02 February 2010
I’ve been getting so many direct tweets and emails, not to mention hecklers in the streets, I thought I would let everyone know why we did it. When I say “it” I mean the unthinkable Dump of Scratch 26. It all starts with an empty tank. Nothing bugs me more than an empty tank. So even before the Scratch tank opens up we start dreaming up what should go into it. It usually starts with a list of beers one of us, or all of us crave. Time of year plays a huge part in this discussion. We try to stay away from a current seasonal, we want something to add to the mix. That usually leads the beer in ten directions, the kicker is time. Sometimes we care about timing sometimes we don’t. This one needed to be ready in two to three weeks so not to interfere with Ticeman’s Cacaobunga Stout (Chocolate Stout) set for Valentines Day release. JeffJ happened to mention a ‘Scotch Ale’ more like a Wee Heavy… Usually we don’t even think about styles, usually it starts with something small like a new hop or some other interesting ingredient. Then we build around it, like malts that taste good with Bravo Hops or Cluster is great with Rye, or some funky yeast we want to try. After we have everything lined out someone inevitably asks “what style is it?” This time we wanted to aim at a target. When JeffJ mentioned Scotch Ale I instantly flashed back to a beer brewed at the Oasis in Boulder Co. The “O” took a simple malt bill and with an intensive 1st runnings boil, created an incredibly complex Scotch Ale with a real distinctive caramel backbone. This was my starting point for 26. A nice subtle smokey character would be nice, so we searched for peated malt, but couldn’t get it in time. I thought I wanted to use a funky English yeast strain putting a spin on the underlying yeast flavor. The idea was to use a yeast with a nutty, malty accent to it. The kicker was if you don’t grow it correctly it can taste like armpit (yeah that’s right) or butterscotch bomb.. Given our short timeline I decided to ditch the English yeast and to play with it more before using it (basically chickened out).
Brew day rolls around and at first everything looks great. JeffJ took first runnings into the mash kettle and reduced the heck out of it creating a really deep caramel flavor, perfect for this beer. The gravity was nice and high somewhere around 23 plato, plenty of food for the yeast. Well, our house yeast gobbled it up, fast! That’s where we picked up a slight higher alcohol, solvent aroma; bugged the heck out of me. The plan was to take a portion of this beer and age it in heavy char oak barrels we had coopered outside Pittsburgh. They smelled amazing! If that stinkin alcohol aroma wasn’t there it would have been spot on. The vanilla, spicy tannic oak flavors really started to round it out nicely.
So, to sum it up when I tasted the beer it was fine, I guess, but I thought “if we are going to do this shouldn’t it be incredible?” Our beers are based on what we like…for twelve years when I give a tour of the brewery it starts with the idea of building a brewery to keep our taste buds happy. This one just didn’t live up to my expectation, so we move on and learn from it, hopefully not to revisit this mistake…….ever…