By Robert Rivelle George
After many years of viewing adjuncts (and lagers) with disdain, many modern American craft brewers are turning to sugars long used by Belgian brewers in many styles and previously “inappropriate” malts for beers beyond their traditional uses, which means that it is not uncommon today for high gravity beers of all kinds (not just Belgians) to contain a percentage of this or that unrefined sugar, or for brown ales, stouts, or even IPAs to include a touch of Munich or melanoidin malts to boost complexity (while in the past, those malts would have remained primarily in the beer styles of continental Europe).
Robert Rivelle George’s The Umami Factor brings these recipe nuances to the exploring homebrewer, while giving the strategy behind them a name: full-spectrum fermentation. Taking in many considerations to recipe development, it’s where the palette meets the palate, and it’s a far cry from the SMASH beers (Single Malt And Single Hop) which are also popular in their endeavor to showcase the individual ingredients in a beer.
Calling for increased complexity through alert ingredient selection and a sturdy understanding of flavor perception, full-spectrum fermentation works to achieve umami—a perception of roundness in flavor and body, as well as a savory character not often considered or perceived in most beers. Seeking balance and complexity, George’s recipes rely on long, multifaceted grain bills, unrefined sugars, and sea salt to do his bidding.
For example, George adds Munich malt, c-pils, and black malt to his (what I would consider to be a historically inaccurate) Classic American Pilsner. His German Altbier contains no less than eleven specialty grains. And his Northwest Pale Ale calls for six specialty malts, flaked barley, and two sugars, while his Nut Brown Ale utilizes seven specialty malts, flaked barley, and three sugars.
George explores other fermented libations as well, including cider, wine, distilled spirits, and a handful of ethnic beverages. In addition to over 75 tempting recipes shared within the book, the back end includes a thick appendix with useful calculations, and information on a number of hops, malts, yeasts, and more.
At times the terms full-spectrum fermentation and umami sound like a buzzword used to sell books to impulse buyers at large box stores during the run-up to the holidays, but George, an award-winning brewer and vintner with 40 years of fermentation experience, clearly knows his stuff. His recipes are as complex as the philosophical thinking used to label their mastery, and homebrewers looking to take their hobby to the next level will be sure to find helpful guidance within the pages of this handsome volume.
FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.