A guide to beer blending
11 July 2016, By Jonny Garrett
The first time you do it, it can feel like you’re wasting good beer. Sometimes you are. Beer blending is a risky game but that only makes the joy of discovery more gratifying. We’ve been inspired by Cloudwater asking their customers to blend their latest two DIPAs to do a piece on how to get blending right.
Blending beers has been going on for centuries. In breweries it is often used for consistency across batches but more commonly to add complexity to beers. Firestone Double Barrel ales is fermented in steel and wood, then blended to get the perfect balance. Because all spirit barrels act in slightly different ways, most barrel aged imperial stouts will be blended to get the best mix too. And most famously, gueze is made by blending young lambics with old to add vibrancy and sweetness to the oaky, funkier mature beer.
Most of those blends are done under near-laboratory conditions using pipettes to get exact ratios, by some of the most refined and experienced brewers and blenders in the world. When it comes to amateur blending at home we don’t need to be so accurate – we won’t be scaling up to thousands of litres – but there are some rules to make sure we don’t waste a drop.
How to blend beers at home
The first rule is to understand why we’re doing it. The aim is to create something greater than the sum of its parts, or failing that something completely unique. That’s why the most famous homemade blend is the Black & Tan. This is a combination of a light and dark beer. Technically it could be any light or dark beer, but adding a bitter to a dark mild isn’t going to add much to the party. However, an imperial stout and a double IPA could be the best beer experience you’ve had in a long time.
That play on light and dark can be powerful in blending. A coffee porter with a wit beer adds body, sweetness and fruitiness to the aromatic and roasty dark beer. Even sour beers can go well with porters – one of my favourite beers last year was Rullquin, a blend of La Rulles Stout and Tilquin’s gueze. It was velvety smooth, with a cool coffee edge and a lemony acidity. It beat cold brew coffee hands down.
But stouts aren’t the only great base for blending. Barley wines can be a fantastic canvas on which to add fruit beers, which can bring out the caramel edge of the barley wine. It’s particularly good with spiced pumpkin ales. It even sounds good doesn’t it?
And that’s a hugely important part of blending. Taking a culinary approach and really thinking about what flavours could go together will increase the chance of you stumbling across a magical combination. Below are some more rules to get you going – let us know on Facebook and Twitter what your guys come up with!
Contrast, but also find similarities
Black and tan, sour and roasty, bitter and sweet. All these combinations will come up with the most exciting blends, but they need something in common to work. It could be the ABV, a few hops in common, a yeast strain or hint of caramalt. These are the blends that usually turn out best.
Aim for the middle ground
Usually blending brings out something unexpected from the two beers, so don’t go into a blend expecting to heighten what is already there. Taking a coffee beer and mixing it with an IPA is going to reduce the hop and the roasted elements, but it’s probably going to tease out something in the middle.
50/50 rarely works
When blending, going for half and half should not be the default because usually you have diluted the main points of both beers. Instead, you should be looking to add around 25% of one beer to 75% of the other to add an extra element to the latter.
Don’t use the whole bottle
Of course, sometimes a blend really doesn’t work, and there’s nothing you can do to save it. This is why you should always do it with a small sample when experimenting. That way if it goes wrong you’ve go the rest of two good beers to drown your sorrows with.
For more information check out the tips on the American Homebrewers Association website, where we got the lovely header image from.