Amber and Malty…
“Amber and malty,” I thought to myself as visions, aromas, and flavors of a Wee Heavy clouded my mind.
Lately this has been the style of beer that most appeals to me. It’s funny because for a long time—isn’t this true for most craft beer lovers—all I would buy was IPAs, the stronger, hoppier, more bitter, the better.
That changed when we were in Michigan a couple years ago and bought a 6-pack of Founder’s Dirty Bastard, a “Wee Heavy” Scotch Ale. It’s rare for Madame and I to both love the same beer, but this is one of them.
What Makes a Wee Heavy?
Wee Heavy Scotch Ales are characterized by copper to brown colors, with hints of amber or ruby, malty sweetness, and complex flavors of caramel, toffee, vanilla, cherry, and oak, with minimal bitterness, and typically no flavor or aroma from the hops. They are wonderful in the winter for the warmth given by the high alcohol content (7-11%), but really any time of year is a good time to enjoy this ale.
Jamil Zainasheff, who writes for Brew Your Own Magazine says this of Wee Heavy Ales:
A good wee heavy is sweet, but not cloying, has a complex malt character, and has a warming, yet not harsh, alcohol presence.
What’s not to like when you read that description? He goes on to talk about how most homebrewers seem to end up chasing the ultimate, extremely bitter and hoppy IPA or the wee heavy, which is “kind of like the IPA of the malty world.” I guess I fall into that malty camp these days. Not that I don’t enjoy IPAs, but I find them to be so much more costly because of the absurd amounts of hops that must be employed, and more difficult to execute perfectly without a kegging setup in which to dry hop.
Making a delicious wee heavy on the other hand is not much more costly than a more standard ale, because while it uses quite a bit more malt, is quite light on the hop side of things. When I look at the breakdown of my ingredient costs for a 5 gallon batch of the standard Spee Keasy K-Wee Heavy it’s around $22-25, assuming most malts are purchased in bulk. Another pro is that they bottle-condition quite nicely, with a great shelf life.
Working Towards Terroir…
It was the procurement of about 7 gallons of sap that had gotten me thinking of a delicious, malty, amber Scotch Ale. I had done a bit of research to find recipes for maple sap beer, and was rather disappointed with them until finding this article.
Although I was still unimpressed with the lack of a decent recipe, the article itself was a very enjoyable and informative read. The best piece of information I got from it was the mineral breakdown of maple sap.
This was essential in helping me choose the appropriate style of beer to brew with the sap. It seems that softer waters are better for maltier beers. The sap is quite soft, in spite of the sugar in it, it has very low mineral content. Thus I arrived at the “amber and malty” description on Brewer’s Friend.
For some reason most maple syrup beers tend to be brown ales and porters. Ah, but this isn’t a maple syrup beer, it’s a sap beer. Tasting like maple syrup is not actually the goal of this beer. The goal is terroir. I want a beer that is rooted—pun intended—in Ontario. So we shall see just what that tastes like!
- 14 lb 2-row
- 1.25 lb Victory
- 8 oz Flaked Barley – Local
- 8 oz Caramel 40
- 6 oz Smoked Malt
- 3.5 oz Roasted Barley
- 1 lb Maple Syrup, Grade B – added after primary fermentation
- 7-8 gallons raw maple sap
- 1.2 oz Nugget hops
- Wyeast Scottish Ale 1728 (from another bottle of our K-Wee Heavy)
- Safale S-04 (just in case the yeast dregs didn’t work out)
- Dough in with 21.25 quarts of sap at 170, and a target temp of 155-6. Hold for one hour, then add 8 quarts boiling sap to mash out at 170.
- Sparge with the remaining sap at 170, adding enough water to the sap to ensure you have around 4 gallons of sparge water. Collect 6.5 gallons of wort.
- Boil for 30 minutes before adding the bittering hops, then 45 minutes more. With 15 minutes remaining add a ½ teaspoon of Irish moss and yeast nutrient.
- Knockout and chill to 65. Pitch yeast and allow to rise to 70 as it ferments. Rack after primary fermentation is complete, adding 1 pound of maple syrup.
- Optional – add 1 ounce oak chips that have soaked in Canadian Whiskey.
Oh, and the best part of all this for local readers is I’m going to give away a 750 ml bottle in a couple months when this beer is ready!