Brewing With Local Malt – Part 2

Local malt american wheat aleAlmost exactly a month ago, I posted a write-up of my experience brewing with locally sourced NC-grown AMBA recommended 2-row malted barley and organic wheat malt from Farm Boy Farms in Pittsboro, NC.  As a quick recap, the takeaways from the brew day were:

  • Lower than expected efficiency
  • Great bready aroma when mashing
  • Lots of tails mixed in with the grain
  • The SRM (color) of the 2-row was listed at 6, which is a bit dark, but did not appear that dark
  • The kernels are small and hard, making milling difficult unless you’re using a 3-roller mill

Now that it’s finished fermenting and has made it into the keg, it’s time to give the finished product a fair tasting to see how it stacks up.  I will also be entering this beer into a local competition or two to get some judges feedback (I’ll update this post once I get scores in hand).

Note that I am describing the batch that used the Wyeast West Coast IPA yeast.  The batch with the kolsch yeast kicked off some strong bubblegum esters that covered up the malt profile, so it would not allow for a fair judging of the grain bill.

Appearance

Yellow to gold in color.  A touch dark for an American wheat ale, but certainly not by much.  Very little clarity.  This beer was 45% malted wheat, so I expected some haze, but even after the first 5-10 pints off the keg, I’m getting a very opaque beer.  Again, not out of the range for the style, but definitely a bit cloudier than expected.  Head is a lovely fluufy white that retains well and laces the glass.
Score: 2 of 3

Aroma

Some light banana esters up front, followed by a smooth breadiness from the malt and an light but present herbal spiciness from the noble hops.  Not a ton of aroma in general, but this style doesn’t call for a slap-you-in-the-face aroma.  All-in-all, it’s fairly in style.  I would like to reduce the esters a bit, but that can be done by fermentation temperature control, so it is of no fault of the grain.  I would also like to see a touch more of the breadh/cracker malt profile in the aroma.  No diacetyl or other flaws present.
Score: 8 of 12

Flavor

The first impression is a nice creaminess from the wheat malt, followed by an assertive bitterness from the hops.  Possibly some slight astringency.  The end of the taste and the aftertaste bring out the bready malt character and some earthy notes, with a slight hint of dirt.  I wouldn’t say it’s unpleasant, but I would like to remove that hint of dirty flavor.  It’s sort of a soil graininess that hangs with you a bit in the aftertaste.  The malt flavors are more present in the flavor than in the aroma.  The West Coast IPA yeast is accentuating the bitterness a bit much for style.
Score: 14 of 20

Mouthfeel

There is some nice creaminess from the wheat.  A medium-bodied beer.  However, there is some slight astringency present.  This could be from tannins in the grain.  I did not over-sparge, and my sparge temperature was not too warm, and no grain made it into the boil kettle, so there should not be much astringency present.
Score: 2 of 5

Overall Impression

Overall, this beer is a nice example of the style.  The hops are producing a bitterness that is a bit high, but the malt complexity is nice.  There is a definite astringency present and a ever-so-slight dirty flavor, both of which could be attributed to the grain, but further testing would need to be done to determine a positive correlation.  If I were to change this, I would use a cleaner yeast, maybe Wyeast 1056, American Ale Yeast, and ferment at a degree or two lower.  I am unsure how to remove the astringency or the dirty flavor.  This could be a quirk or something I didn’t catch in my process, or it could be attributed to the grain.
Score: 7 of 10

Total Score: 33 of 50

I would score this beer in the low- to mid-thirties at a BJCP sanctioned competition.  I don’t anticipate it would win the category, but could be good enough to sneak into the medals.  I would also definitely brew with this grain again.  It’s great to have a local touch, and there are some unique flavors in the malt.  While there are some characteristics that worry me, I would not feel comfortable saying conclusively that the grain is the cause and that you should not try brewing your own batch.

So head over to your local homebrew shop (both Bull City Homebrew and Atlantic Brew Supply are carrying Farm Boy malt) and brew up a batch of your own.  And feel free to post a comment and let us know how your batch turns out!

Update from Farm Boy Farms

I sent my assessment over to Dan at Farm Boy and he appreciated the feedback, but also sent over some additional information concerning the possible causes for the slight dirty flavor that I was picking up.   I found this extremely helpful.  Let’s be honest, you don’t get this type of interaction with Briess.  This is another advantage of using local products – access to the individuals who are making it happen.  Below is the information that Dan sent:

Our process from field to malt sack:

1. combine to separate seed and field debris
2. seed goes through our seed cleaner to separate seeds and field debris that made it through the combine
3. stored in silos
4. seed goes through our seed cleaner again to separate seeds and any additional debris that is still present
5. malting: steeping with aeration (3-5 drain and rinse steps during this process to remove dust, dirt, etc)
6. after kilning: aeration to blow dust off of malt and debearder to remove rootlets

The AMBA 2-row (Conlon, Charles and Endeavor) that we use is intended to be grown in Montana, Idaho, Minnesota, etc. We are applying plant management protocols to effectively grow the barley here. We are collaborating with North Carolina State University and the USDA to develop (non GMO) an AMBA 2-row that is adapted to the mid-Atlantic in roughly four years. We utilize data from our fields, the research fields in Raleigh, as well as New Zealand to move forward. The research from New Zealand, which has comparable growing climate to us, allows us to obtain two growing seasons in one year to expedite the need for a local, AMBA barley to meet the demands of the growing craft beer industry in North Carolina. All this being said, the “dirty” flavor could be due to the grain not being adapted to the area as well as the extremely different soil types that we have versus the areas mentioned where the AMBA 2-row is intended to grow. The flavor starts with the dirt.

The organic wheat that was used was not grown by us (It was grown by Looking Back Farms in Tyner, NC. Possibly the dirt flavor was from the wheat malt? I am not pointing fingers, but just being transparent about the ingredients that I do not have 100% control over.). Due to the wet weather at harvest, nearly all of the local wheat was unusable for malting. The wheat was ready for harvest, but then it rained for three days and the combine could not get on the field. When it finally was dry enough, the wheat was germinating on the stalks! At this point, the wheat was sent for feed. When the organic wheat from Looking Back Farms arrived at our farm, we followed the same protocol that was outlined above regarding our process “from field to malt sack.”

2 Comments

Pitel

I’m a local home brewer and was thinking of picking up a couple of 50# sacks of Farm Boy Farm grain. I know Dan has said he will be making changes based on your input. Wondering if I should just buy a few pounds @ the LHBS and run a test batch. Foolishly i was thinking that one malster equals another.

Farm Boy Farms, Craft Beer in Chatham County | Discover Chatham

[…] Farm Boy Farms currently grows on more than 35 acres and are adding acreage each year as they expand their operation. Their research began on a seven-acre plot in which two-row grains are grown, including Charles and Endeavor. The grains are sowed in October, dormant in winter, and they come out of dormancy and are harvested in late spring when seed heads are plump and at the ideal moisture content. The process includes aeration, cooling to keep the moisture out, time to malt, seed cleaning, steeping for 24 hours, moving to germination tanks, and then putting it in the kiln (notably made by Farm Boy Farms), cooling, and more cleaning before depositing the product into 50 lb sacks. If you’re not a home brewer but are interested in the grains, you’ll have the opportunity at some upcoming tours and events this year (see below for dates). […]

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