13 January 2014

Today I Learned...

A friend visiting from Sweden brought us a few beers to sample, chiefly a few Christmas (spiced) Ales, or Julöls, which are apparently popular there. Among them a Cacao Porter from the Malmö Brewery which he praised highly. Now both of us are very fond of Porters. I have a particular Porter recipe which is one of my house beers – usually available, but, if not, I'd better get brewing. And I'm reasonably proud of it for its soft, slightly fruity, very creamy flavour that is the product of the Maredsous yeast culture that has insinuated its way into my heart (and brewery).
We started our tasting session with a Christmas Ale of my own invention, the Ale What d'If (A Molpy's Ale), originally formulated in honour of the epic and wonderful XKCD comic, “Time” and the frankly insane cast of Timewaiters who were part of turning it into a new artform. Well, it's quite a nice little Ale. A little sweet for my own tastes, with Cherry-ish notes, and frankly just a bit cloying. We are way too far past Christmas, the window when this beer was expected to be at its prime, so the warming, spicy notes we should get from the Star Anise and Black Pepper were sadly, but not unexpectedly, long gone.

We then moved on to the Malmö Cacao Porter. It poured inky black. Not a hint of light. My own Porters usually have just a hint of Ruby colouring, but from this thing, nada. Not much head retention, and what there was disappeared pretty quickly. This may or may not be true if you drink this beer in its home environment. I have found that head formation and retention frequently suffers from travel, and this poor thing had been schlepped all the way from Malmö to Bibbey's Hoek via Cape Town, under goodness knows what travel conditions.

Aroma was soft, slightly fruity and chocolatey with hints of... Coconut? Not much to comment on, as any strong hop presence would have been out of line, anyway.
The first sip was good. Definite, but not overwhelming chocolate flavours complementing the smooth, creamy Porterishness with its slight burnt, malt bitter tones that deftly balance the crystal malt sweetness. Mouthfeel is silky and soft, and the finish clean and fairly dry. In that first taste I did pick up a very sweet note that seemed out of place. My second sip confirmed: a distinct canned sweet-corn flavour. The sweet, sweet flavour of Dimethyl Sulphide – DMS, and usually considered a distinct fault in most beer styles. Subsequent quaffing became more and more unpleasant to me as the DMS flavour dominated. I was happy that there was only one glass to finish.

A slight hint of DMS is, according to my brewing books, considered OK for North-European ales. This was a lot more than s light hint, though. This was pretty much a sledge-hammer. I found it a bit hard to believe that a well regarded brewery would produce a beer with such an obvious fault, so I surmise that, being brewed strictly as a Seasonal ale, the brewery would have expected it all to have been drunk by now, so a “hint of DMS” would still be under control if consumed around Christmas. I surmise, too, that a “hint of DMS” was intentional, since eliminating it is so very easy and so well understood by brewers: just boil the wort for longer and minimise any boil condensate falling back into the kettle (but any commercial brew kettle would be designed to do that anyway).

Basically I guess that we were quaffing this one well past its scheduled “drink by” date, so I would not hold it against the brewery – at least until I've had a chance to taste more of their beers under better circumstances. I guess I'll have to find a way to go to Sweden for some beer tasting! Oh what a burden to have to bear. I might even have to stop in Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic along the way. Nice dream.

Still, it was interesting and an education to get a full and genuine sampling of what an out-of-control, raging DMS fault tastes like. I'd never experienced the results of a DMS issue before. I was still tasting canned sweet corn for hours afterwards, even after brushing my teeth. Not something I'd want to repeat.

So, Today I Learned about Dimethyl Sulphide...

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