Fine post at DesJardin Brewing centered on Jason Oliver, Devil Backbone Brewing and the excellent lagers Oliver brews there. Oliver gets a chance speak at length about why decoction (during which some of the mash is removed, boiled and returned to the original mash, often two or three times) matters. Good stuff, but I do wish he hadn’t said this:
What you can’t substitute is the romance of decoction! Even if you do not notice any difference in a beers taste, the fact you did one is not made any less valid. Craft brewing is a craft, and using a traditional method to brew a traditional beer is something to be celebrated not denigrated. My advice is if you can decoct it then do it on special brews, it makes it extra special, extra traditional, and extra authentic.
He and I talked a while back about how decoction adds flavor and texture to some beers. If you take the time to read “Decocting with Jason Oliver” you’ll notice not everybody agrees.
A few years ago Martin Krottenthaler, a professor at the Weihenstephan brewing university north of Munich, talked about research comparing decoction mashing and less-time consuming infusion mashing. He flipped through PowerPoint slides, explaining why lesser malts once made decoction necessary. “Boiling is boiling,” he said, showing benchmarks that the chemists recorded were different throughout the two processes but the resulting worts produced almost identical profiles.
Then he introduced the human element. A tasting panel basically confirmed the results, because few of its members could tell the difference but Krottenthaler was one of those who could pick out the beers produced using decoction. “For me it was significant,” he said.
Krottenthaler’s experience is what decoctionist (yes, I just made that word up) should be talking about. I agree with Oliver that brewers make a statement about the artisanal aspect of their craft when they choose to use decoction. But it’s an empty gesture if the beer they create doesn’t actually taste better. It feels like we’ve stepped into the dreaded realm of marketing.
The reason to value traditional brewing methods is not simply that they are traditional but that they result in beers that tastes better. Try the ones from Devils Backbone and you’ll understand.
If that’s not enough for you, here’s a gem from page 27, where the author eloquently states the purpose of hops is to “…provide balance to the beer just as a girl’s left boob does for her right. One without the other is a freakish carny.”
And that’s the stuff you can print in a family blog.
Is the writer talking to you?