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(This title is purposely worded after this question.)

I'm about to begin all-grain brewing soon. I'm excited about all of the options, combinations, and ratios of the different grains, but it is very daunting. I have 8 carboys so I might as well use them to learn the distinctive taste of various grains and combinations of grains.

In order for this tasting experiment to be valid, I would need to use the same yeast and hops across every batch. I figure that it would be best to use a shy or weaker yeast and hops, meaning those that would allow the grain to come through more fully, and to use a yeast/hops that interact well with all combinations of grain.

Which yeast and which hops would fit this criteria?

On the other hand, am I missing key pieces of information here? For example, perhaps there does not exist a single combination of yeast/hops that work with all combinations of grain. This could mislead me into thinking that I do not like the taste of a certain grain, when it was really just the yeast or hops that I chose and their interaction with the grains.

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4 Answers 4

Brewing is a lot like cooking. You can't often try ingredients in isolation - you wouldn't normally eat pure salt, pepper, chili, vinegar etc... the taste would be far more potent than it would normally be.

But combined with some other ingredients (meat, fish, tomatoes etc..), they become wonderful with something else to play off.

The same is true with beer. I'm not really a fan of SMASH brews - brewing is an art, not a strict science, and you cannot formulate the end result in terms of some simple preconditions.

If you are starting all grain, then begin with established recipes. At least you have many other brewers to compare notes with to see if your process gets you on target.

Getting the equipment dialed in and becoming fluent with the awesomeness of all-grain brewing is challenging enough, so when starting out it's best to take an established recipe and tackle ingredients and recipe formulation later.

EDIT: I see this answers this specific situation for Matthew's case, but the headline question is more general, so I'll answer that too:

The bottom line if you want to really expose the grain is to use neutral yeast and hops. What is considered neutral is also a contested point, but IMHO the yeast is Danstar Nottingham and Magnum hops for bittering. But frankly I would simply taste the grain pre-ferment - chew on a few grains and build comparisons from that. For color, then steep a measured quantity of grain in a measured quantity of water.

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Pick a style of beer that is balanced more toward malt than hops -- a highly hopped IPA is going to hide a lot of the malt flavor. Something like an ordinary or special Bitter, Scottish ales, blond ale, or many of the lagers will give much more malt flavor.

American Ale yeast (Wyeast 1056, White Labs WLP001) tend to be very neutral, as do some of the British Strains. For lagers, I would recommend either American Lager, Danish lager, or Munich lager strains.

With hops, stay away from the citrusy American Ale varieties (Cascade, Simcoe, etc.) in any late additions. In fact, it is best to get most of your IBU's from bittering hops added 60 minutes before the end of the boil. The noble varieties (Hallertau, Saaz, Kent Goldings, Fuggles) are good choices to blend in and let the malt come through.

Within these parameters, try a recipe where you vary malts within the style. For an English bitter, try varying the base malt, (Briess 2-row, Maris Otter, Golden Promise, ...), and add different specialty malts: Crystal, Biscuit, Victory, CaraMunich, etc. With a darker beer (brown ale, porter, stout), you can play with Chocolate, Roasted Barley, Black Barley, Black Patent, etc.)

I highly recommend the Ray Daniels' classic book, Designing Great Beers to help guide recipe formulation (although it is dated with regards to hops).

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I generally agree with most of the recommendations, but I would shy away from a lot of the hops choices, especially Fuggles. It has an earthy, woody flavor that could conflict. I'd recommend a small bittering addition using a very neutral hop like Magnum with no other hops. Also, if you just want to learn the flavor of grains, it's easy to make a tea with them and taste that. Saves brewing a whole batch. It doesn't work so well with hops, but with grains it's simple and effective.

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You will want to use a neutral yeast and ferment at the lower end of the temperature range for that yeast. Probably the best bet is WLP001, Wyeast 1056 or Safale US-05. These yeasts all contribute minimal phenols and esters, and allow grain and hops to shine.

For hops, I would suggest a noble variety, such as saaz, tettnang, or Fuggles. Use only a bittering addition, with little to no flavor and aroma additions in your recipe.

Another consideration is mash profile - you will want to go for a medium to full bodied mash profile in order to retain more of the grain flavor. This means mashing at medium to higher temperatures, 152-156F.

Check out this article for an excellent comparison of base malt types, including description of the test methodology: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/English-Base-malt-comparison.html

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