (most sources say it has little flavor contribution). 

I ended up tossing out a shot in the dark to Kristen England via Twitter, as he had once mentioned toffee flavor from Lyle's in a blog post.  Kristen England, to the uninitiated, is a celebrated, award winning homebrewer, and the head brewer at Bent Brewstillers (formerly, Pour Decisions), located in the Minneapolis area.  I didn't expect much, as I was pretty sure that Kristen had better things to do than to discuss recipe formulation with the likes of me, but lo and behold, he responded pretty promptly to me on Twitter, and ended up swapping several messages on the subject.  He kindly took a look at my recipe and gave me some suggestions - namely, to drop the Victory malt altogether, to up the total roast malts to the 10%-12% range, and to swap out the crystal malts with much darker versions (120L - 150L range) and up them to 8%-10% of the grain bill. 

That kind of feedback - from someone who really knows what they are talking about - is amazing.  Major props to Kristen for the help!

Now, to dispose of these two cases of "flawed" stout, and to plan for version two of this beer...

Tags for this post: oatmeal, toffee, stout, caramel, beer, flavor, taste, review, homebrew, brew, brewing, home

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