Trouble in Porter Paradise

The Rollin’ Barrel Bourbon Porter had been in bottle conditioning for two weeks and I decided to refrigerate one and have a taste.  I had previously posted that the taste test on bottling day revealed a strong alcohol heat.  Too much and I thought that carbonation and refrigeration would moderate it.  Well it didn’t.  And as I was drinking the beer, I started second guessing whether what I was tasting was indeed an overbearing bourbon alcohol heat or if it was an astringency.  But I wasn’t sure.  I had tasted the batch prior to racking to secondary and  adding the bourbon and oak chips and didn’t taste anything similar to that.  So I’m a bit stumped because I added the same amount of bourbon, concentration wise, as the first time I brewed it years ago.  That first batch came out beautifully.  However there are some differences between the two batches.

Bourbon:  Then-  used Jim Beam Black label,    now-  used Jim Beam white label   (I find it hard to believe that would make a difference)

Oak chips:  Then-  used 2 oz of untoasted chips that I toasted myself in the oven,  now- used 4oz  heavy toasted chips, already toasted when bought.  (So I used twice the amount this time and it was a different product, but I used the same amount and same chip product in my 2B’s bourbon ale recently and the beer came out great)

Chips in bourbon soak time:  Then – 4 days,  now- 7 days

Time in secondary:  Then-  4 days,  now- 7 days

I wouldn’t think that any of these differences alone would make such a jarring difference or maybe there’s a cumulative effect going on.  However, I’m stumped and a bit disappointed.  If any of you out there have any suggestions or thoughts, I’d love to hear it.

UPDATE:  I had told my girlfriend Erika about the issue with my porter over the past few days, but she hadn’t tasted it yet.  So when she came home last night, I had a glass poured.  I told her that this was the troubled porter.  I said, “Give this a taste and just tell me your first thought about it.”  She took a sip and said,  “Wood.”   So the verdict:  The oak chips  (too many, maybe too heavily toasted, soaked for too long).  Next time I’m just going to mimic to a T what I did during the first batch I made that I loved so much.

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6 comments on “Trouble in Porter Paradise

  1. Dennis says:

    How did your fermentation temperatures, oxygenation levels, and yeast pitch compare this time to last time? If your ferment was warmer or your pitch rate was lower, the yeast will start throwing off fusel alcohols. Basically, the more the yeast are stressed, and the more they are forced to reproduce, the higher the fusel level is going to be. These come off as hot/harsh/solventy, and packs quite a hang over. Unfortunately, they will not go away. Well, that’s not entirely true- yeast do slowly turn fusel alcohols into fruity esters (bubble gum especially), but this is not a significant reduction, and levels will stay basically the same even with extended aging.

    This is why some beers, the very cleanly fermented ones, can be 8-12% ABV and they drink like 6-7%-ers, and some carelessly fermented 7-8% beers can be extremely harsh and hot. Ethanol by itself is is just a bit warming and a little sweet (think quality vodka).

    Astringency is more of a mouth-puckering dryness (think sucking on a used tea bag). This can be from over sparging or very alkaline and/or hot sparge water (unlikely). This can settle down a little with months of lagering, so you could try storing some in the fridge for some time. The settling out is a chemical and physical process, so the yeast (presumably not lager yeast) won’t matter.

    If the problem gets worse with time, and especially if the beer gets thinner and overcarbonated, it could also be an infection.

    Good luck!

    – Dennis, Life Fermented Blog

    • mgrob76 says:

      Thanks Dennis for taking the time to reply. Everything tasted ok before I racked to secondary and added the chips and bourbon. I’m drinking a second one now as I type and I think its more likely an over the top oakiness with tannins. I’m going to give a couple other people a sample and see what they are tasting. My pitch rate was twice what it was previously because I used just one satchet of danstar Windsor ale yeast for both batches but the previous batch was half the size.

  2. Nate says:

    Yeah, I bet it’s probably the oak. My experience with wine making tells me that the dark toast is what did it. Most of the time, it’s suggested that you stick to medium toast to avoid the harsh tannins that the darker toast can add.

    • mgrob76 says:

      I gave my girlfriend a taste tonight and told her to tell me what her first thought was. She said, “wood”. So I think that’s it. Thanks Nate. Sometimes I don’t trust my own palate and need someone to give a fresh take.

      • Dennis says:

        Hmm, I don’t have much personal experience with wood, but from everything I have heard, wood character will mellow. Try sitting on it for a while (a few months at least), preferably in cold storage, and it may well improve. Good luck! At the very least, its an easy thing to fix next time.

  3. mgrob76 says:

    Yeah, there’s no harm in letting it sit around for a while.

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