My Favorite Malt

Ben Sammis, March 19, 2014

As beer nerds, we spend a lot of our time and energy on hops. What's the new variety, is this a single-hop DIPA, what's in the Randall, special release dry-hopped with Nelson! It's gotten to the point where breweries are releasing beers  with experimental hops identified only by a number.  

But outside of homebrewing circles, malts tend to be overlooked.  Hell, in any other year, this post would have been the start of a series documenting a year of growing hops in my backyard. But since that bastard from Game of Thrones was right and winter came all over everything, my hop hills are still buried in snow and you get to read about malt. Specifically, Maris Otter. Hey, just like the most trendy hops, it's proprietary!

So, on to the homebrewing nerdity. Maris Otter is generally used as a base malt. It's similar to 2 row, pale, pilsener, etc. -- it's actually a 2 row varietal -- and typically associated with English ales. The character it imparts is predominantly described as mild, bready, and biscuity. There are liquid Maris Otter extracts available, but these  should be avoided.   

Time, money, and space have all conspired to make me an extract brewer these days, and I've only recently started using Maris Otter as a steeped grain in my recipes. I may never make another beer without it. Thus far I've used between a quarter-pound and a pound of Maris Otter as a steeped grain in recipes with light DME as a base malt, and the results have been eye-opening. The bready/biscuity qualities that it's known for are subdued when it's such a small part of the overall malt bill, but it provides a nigh-perfect balance that I didn't even realize was missing until I found it. 

Maris Otter seems to be the missing ingredient to seamlessly blend hops and malt without allowing either to overpower.  Beyond its unique flavor profile, it offers balance above all.  If you're not already doing so, add Maris Otter to your recipe formulation posthaste.

Black Rye IPA:

  • 5# light DME
  • .5# Maris Otter
  • .5# flaked rye
  • .25# Crystal 60
  • .25# Crystal 160
  • .25# Chocolate Malt
  •  .25# Black Malt
  • .25# Chocolate Rye
  • .125# Chocolate Wheat
  • 55g Columbus @60 min.
  • 20g Centennial @30 min.
  • 35g Cascade @ 15 min.
  • 1 oz. Amarillo/Mosaic/Nelson @ 10 min.
  • 1 oz. Amarillo/Mosaic/Nelson @ 5 min.
  • 1 oz. Amarillo/Mosaic/Nelson dry hop in secondary @ 7 days

I've made a lot of beer over the past 15 years or so, and this is probably my favorite, even accounting for recency bias. This recipe in particular has been developing for close to five years, beginning life as a brown IPA. Obviously the hop profile has changed quite a bit, but I'm convinced that the addition of Maris Otter is what elevated this from tasty to memorable. I'm not going to do a review, because this article already feels a bit like giving myself a blowjob, but use this recipe as a starting point and you won't be disappointed. One caveat, though -- reduce the amount of the 3 'C' hops by 15-20% if you're using pellets. Mine were homegrown and I'm pretty sure their AA content is lower than pellets, and whole leaf hops tend to be underutilized in the boil compared to pellets.