I came across this red IPA one evening while out for a beer with some friends. I had never heard of Dreamcatchers before, and I always love to try out a new brewery. I was even more excited to give them a shot when I misread the location on the menu across the room. What I thought said “SC” on the screen that attempted to cram in all 21 tap choices actually said “NC.” I thought I’d found a new local brewery, but I had no such luck. What I did have luck with, though, was the beer.
Red Rider is surprisingly malt forward for something listed as an IPA, and even the aroma tells of this. At 65 IBUs, somehow, the malt is the main attraction. People often speak of balance in beers and almost always mean something different when they use that term, but to me, this was the epitome of balance. What I mean when I use the term is that, any more sweetness, and the malt would have been too overpowering for an IPA. Any more bitterness, and the malt would not have come through—which would have been a great tragedy. What I mean when I say balance is this: harmony. These two elements of hops and malt complemented each other in such a way that the flavor of one kept the other in check, and vice versa. Neither was overbearing or too forward.
I’m going to focus a bit more on the malt of this beer than someone giving tasting notes on anything with the suffix of “IPA” normally would. The beer was rich with dark fruit, plum, and dark cherry flavors. There was a distinct chocolate flavor (not at all roasty) that mixed well with the dark fruit flavors. The level of chocolate in this beer was delicious, but it will not be something I try to replicate in my beer. The smoothness and dark fruit flavors, though, certainly are elements I want to bring in.
Being overly confident, as I drank this I thought to myself, “Crystal 80.” I thought this beer was so good that I contacted the brewery and asked if they would be so kind as to share their grain bill. The owner responded and actually sent me his homebrew recipe that the brewery had scaled up for their 10 bbl system. I won’t post that recipe here, because I don’t have permission to do so, but I will say that I was surprised to see absolutely zero crystal 80 in the recipe. There was crystal 40 and crystal 120, but no 80. There was also a small amount of chocolate malt in the recipe that I was not at all surprised to see, although I am not yet sure how he got such a chocolatey flavor from it. My experience has always yielded coffee and roast notes along with the chocolate. Red Rider had neither of those additional notes.
Overall, I was slightly confused where these rich flavors were coming from when I saw the recipe. Besides those already listed, there were a few other malts in the grain bill, but only lighter malts that generally give off a toasted and biscuity flavor. This left me staring at the words “crystal 120” on the recipe. This was the only dark grain on the list besides chocolate, and I feel pretty confident the dark fruit flavors weren’t coming from that.
I’ve never used crystal 120 because it has always been my understanding that it gave off characteristics similar to those in a darker beer, albeit with none of the roast character. Ready to be proven wrong, I did a little research and found one description for this malt listing its use in bock beers, dark beers, porters, and stouts. So I was right—sort of. This same description also listed its use in, you guessed it, amber and red beers. Most compelling was the flavor description (interestingly the same description given for crystal 80): “pronounced caramel, burnt sugar, raisin, prune.”
There you have it. That’s where this rich, dark fruit flavor has to be coming from. If both the 80 and 120 versions of crystal malt have the same descriptors, the version kilned to 120⁰L has to have the same flavors, only stronger—right? Probably not exactly. However, my takeaway from this beer and the recipe I received for it is that when I start playing with my grain bill, I will certainly be trying some crystal 120. I want to know if it will give a result closer to what I had in mind when I chose crystal 80 for my original recipe. There seems to definitely be more than one way to get the dark fruit flavor I’m looking for—and probably several better ways.