Homebrew Review: Winterbock

This brew is long gone (saved two bottles for competition though), and I’m just now getting around to posting the review. The recipe and brewday can be found here. To summarize, this beer is a traditional bock brewed with almost 100% munich malt and a dash of chocolate malt (2 ounces) to adjust for color. This was also my first authentic double decoction mash. The first time I tried a decoction was for my Bohemian pilsner, however, I did not decoct exactly as German Brewers would. I took my first decoction and simply boiled it. The thick decoction that is removed from the main mash should go through its own saccharification rest for a set time and then boiled, with the idea being any residual amylase activity will convert remaining dextrins in the side (decocted) mash.

Appearance: Pours rusty brown and clear – three months of lagering can do wonders to chill haze and beer clarity. Decent 1/2 head that remains in sticky patches.

Smell: Dark candy, over-ripe fruit, raisins, plums. Lots of melanoidins are coming off the nose in this beer as opposed to esters from the yeast. Low to no hop aroma and malt profile seems a bit muted.

Taste: Whoa! Huge complex malt flavor that I was note expecting from the beer. Clear biscuit-like malt backbone followed by more melanoidins. Sharp fruit flavors – macerated stone fruit, blackberry, caramel, and chocolate covered raisins. Complex with multiple layers. After the melanoiden onslaught, the beer gives way to a very clean and neutral yeast profile with low low residual diacetyl. Medium carbonation with medium body. Absolutely no alcohol is evident in the brew – not bad for 7.1% ABV.

Overall: One of the best brews I’ve made. I have had my share of failures, but this brew simply sings as a traditional bock, and I hope it does it well in competition. Now the question remains – was it the decoction that created the complex malt bill? Can I replace this with some crystal malt? The debate of whether a decoction is necessary with today’s highly modified malts is fierce, and I was on the fence. However, after this brew I’m leaning towards a decoction mash providing a more complex malt profile than subbing in crystal/caramel malts. I’ll have to brew a similar beer with crystal malts to prove my observation wrong.


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7 responses to “Homebrew Review: Winterbock

  1. Jason, I don’t think it was decoction that created these flavors. I have found that these complex dark fruit flavors we cherish so much in dark beers are most likely the product of oxidation. You might want to check out this experiment I did a while back and I encourage you and others to try this as well: http://braukaiser.com/blog/blog/2010/07/05/the-effect-of-yeast-on-the-flavor-development-of-doppelbocks/

    • Hi Kai,

      After reading your post (nice experiment by the way), I feel it may not be due to oxidation. Your experiment strictly tested the presence of bottle conditioned yeast on your dopplebock and its effects. Mine has was in keg, was not bottle conditioned, and purged with CO2. While I agree, yeast will scavenge O2 in the bottle, lots of other things could be going on here. The yeast could be scrubbing out any flavors prior to bottle conditioning. Your attenuation in the bottle could also be higher. Also, the presence of proteases may have an effect on flavor – I’ll have to agree on this being a cause of your low head retention.

      Another reason I disagree with oxidation is I’m very careful about introducing O2 in my system. Every time I open my primary fermentor I flush with a CO2 cartridge. Also, my bock had the same fruity/melanoidin profile 1.5 weeks after pitching my primary yeast.

      The only oxidation I can see occurring would be during hotside aeration. Perhaps boiling the grains introduced O2 and hastened melanoidin formation?

      I’m going to agree on Matt’s suggestion in his comment. I think Munich malt is very melanoidin rich to begin with.


  2. mc

    I thought it was interesting how one dimensional my dunkel was compared to your bock. The thing I suspect may have added an extra dimension to yours was the 15L munich and that touch of chocolate malt—my dunkel was only 9L munich.

    My own bock—based off of Kristen England’s recipe here [http://forum.northernbrewer.com/viewtopic.php?p=607141#p607141] (and yes I did the kesselmaisch + 4 hour boil)—has a similar one dimensional melanoidin fruitiness without the rich dark fruit notes I detected from your beer. I wonder if the key to making a good dunkel/bock with an intensive decoction regiment is to use munich darker than 9L (aka more melanodins!).

    That being said I plan on aging the rest of my dunkel in keg at an elevated temperature to see if I can’t coax some of those more complex fruit notes out via some oxidation. (see: http://braukaiser.com/blog/blog/2010/07/05/the-effect-of-yeast-on-the-flavor-development-of-doppelbocks/ + http://braukaiser.com/blog/blog/2011/03/04/follow-up-on-the-doppelbock-yeast-vs-no-yeast-in-bottle-experiment/)

    • Hi Matt,

      Yes I agree on the darker munich malt. I read somewhere (Garrett Oliver’s Beer Companion) that Munich malt in particular is very melanoidin rich and the darker kilned version may indeed have more.

      2 ounces of chocolate malt affecting the flavor of the beer? That such a small amount I doubt it would have an impact, but I could be wrong.

      I think what needs to be done is a bock experiment:

      1) light munich malt (Control)
      2) 1/2 light and dark munich malt.
      3) light munich malt + decoction
      4) 1/2 light and dark munich malt + decoction

      I think this would show whether a decoction really matters AND whether the dark/light munich combo actually makes a difference. Maybe some other conditions with or without chocolate malt for color.


  3. David Rinker

    “The thick decoction that is removed from the main mash should go through its own saccharification rest for a set time and then boiled, with the idea being any residual amylase activity will convert remaining dextrins in the side (decocted) mash.”
    I know this is the lore, but I question whether or not it is in fact the true case. My skepticism is grounded in a strong suspicion that when the decoction is pulled, most of the available enzymes are already in the thinnest part of the mash and will never make it over to the decoction pot in the first place. Furthermore, because of the extreme thickness of the decoction, any residual enzymatic activity in the decoction pot will necessarily be highly inefficient. Therefore, what I would propose the added saccrification rests in the decoction *actually* buy you is added conversion time in the **main mash**!

    • Hi David,

      I agree with everything you said – 100%. Yes, residual enzymatic activity will be inefficient, but the goal is for efficiency, but rather complete conversion starches for a more fermentable wort. I’m not so sure about giving more conversion time in the main mash since with our well-modified malts these days, conversion will probably occur very quickly. My understanding of the main benefit of decoction is to break starches within the endosperm providing a boost in yield.

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