Reader Andrew posted this question earlier in the week:
I was wondering if you could give me some tips on increasing mouthfeel on my lower abv brews. Is there a way to get a nice low abv beer without it being sweet due to high mash temps/ increased specialty malt?
… and I thought it was a substantial enough topic to warrant its own post.
Substantial! Mouthfeel! #BeerJudgeJokes
First, let’s recap mouthfeel vs. body. BJCP.org has this to say:
Body is technically separate from mouthfeel, which encompasses physical sensations such as astringency, alcoholic warmth and carbonation, but the combination determines how the beer stimulates the palate.
In Tasting Beer, Randy Mosher defines them thusly:
Body: A quality of beer, largely determined by the presence of colloidal protein complexes and unfermentable sugars in the finished beer.
Mouthfeel: Sensory qualities of a beverage other than flavor, such as body and carbonation.
So we could say that body is body, but mouthfeel is all about perception.
Armed with that knowledge, off the top of my head, and in no particular order, here are some things you could try *without* resorting to higher percentages of crystal malt or higher sacch’ temps:
- Dial back CO2 level, and/or increase serving temp. Think about a beer you’ve had refrigerator-cold and dispensed (or poured from a bottle) with full CO2, and the same beer at cellar temp from a handpump or gravity-poured from a cask – not the same mouthfeel. Lower carbonation and warmer temps play down astringency and bitterness while playing up malt and viscosity. Low-gravity ales really benefit from this, IMO.
- Adjust chloride in brewing water. Chloride will give roundness to the mouthfeel and enhance malt character – up to a point. Past about 300 ppm it starts to adversely affect flavor. As a baseline, Munich and London water both have around 60 ppm Cl, so a little can go a long way and depending on your water source adding more may not be desirable. I use CaCl in most of my mashes, but have very soft water. My advice would be to check your water report first and then use a brewing calculator or software and a gram scale to target and dose out the additions.
- Incorporate a small % of wheat, or unmalted adjunct grains. Medium-weight proteins from wheat or flaked oats/rye/barley will definitely help the sensation of palate fullness, and it shouldn’t take much. A dextrin malt (CaraPils, CaraFoam) would work here too if you want to keep the grist all-barley and/or all-malt.
- Switch yeast strains. Look for a strain that is billed as specifically benefitting mouthfeel. Or one that shifts the attenuation range downward by a few percent. Or (and I’m not saying this is always appropriate) consider one that might throw a touch of diacetyl – assuming you’re brewing a style like dry stout or mild, where a low level would be acceptable. Or go for a very low-attenuating yeast but then chaptalize the wort with a tiny % of sugar to lean it out and drive the FG down a bit. There are a lot of approaches that would work from this angle …
- Embrace the lightness. Not a tip so much as a mindset, I guess … as I spouted off in the comment thread of this post, a low-gravity beer shouldn’t necessarily shy away from being light-bodied but make a strength out of it. If it’s going to be sessionable, embrace sessionability. A standard bitter shouldn’t taste like an ESB; a Scottish 60/- or mild shouldn’t taste like a 90/- or old ale – they’re supposed to sit at one end of a continuum of flavor and texture intensity.
Anybody else have any aces up their sleeves for Andrew?