Body Builders: Tips from the Pros

Brewer:  Shaun O’Sullivan
Brewery:  Steelhead Brewing Co., San Francisco
Years of experience:  Four
Education:  Completed brewing courses at University of California, Davis
House Beers:  Blonde Pale Ale,
Pier Post Stout, Hefe­-weizen, Beach Street Porter, Fort Point Strong Ale, Bombay Bomber IPA, Steelhead Amber, Razzmatazz

Adding body to your beer depends on the style. Our blond pale ale is the lightest beer we have. In this beer we’re not after a lot of body. We use pale malt and flaked maize. The pale malt adds some body, while the maize enables you to brew a light-colored beer without adding body. When adding corn add it toward the middle of your mash-in. Run pale malt in the beginning and end, otherwise the mash is more likely to get stuck. There is no husk in flaked corn, so no filter bed is formed. Adding pale malt first acts as a natural filter while lautering. It’s also important to stir properly, but you would do that anyway while hydrating your grain.

Carbonation adds to mouthfeel and body. The Blond Pale has 2.5 volumes of CO2, which contributes to head retention and mouthfeel. For homebrewers use about 20 percent corn if you want a good head but you don’t want a lot of body in the rest of the beer.

Our hefeweizen is a medium-bodied, unfiltered wheat beer. We use a single-step infusion mash. We don’t do a protein rest, so we are adding all that protein that wasn’t degraded in the mash to the kettle. This method and using wheat malt add body and aid head retention.

Wheat malt has a higher protein content than the pale malt and doesn’t have any husk material. It, too, may cause a stuck mash. A lot of professional brewers add less than 5 percent wheat to give a little body to beers in general and to promote head retention. When I was homebrewing I added one-quarter pound, depending on the beer. Flaked oats work that way, too.

Our amber is medium-bodied. We add caramel malt to it. Caramel or crystal malt during the malting process is kilned at high temperatures, which produces melanoidins. When these are heated in the kettle they darken the wort and produce rich, malty flavors. Here we use a gas-fired (as opposed to steam fired) kettle, which produces hot spots that caramelize the wort. This gives the beer a rounder, maltier flavor, which in turn adds to the perception of more body. Homebrewers should add crystal malt as no more than 20 percent of their total grain bill.

Obviously I add oatmeal to the oatmeal stout. As with the protein that is pulled over in the wheat in hefe-weizen, oatmeal lends a lot of body and promotes head retention.

I add oatmeal as 13 percent of the overall grist bill. I wouldn’t go over 15 percent. The goal is balance. Also, take care to avoid stuck mashes. Stir when doughing in and don’t add oatmeal first.

Our IPA is medium-bodied. I add Vienna and Munich malt. Munich adds body, aids in head retention, and has a husk. It also has a toasty, oak quality. We dry hop this beer, which aids head retention.

For all-grain homebrewers who are using a single-step mash and want to add body, mash near 155° F. There are two main enzymes involved in mashing: alpha-amylase and beta-amylase. Beta-amylase is a key element in saccharification, the process of converting starch to fermentable sugars. It works best between 131° and 140° F. It produces highly fermentable wort, rich in maltose, not considered to be real body building. So we mash between 150° and 155° F to activate alpha-amylase, which converts malt starch into dextrins. Dextrins are body-building unfermentable sugars. At 150° F usually both enzymes are activated.

For our strong ale, I mash a little higher to get more complex unfermentable sugars. If I want to produce really dry beer, I mash at lower temperatures: 149° to 150° F.

Issue: May 1998