A lot of British beers were – still are, probably – made using caramel colouring. I know this was often done for parti-gyles, so the same grist could be split into several beers and the final colour adjusted so that the look matched what the consumer expected to see based on the label (‘double brown’, dark mild, etc.). I know a lot of recipe books by the likes of Wheeler use a little bit of black malt as colour adjustment, which you can leave out in most cases without affecting the taste.
For some old recipes like the ones you find on Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, I feel like even a small amount of black malt might add a roasted note that isn't desirable. I'm thinking of things like old Burton ales or old-fashioned milds/running ales that were made using 100% pale malt and coloured up with caramel.
I was wondering if there was a way to adjust colour using grain without mashing the dark malt and adding roast flavours. Cold steeping seems to the obvious method. Looking up Sinamar colouring on Weyermann's website, they describe how it's made:
“SINAMAR® all-natural malt extract, by contrast, is not condensed wort, but condensed beer. Because it contains no fermentables, it is not intended for making beer, but for giving an already existing beer one key characteristic that it may be lacking: A deep-opaque, dark colorbut without acrid, roasted flavors. For its high color values without bitterness, the foundation beer for SINAMAR® is produced exclusively from de-husked Weyermann CARAFA SPECIAL® II roasted malt with a Lovibond rating of 375-450º. Because there are no enzymes in roasted malt, there is no conversion in a mash made from it, and all sugars in the wort come only from malting. The wort that results has an OG of about 1.050 (12.5°P). It is fermented with lager yeast to an FG of about 1.040 (10°P). The beer’s alcohol level by volume is 0.8-1.2%. Subsequent vacuum-evaporation eliminates all alcohol, raises the gravity to roughly 1.192-1.224 (48-54°P), and gives the finished malt extract a color value of 3,200-3,375°L (8,500-9,000 EBC).”
So I was thinking, can I cold steep a batch of debittered malt (Carafa II is used for Sinamar) and keep a jar of the stuff in the fridge to use as colouring? Saves trying to get hold of brewer's caramel colouring, hopefully avoids roasted flavour because it's a cold steep using debittered malt, and would be a handy way to just add a bit of colour at the end of the boil or in the FV.
Not sure about quantities, I'm thinking something like 350–400g dark malt per litre of water for the overnight cold steep. I'd consider making a small batch of the stuff, I doubt I would get through a litre of super-dark extract before it got too old to trust it not contaminating a brew.
I could tackle the sterility issue of the dark malt extract by boiling it after removing the grain. But would that add flavour? Maybe pasteurise it, hold it at 72°C for 20 minutes or something, and so avoid adding flavour through boiling?
I know it is just colour – brewer's caramel is not meant to add flavour. So why bother? Sometimes you ‘drink with your eyes’ so to speak, and some of the fun in trying old recipes is to imagine you're drinking something that looks as well as tastes similar to what people were quaffing back in the day. And I bet there are many modern cask ales that are still coloured up like this, the brewers just don't like to mention it. So if you're trying for a tribute recipe to your favourite tipple but feel the colour is never quite right, well, maybe colour it up using a solution you made yourself.
Thoughts, ideas, anyone tried something like this already? Maybe I can just use a tiny bit of debittered malt to cap the mash on a brew-by-brew basis? Is using colouring agents an affront to brewing and just accept a beer's colour is what it is? Am I an idiot for even wasting my time on this? Am I just an idiot?