Mouthfeel. If you don’t already know what it means, I wonder what it makes you think of. You remember that RnB single from the early noughties by the 4th member of destiny’s child? It’s not that. Or how about that tv-mini-series spin-off of the classic Woo/Cage/Travolta romp Face/Off, where they surgically swap the tongues of a beat poet and the wine sommelier who killed his dog, in order to bring down an organic wine cartel? It’s not that either. Hollywood’s loss.
Tandem aside, the usual sequence of events that goes into writing a blog is:
In the interests of expediency I have foregone this easily-remembered list and now have a sizeable oeuf on my face, as it turns out that Mouthfeel is in fact a rock album from 2005 by Georgia’s-own Magnapop (Georgia, USA), close friends and collaborators with Michael Stipe! My sincerest apologies to all the Magna-heads out there. Rock on my friends.
And if you haven’t guessed what it means after all that, then I’ll tell you. Mouthfeel refers to the way something feels in your mouth. <insert your favourite author here> must be spinning in their grave/bed. What a feeble excuse for a portmanteau. It sounds like some half-arsed, brewery-owning, blog-writing mouth-breather just ran out of adjectives. But for all that, the most cursory search will reveal that it is a very serious consideration for food scientists, sommeliers and snack architects who either evaluate, critique or painstakingly design the mouthfeel of all your favourite food and drink.
And as much as I have pushed up my word count poking fun at the word, it’s something that we at Friendship Adventure take seriously as well. Likewise all of the fantastic small London breweries that we have the pleasure of knowing and sharing a drink with. Eavesdrop on any conversation at your local beer festival if you want to hear how rigorously it is discussed.
I only need to ask you to bring to mind the different oral sensations experienced when drinking a pint of Guinness and a glass of prosecco to demonstrate some outlying points on the mouthfeel spectrum. I could have said Guinness and water, but that’s not a phenomenal cocktail that makes bartenders blush. The old Black Velvet. A literal recipe for disaster.
Heavier, darker ales, stouts and porters can all but take a pleasant, smooth and full-bodied mouthfeel for granted. The same can be said for higher-ABV pale ales, and this is because alcohol and carbohydrates are largely responsible for a thicker mouthfeel.
The way to achieve higher ABVs, is to have more fermentable sugars in your beer for the yeast to convert into alcohol. The amount of fermentable sugars is directly related to the weight of grain you use. And it is not just fermentable sugars that are washed off the grain into your beer. So if lots of grain and therefore alcohol results in a beer with a great mouthfeel, how do we avoid creating flat, watery, lower alcohol beers? The comments are turned off.
Session beers, or table beers and even no-alcohol beers are all the rage at the moment, and a really great one elicits a lot of praise from fellow brewers who understand the difficulty of creating one. Since you can’t rely on the alcohol content to help you out, the key is in the carbs. More specifically, the unfermentable sugars in your mash. We use oats and wheat in our beers because their carbohydrates add to the mouthfeel of our sessionable beers without pushing up the ABV.
Now you know our secret. The keys to the factory are yours etc. etc.
Many a great brewing mind has tinkered with other ways to achieve this, and one of the unusual ones we’ve come across is using lactose. I had a bloody lovely table beer at the last Brew London festival which has been brewed with Lactose. It all comes down to personal preference of course. A lot of people don’t like the faint, but unmistakable milk flavour that it brings. Not a problem if you are making a milkshake stout, but brave if you are creating a table beer.
No alcohol beers are firmly on our to-do list, but brewing one which doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed is devilishly tricky. We look forward to the challenge, and trying out everyone else’s efforts in the meantime. Mad props to the small breweries that have managed it.