Stories | Mad Scientists

Mad Scientists Series #1: Spelt Wine

Published On
February 7, 2011

Four thousand years ago, when bronze goods were traded along the Aegean Sea, our wise ancestors sowed the grain Triticum speltum far and wide. So hardy and nourishing was the plant, it enjoyed a status of staple grain – more so than wheat or barley – in Europe until roughly medieval times. Yet lost are we without its shining armor against malnutrition today.

Today, we have not forgotten the proud stalks of yesteryear; we instead reach to the tallest shelves of the health-food store, where it sits, overlooked but to those with particular food allergies. We bring a beer to suffocate the ages of ignorance. A brew to parallel the potency of fine wine. We introduce the first beer of the Mad Scientists series: SPELT WINE.

The clever and nimble brewers in Red Hook have resurrected the ancient grain of rare quality. A distant cousin to wheat, spelt boasts a complex nutty and spicy characteristic, which intrigued the Mad Scientists. Channeling the ancient medicine men who’d found valuable uses for spelt beyond the scope of food, the brewers began experimenting with the grain in the Enterprise, Sixpoint’s 60-liter pilot system for any brew. Emboldened by the zesty flavors of these initial tests, the Mad Scientists were ready to embark.

“Our goal for brewing this beer was to let the spelt flavor shine,” assistant brew Dan Suarez said of the spelt wine. Choosing to showcase its character with a large proportion of the fermentable malt sugars derived from the ancient cereal grain, the beer is made with 51% malted spelt and 49% barley malt. “The result is a dry, tangy, and spicy blond beer,” Suarez summarized.

Yet hurdles had to be overcome to reach this climax. The toothsome hulls of spelt grains — a distinguishing trait from wheat — gave pause for contemplation, and, eventually, further innovation. “It doesn’t behave in quite the same way barley or wheat does during the mash,” related head brewer Craig Frymark. To achieve the gravity desired of this spelt wine, the brewers combined two mashes in one kettle, an unlikely incident even in the Mad Scientists’ laboratory.

Called in to ferment this wort was a Belgian abbey yeast. Noble hops of two different strains were added to impart bitterness to the brew. As the yeast worked its way through the sugars to an alcohol by volume percentage of 9.4, a coppery color developed. A lacy beige head would occur when poured. Its aroma hinted of fruit and coffee, raisin and toast. Tasting notes of the beer would vary from grassy to banana among the reviewers on RateBeer.com. Wrote one contributor: “The spelt really adds a spicy, earthy, coffee bitterness. Very interesting. Definitely worth pursuing.”

Named in a straightforward fashion, Sixpoint’s spelt wine owes its signature to its grain. Like – or unlike? – the Righteous Ale made with rye, it sings its own characteristic tune. Not barleywine, but brewed in a similar style, the Mad Scientist concoction stands alone.

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