Dear Mr. Wizard,
I am interested in trying to brew some “hybrid” beers . . . such as a Hefeporter or a Rauchkölsch for example. Is there a good rule of thumb to follow? Can one match a malt to a hop that would work better than other combos? What are some good rules to follow?
Mr. Wizard replies:I haven’t brewed tons of off-the-wall beers in my brewing life, but every now and then I get the urge to stray from the norm. There are no rules to follow when you depart from a well worn trail so you just have to base your choices on experience with various ingredients and be able to predict what a beer is likely to be before it is brewed. I frequently spend a long time trying to imagine the beer I am thinking of brewing before I create a recipe. I think of the aroma, color, clarity, the layers of complexity and the intermingling of flavors before my creative process begins. For odd beers I may buy different ingredients and smell and taste them to help create my mental picture of where I want to go with the idea.
When I think of hefeporter I immediately have an idea . . . use a different name. I like the oxymoronic schwarzweiss for this style. I was recently in a think-tank type meeting and one of the guys loved using the word “noodle” when spit balling ideas. OK let’s noodle the schwarz-weiss. Banana, chocolate, rich, dark, semi-sweet, balance, delicious. These are the thoughts that come to mind after sampling my imaginary schwarz-weiss (and no, I am not going crazy).
You tell me what hops to use and I don’t think Cascade is the right answer — I didn’t have any hoppy thoughts to describe the beer I just tasted. A subtle, clean hop used for bittering and just enough aroma to tickle the nose might be the ticket. As far as malt goes, I would select a couple dark grains to give a full, rich chocolate palate and a deep dark color. Chocolate malt and Weyermann Carafa III work well together to provide nice flavor and deep color. Since this is a rich, delicious dessert beer, the gravity is probably higher than normal and the fact that the beer is semi-sweet supports this idea. So, I’m thinking the OG should be somewhere in the 14–16 degrees Plato (1.056–1.064 SG) range. The yeast is going to be a traditional weizen strain and the approach to wort production and fermentation will be standard weizen rules. Mentally, I am finished. This is how I go about tackling beers when stepping outside of the box.
As I mentioned earlier there are really no rules when being creative and if there were, the world of beer would be rather boring. I’ve always wondered how the first brewer to use isinglass came up with the idea. Was it like “hmmm, I think I will throw some dried fish bladders into dilute acid and pour that tasty concoction into a cask?”
When I think of hybrid styles the notion of balance and subtlety comes to mind. If you are thinking about a rauchkösch my suggestion would be heavy on the kölsch and light on the rauch, otherwise the dominant flavor will overpower the lighter of the two styles and you really won’t have a hybrid in your mug.
In Horst Dornbusch’s article in the December 2005 issue, he covers the Russian imperial stout style and suggests aiming high which is totally appropriate when brewing a veritable monster. I think the opposite is true with the types of beers you want to brew and I would aim low on the alcohol scale and gradually tweak the recipe up over successive brews to develop the beer you have in mind. Hope this gives you something to chew on when contemplating your hybrid brews!