Ninety-nine beers were submitted in this year's Grumpy Troll Homebrew Challenge, a competition sponsored by the Mount Horeb brewpub and the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. Judged across seven categories, two winners were selected to make beer with brewmaster Mark Knoebl. One of these creations, Black Fjord, a deep dark ale with tones of ginger and orange, is now on tap at the Grumpy Troll. It's a beer that showcases what happens when a creative homebrewer teams up with a talented professional brewer to make a beer that's unique and flavorful, on a larger, grander scale.
What is it? Black Fjord from the Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.
Style: Black Fjord doesn't fit neatly into a single beer style. That's not uncommon for beers from homebrewers, who often think beyond commercial categories. Black Fjord falls loosely between a Porter and the English-style Dark Mild Ale. Both are medium- to full-bodied, with emphasis on sweeter flavors from the malts, rather than bitterness of hops. The Dark Mild is commonly dark brown in color and a little lighter in body and alcohol than the Porter, which is usually dark brown to deep black with a 4.5-6.5 % ABV.
Background: Black Fjord, an orange/ginger black ale, was a winner in the 2012 Grumpy Troll Homebrew Challenge. It was a first-time entry for Marta Krist, who created the recipe with her boyfriend Rob McCoy. Though he has been homebrewing for nine years, she only has a year-and-a-half of experience, and fewer than a half-dozen batches to her credit before entering the contest. Knoebl and brewpub owner Jack Slocum selected their collaborative beer from among the four "Best of Show" contenders in the competition to be made at the Grumpy Troll.
Knoebl says it was challenging to duplicate Krist's beer, especially scaling up the ingredients to a larger batch size. "It was a little like a CSI project to figure out how to do that," he laughs. For example, he replaced the malt extract from Krist's recipe with actual grain. He consulted with friends from the Left Hand Brewing Company of Longmont, Colorado, about the right amount of ginger to use to avoid getting too much spicy flavor in the beer. In the end, he and Krist added 7.5 pounds of ginger and roughly a pound of dried orange peel in a single 10-barrel batch.
Black Fjord finishes at 5.8 % ABV and sells for $4.50/pint or $12/growler (refill).
Knoebl will also be making an Imperial Stout based on another winning entry in the same challenge. That beer, which needs a long fermentation period, should be on tap in late December.
- Aroma: Light spiciness with a hint of fruity orange.
- Appearance: Cloudy, brown-black color with a medium soft, tan head.
- Texture: Medium bodied with a round mouthfeel.
- Taste: Light but firm roasted maltiness with assertive spicy-ginger and tinges of the orange peel in the background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The ginger keeps coming through, and seems strongest in the finish.
Glassware: The Grumpy Troll serves Black Fjord in the standard bar pint. Given a choice with a growler at home, find a glass with an inward flare to the lip (like a Willi Becher) to focus the light spicy ginger aromas of this beer.
Pairs well with: As you look over the Grumpy Troll's menu, think about what goes well with the beer's special flavors of ginger and orange peel. An easy choice is a basic appetizer like the house-made cheese bread or bruschetta. Strong food flavors are tricky with this beer because they will change the perception of ginger and orange.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: If you like ginger's spicy-pepper flavor, you'll probably really enjoy Black Fjord. I found the ginger to be assertive, but not overly strong, and its spiciness combines well with the hint of orange-citrus notes that come through in the aroma and finish. It's a beer that sparked my interest and curiosity enough that I ordered a second pint.