How to control mouthfeel in your homebrew
Have you recently received some feedback on your homebrew that said: needs more body, high astringency, or too hot? And now you are wondering hot to fix that? Well here you go. A whole post about the exciting world of mouthfeel. First, if you need a refresher on what mouth feel is check out this post. Got it? Cool. Let’s move on to how to manipulate the different aspect of mouthfeel in your beer.
Oh wait, there’s one other thing to consider before moving on: what should the mouthfeel be for the style you’re brewing. Each style has it’s own nuances. Take body for example. There is a big swing from heavy to light bodied beers. Use the BJCP guidelines to find a good target for your beer. Or brew what you want and what you want to taste from your beer.
For most styles astringency is a bad thing and should be avoided. It’s easy to mix up astringency with bitterness (something that’s essential to many styles). Astringency is the actual tightening/puckering of your mouth. Bitterness is a flavor. The most common cause of astringency in beer is tannins. The same thing that causes astringency in red wine. Tannins are typically extracted from the darker grains in your grist. Chocolate malt, roasted malt, and black patent are common but not exclusive astringency culprits. Tannins can be extracted from grains by sparging with water that has a pH above 6 and a sparge temperature above 170 degrees. A simple way to control the pH of your sparge water is to acidify your water with something like the 5.2 pH Stabilizer or Phosphoric Acid, or you can make it easy and just sparge a notch below 170.
Another cause of astringency is wild yeast or acetobacter which, like the process of turning wine into vinegar, will convert alcohols in your beer to acetic acid. Something you want in your sour beers but probably should avoid in your lagers.
It is also possible to get some astringency from spices such as coriander, orange peel and cinnamon. And, lastly, oxidation can toss in a touch of astringency.
Body is probably the most important aspect of mouthfeel to consider on brew day as it is the one that will stand out most in your finished beer. That last thing you want is a beer too watery or one too thick/syrupy. There are a lot of ways to dial in the body of your brew.
Mash Temp: the most common way to control the body of your beer is by changing up the mash temp. A simple rule is the lower the temperature the lighter the body. Generally you can go with these temperatures:
- 152 or below light bodied
- 152 to 155 medium bodied beer
- 155 to 160 will produce a heavier bodied beer.
The Blichmann Brewmometer has a great little guide to help you find the right temperature.
Why does mash temperature effect body? Enzymes. At the lower end of the temperature scales the active enzyme is beta-amylase and at the higher end it’s alpha-amylase. Before this gets too sciency, let’s just say that the low temp enzyme makes sugars that yeast love to eat while the hot temp enzyme makes dextrin which yeast don’t like to eat. Thus, higher temps leave more sugar in the finished beer resulting in a bigger body.
Attenuation: another factor is how well the yeast do their job. Attenuation is the measure of how much of the available sugar the yeast eats up. Most yeast strains are somewhere in the 70% range. Wyeast and White Labs both have excellent strain guides that will give you the exact ranges. The lower the number, the more residual sugar that will be left in the finished beer. Yeast health and pitching rates can also impact body. If your yeast are struggling they won’t be able to finish their meal and you will have a lower attenuation. All that said, it's never a good idea to intentionally underattenuate in order to create a fuller-bodied beer...that will create a whole new set of problems!
Adjuncts and specialty grains: Body can also be controlled through ingredient selection. Adjuncts like sugars (corn, beet, table sugar, honey) are super tasty to yeast; they’ll go nuts and eat it all up and turn it into booze (something humans go nuts for). Adding any of these adjuncts will lighten up your beer while increasing the amount of alcohol.
In the specialty grains section of your homebrew store you will see a lot of dextrine malt (also known as cara-pils). This malts will produce dextrose (which yeast do not like to eat) regardless of temperature or mash time. Just a touch of this grain will help build body in your beer. Briess who makes this grains says you can go as high as 5% of your grain bill with cara-pils.
Diet: A well balanced diet with regular exercise is supposed to help your body or so I’ve been told. This seems dubious to me and I haven’t done much research on this aspect.
The amount of CO2 varies from style to style. The BJCP guidelines will help you determine the appropriate amount of carbonation. Personally I like to go a bit higher with carbonation in most of my beers. Brew Your Own has a good guide for helping determine how to hit specific CO2 levels.
Sometime you want creaminess and sometimes you don’t. Yeah, check out that solid logic. Ingredients. You can add oats and/or flaked barley for a touch of slick silky creaminess. Say that last sentence in a deep sexy voice and it’s much more effective. Diacetyl, which is a yeast bi-product and generally should be avoided, can create a buttery/butterscotch flavor and also some creaminess.
The hot palate feeling you get from booze is what we are talking about here. Some warmth may be welcome and even sought after in bigger beers, and sometimes a beer that’s been aged well will have the most agreeable type of warmth. The main idea here is to avoid a harsh cheap college kegger type of heat and instead get that pleasant 12 year old scotch smoothness. Heat in your beer is often a sign that the beer is still too young. When I make a big beer (over 8% or so) I let it sit in secondary for at least a month if not longer. You can also let your homebrew age in the bottle like you would any commercial beer. Just slap your hands when you reach to early. I know how tempting it is to break open a big beer that you just finished bottling. Don’t do it! You will be happy that you waited. It can take months for a big beer to reach it’s peak. Just give it time. It’s also cool when you have a party and break one of these babies open and tell everyone you’ve aged the beer for over a year.
And that’s it. That’s your simple guide to getting the right mouthfeel in your homebrew. It would be easy to ramble more, but these basics will make a big difference in your next beer.