Tangential beers


Another plant with brewing potential

A guest post by Alana Clarke

Jeannette asked if I could do a guest post on her blog about brewing as she has already discussed our prospective licorice beer experiment.

To which I responded, “Sure, what would you like me to write about brewing?”

That took a bit more thought. See, I’m probably not the best example for this blog, which is more about natural processes, sustainability, backyard farming, etc. I don’t plow fields by hand, plant barley, water it with my blood and sweat, harvest it with a scythe, take it to a malting house, malt it, roast it, and then boil it up to make the wort that makes the beer, which would be far more appropriate for this site.

If you want that, go and watch one of the excellent BBC farm series with Peter, Alex and Ruth — they are awesome and Peter always seems to make an alcoholic beverage at least once in each series. But they have land, tools (albeit dated) and hopefully a large number of behind-the-scenes folks who help with the work.

I’m not even an all-grain brewer — my husband keeps saying we should go that route and I keep thinking about how much time and washing up would be involved in the process. I have a day job, housework, yardwork and I would rather make beer in a fashion that leaves us with some leisure time to drink it. (Being honest, the beer would always drunk even if the house/yard work didn’t get done, but that’s not the point.)

Because making beer isn’t hard. OK, old-school, BBC farm series method is hard, but my ersatz brewmeister technique is really quite straightforward. I use malt extract, which is the thick malty syrup you get at the end of the malting process, half-a-kilo or so of malted grain for extra flavour/texture, and hops.

But the best thing about this method, other than it being inexpensive, painless, and making very tasty beer, is that you can easily mess around with the basic recipes to make something a bit cool and different; just using different hops can significantly alter the resulting brew. Sometimes it is accidental, like when I mistakenly bought dark malt syrup for an IPA (India Pale Ale) recipe, so we had an IDA (India Dark Ale) which was very tasty. And since then I’ve actually seen some microbreweries making IDAs, so without knowing it we were cutting edge.

A lot of beer recipes call for unusual ingredients. I’ve made pumpkin ale (the pumpkin flavour was quite subtle), a winter spice beer (go easy on the cloves and load up on the fresh ginger, cardamom and vanilla) and ginger beer (a food processor made grating up the ginger a lot less work).

We’ve also tried out a few things on our own. One of the simplest was chili beer, which involved just a regular pale ale, but we put a bird’s eye chili in some of the bottles. The resulting beer tasted like pale ale, but had a chili-heat afterglow. Slightly more complicated was the blackberry porter, where we added blackberries cooked in black cherry juice to the beer about three-quarters of the way through the fermentation. Another experiment to reproduce a beer made by a local brewpub involved adding coconut extract to a chocolate porter just before bottling to create a chocolate coconut porter — that one made a lot of friends.

I’m looking forward to our experiment to make licorice beer from the licorice root Jeannette is growing in her yard, likely with a trial run of purchased licorice first. And she’s picked up a sour cherry tree, the fruit from which would probably make a tasty addition to a porter or a lighter, lager or wheat beer. Maybe try to make a kriek-style beer.

As a tangent, all of my tangents seem to end up around making alcoholic beverages of some sort. A close friend once inquired, “Is there any fruit you don’t drink?”