The readers (reader?) of this rarely updated blog know that I am a fan of craft beer as well as whisky. During the past year I have had the great pleasure of being an apprentice/intern at a small craft brewery that is poised to celebrate its two-year anniversary this summer, and as part of this apprenticeship I have been fortunate to design a small number of “pilot batch” beer recipes which have been received favorably by the consuming public. One final recipe has recently been brewed, which will hopefully marry my two favorite flavors: smoky, peaty single malt scotch and dank, piney hops. Say what?
While touring the Islay distilleries two summers ago I had several opportunities to sample the flat, smoky “beer” which is essentially what the pre-distillation liquid tastes like, and that experience made me wonder if it would have been possible to add hops (and ultimately carbonation) to this liquid in order to turn it into an actual, drinkable beer. Well, as I learned more about the (beer) brewing process, I discovered that there are Scottish Ale styles which use a small amount of peated malt in the grain bill; these Scottish Ales are not particularly smoky in flavor but are instead a bit on the sweeter side (thanks to a touch of honey malt), and as I thought about what varieties of malt would work well as part of a similar grain bill but with a higher percentage of peated malt my taste buds turned to chocolate… in other words, a hybrid of a Scottish Ale and a Porter might be able to absorb the higher smokiness. From there, it was just another small leap to turn the Porter aspect of the recipe into a Black IPA (perhaps my favorite beer style): the basic tastes of the two styles are rather similar, the difference being that a Black IPA is essentially more hop-forward in aroma and initial taste than a Porter. Hoppy Porter? Dark, roasty IPA? Both… so essentially there is a hybrid within the hybrid that will get mucked up with peat.
As the recipe was running through my mind over several months, I thought about how fun it would be to include malt in the grain bill which had actually been peated at one of the Islay distilleries. Unable to find any commercial distributors who sold malted barley with an Islay provenance, I discovered that Islay Ales (the lone brewery on the island) had brewed a beer using locally peated malt. Sadly, my inquiry (enquiry) about how/where to source such malt was never answered, so the next step was to contact a distillery directly in order to find out if they could spare a wee bit of malt. Kilchoman was the first distillery I contacted (a logical choice, since this “farm distillery” grows much of their own barley) – and I did not need to reach out to any of the others! I received an almost immediate, affirmative response, and in my excitement/at my brewmaster’s encouragement I decided to ask if they would also send a stave from a used whisky barrel which could be added as a flavoring agent (in the form of wood chips) after the beer has fermented. Another yes, and after the shipping cost had been calculated (the malt and the stave were free – thank you, Kilchoman!) and paid the shipment was on its way.
With a few tweaks to the grain bill and a sampling of some of the available hops that will (hopefully) lend this beer an identifiable (Black) IPA character, we finally had a chance to brew “Hop Ness” a little over one week ago. The mash smelled fantastic (just a hint of peat), and the aroma of the boiling wort proved to be just as promising. Taking a cue from my brewmaster, I christened the wort with a few drops of Kilchoman whisky… which I am sure will not be noticeable in the final product but was certainly a nice bookend to this beer’s brewing journey. Fermenting now with Scottish ale yeast (we’ll see what that does to enhance the variety of flavors) and perhaps to be dry-hopped before it is finished, I hope that in a week’s time I can find out what this experiment has produced. The stave is at the ready for aging purposes – perhaps one keg will be set aside with a few (whisky-soaked) chips inside?
the “Hop Ness” recipe – partially redacted (you don’t want to give everything away)
two buckets of grain
the mash – too bad there isn’t a smell button
dropping a wee bit of Kilchoman into the wort
transferring the wort into the fermenter
Update: the first consumption of the finished product. Complex bill of flavors, mission accomplished!