True Root Beer

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Eight roots, two barks, one leaf, and one seed pod make this one true root beer. Start with a root tea, sweeten and carbonate it, it’s as easy as that. True root beer has been around for millennia, but gathering roots and berries is too time consuming for the commercial producer–hence the renaissance of artificial flavor and color.

True root beer flavor can be tweaked to an infinity of preferences. Large portions of sarsaparilla and birch bark make a classic base. To this you add sassafras and wintergreen to establish the distinctive high notes. In between can be as many interesting and subtle flavor layers as you like.

The results will resemble the pop-shop stuff you remember. But as with crafted versus commercial beer, the flavor will surprise you with its complexity. It has been rumored to transport maidens into sublime repose.
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There are two parts to the root beer tea brewing process. First, simmer the roots and bark for 20 minutes and remove them from heat. Then steep the herbs for another 20 minutes. Strain the decoction/infusion into a pot, then add sugar. Heat the syrup to 70C, add vanilla pod, cool to room temperature, and freeze 150 ml in each 500 ml bottle. Top up with club soda.

Traditional home made root beer relies on baker’s yeast, with its low alcohol tolerance, to create the carbonation and umami taste of classic examples without fermenting out all the sweetness. It is true that yeast in the beverage provides a real roundness and fullness.

The problem with this method is that the carbonation results are very unpredictable. Gushing out of the bottle is almost inevitable, as baker’s yeast continues to slowly ferment over time, even under refrigeration. It does produce a great creamy root beer head though!

The club soda top-up method yields a mildly carbonated drink in the English style, with a minimal head. On the other hand, there’s no surprises when it’s time to crack open a bottle.

Blackberry Brojash

BlackberryWBrojash is an attempt to remember the seven ingredients of a full-spectrum soda: berry, root, oil, juice, acid, sugar, herb. Sometimes you just need an acronym. This soda brings the berry idea way forward, taking advantage of a sale on usually quite expensive blackberries.

The root in this case is the very mild astragalus, which provides a creamy, smooth background note. The oil comes from fermented cacao nibs, which offer a slight but noticeable chocolate cast, and Seville orange zest. The juice is also from Seville oranges, and it provides an acid tang. Raw cane sugar adds restrained sweetness and apple mint a diaphanous herbality.

Either fresh or frozen berries can be used, as the fresh ones are frozen anyway to help extract juice by breaking their cell walls. If they are fresh, they can be processed just before they start to turn overripe. They are pulped and strained to remove the seeds, and the pulp is macerated with the nibs, juice, and herb for 48 hours in the fridge. It’s heated to 65C and the sugar and astragalus are stirred in. The syrup is cooled and the soda is bottled with the frozen syrup method. Pour it over ice, stir it with a cinnamon stick, it’s a softly minty blackberry chocolate delight.

Junmai Jizake

SakeWThis is a sake made with only water, rice, koji, yeast, and lactobacillus culture. It is in a way a brew similar to beer produced under the strictures of Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law.

Traditionally, pure rice sake, Junmai-shu, has been made with rice that has had as much as half of its grain surface milled away. This process removes, in addition to the husk, much of the protein and fatty acids in the grain, which can contribute undesirable flavors to the finished beverage.

However, since about 2005 a specialty sake has emerged, known as Teiseihaku-shu. This style is made with rice that typically retains about 80% of its volume, producing a drink that presents more of the charateristic rice flavor. As the proportion of amino acids rises, the result is an increase in aminosan-do, the taste of umami or savoriness.

The example here is made from the short-grain rice variety Kokuho Rose, from California. This premium rice is mist-polished to remove bran dust, and is well-known for making excellent sushi. Steamed in the manner required for sake making, it comes out firm and tender without excessive stickiness. The addition of a lacto culture means that the brewer need not wait weeks for a natural souring process to take place in the moto starter, with the potential for infection by unwanted organisms.

The photo here shows the sake in a clear state, but it is actually nigorizake, that is, unfiltered. The cloudy grain particles have settled to the bottom of the bottle, but can be shaken up into suspension to provide the additional flavor and characteristic look of the style. As the clear presentation shows, this sake is slightly golden in color, a result of it having been aged for two years at cellar temperature.

Finally, this is a Jizake, or microbrewed sake. Obviously, because there are only six bottles in existence, it is among the most micro of the microbrews. Warning though, homebrewing sake is illegal in Japan, so if you’re there, take advantage of your proximity to those out-in-the-boonies sake microbreweries instead.

Gnomen von Zürich Starkbier

ZurichLagerWFor all the perception that “Zürich Lager” is something special to experience, it seems that most reviews of Swiss beer, at least those that refer to pale lager, report finding nothing special. From Lowenbrau Zürich, Quollfrisch Hell, Feldschlösschen, Calanda, Schützengarten, to probably a dozen more, the reviews go from “Swiss Bud Lite” to “nothing spectacular.”

I’ve only been to Switzerland once, and that was to Geneva, which, while beautiful, has a pretty nondescript beer scene. So what’s the deal with the legendary Zürich lager? Apparantly it all comes down to Hürlimann Samichlaus, a rare Christmas beer whose Swiss manufacture ceased in 1996. The gnomes of Zürich managed to cram an entire six-pack of flavor into a 335ml bottle, and at 14% ABV, there are still some cellared examples being consumed now and again to rave reviews. In 2000 the brand was revived by Austrian brewer Schloss Eggenberg.

Albert Hürlimann was a recognized expert in the scientific development of yeast, and his extremely alcohol-tolerant strain survives as White Labs WLP885. Equipped with a vial of this venerable strain, what is one to do who does not have the patience to wait three years for a lager to mature?

In this example, a brew of 16.5 degrees Plato starting gravity will turn out to be very drinkable in less than six months, finishing at 3 Plato with an ABV of about 7.2%. The beer starts with a hefty grain bill of lager malt, to which the brewer adds Munich, Vienna, Melanoidin and CaraPils specialty malts.

The Zürich lager yeast throws off a lot of phenolic flavor which comes through strongly in this beer, giving it a quality almost like a Belgian brew. It is a long, slow fermenter, and four to five months in the secondary is about the minimum necessary to bring the gravity down to a manageable level.

It is a very flavorful and full-bodied beer, and will improve with age for quite some time. I plan to keep a bottle at least another six months to see how it develops.

Barrel Body Winter Warmer

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I’m not a big fan of winter. In late October, scraping enough frost off the windshield to make a frozen Daiquiri, I’m dreading the ice to come. White Christmas is great. January skiing is fun. But as a California guy, by February I’m ready to go on a picnic.

That said, one thing that sustains me through the frigid season is Winter Warmer. A roaring fire, a good book, and a righteous, spicy ale make all the difference when the wind blows cold, the snowflakes fly, and the nights are long.

In the old days, folks could huddle around the barrel body of a pot-belly stove to keep warm. These days, even a gas log will do if there’s a fine winter warmer close at hand. Barrel Body Winter Warmer fills the bill.
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Barrel Body starts out as a pretty straightforward copper ale. A full grain bill augmented with lots of caramel and crystal malt is topped off with Melanoidin malt to boost the red color, and provide plenty of heavy mouthfeel. The recipe adds golden sugar and Belgian dark aromatic candi to raise the starting gravity and tweak the umami.

The baseline spiciness comes from cinnamon and nutmeg. To kick it up a notch, a hint of Voodoo Elixir in the secondary fermenter adds flavors of coffee, chicory, cubeb, gumbo, licorice, sassafras and sarsaparilla.

Safale US-05 ferments this one out full and dry. At about 7.9% ABV, Barrel Body Winter Warmer lives up to its name.

Hakkō Chairo Amazake

HardAmazakeWAmazake can be considered a “precursor” to sake. In sake fermentation, steamed rice starches are converted to sugar with the use of a catalyst named kome koji–fungus-infected rice; then the sugar is fermented using conventional saccaromycetes.

And as is with the unfermented barley-based soft drink Malta, there is a Japanese version using rice: amazake. Amazake is, theoretically, the sugary mash that is formed when the fungus A. oriazye saccarifies starches in the rice, but before yeast turns those sugars into alcohol. Amazake is refrigerated or consumed shortly after the conversion is comeplete.

However, if the mash is allowed to continue sitting at room temperature, it will start to bubble and fizz, as sugar is metabolized into alcohol and carbon dioxide. You get a mild sake anyway: hard, “Hakkō” amazake if you will.

If you make amazake out of brown (chairo) rice you get a drink that is much more flavorful than the traditional recipe that calls for glutinous white rice. Sweet glutinous white rice forms the key ingredient in the Japanese dessert “mochi.” This sweet rice is available in a brown version too, with all the more rounded umami flavor characteristics you would expect.

Because koji has fermented out all the sugar that is in a conventional amazake, this version adds back a bit of rice syrup solids to balance the tartness of the citric acid used to prevent wild yeast infection. The drink is back-sweetened, then pasteurized in bottles. Served slightly chilled, the flavor is a sweet-tart burst, balanced with umami flavors of toast, caramel and mushroom.

Triple Twichell

TripTwichWInspired by the type of strong Belgian brews known as “Dubbels” and “Tripels”, Triple Twichell takes the idea of a Mandarin/Seville orange soda and multiplies the amount of ingredients–except the water–by three.

As with the original Orange Twichell recipe, this drink blends two kinds of orange juice, and two kinds of orange zest with raw cane juice, ginger, Veronica spicata, and Sedona juniper berries.

The result is an intense, yet well-balanced soft drink that is bursting with flavor and orange aroma. The drink is made with a fruit syrup and herb infusion, finished with sparkling mineral water. It will improve noticably with an aging period of several weeks in the refrigerator. Aging allows the fruit pulp to settle out, and this can be suspended again with gentle agitation. Alternately, the drink can be carefully decanted off the settled pulp to provide a clear, golden yellow beverage.

Scott’s Revenge BC Brown Ale

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British Columbian brewers have been trying hard to establish a unique style of beer, in the shadow, alas, of the huge brewing scenes of Washington and Oregon. Those two states, in turn, have led with their own brewing evolution, against the mega-hopped IPAs of Southern California.

The trend in all three Northern areas has been to less aggressively bitter, but no less flavorful beers, including Northwest Pale Ale, with the characteristically citrus-flavored hop varieties now emerging from the Oregon/Washington growing region.

In the 1940s B.C. grew more hops than any other region of the Commonwealth. The Molson Export recipe of that time specified only “B.C. Hops.” But since 1997 or so, there had been almost no commercial hops grown in British Columbia. Recently, however, that trend is reversing, as the demand from craft brewing again makes hop growing a viable industry in B.C.

What does not seem to be occurring though, is the expansion of flavor sensations accomplished by full-spectrum recipe formulations. B.C. beers, though tasty, frequently lack complexity. Scott Beauchamp, manager and buyer at Nelson Liquors in Nelson B.C. has tasted a lot of British Columbia beers, and he agrees. That’s why I brewed a full-spectrum beer using B.C. hops, with him in mind: Scott’s Revenge. The color is really more of a dark amber to copper, and the aroma is dominated by malty notes, with very light hoppiness.

Scott’s B.C. Brown has plenty of caramel flavors from five grades of crystal, plus CaraAroma and CaraMunich malts. Chocolate and Black Prinz malts provide deep roasty flavors.

The hops were grown in Nelson, B.C. and consist of a blend of Nugget, Willamette, Fuggle and Golding varieties. They were lightly air-dried for a week before going into the brew in three additions. Safale US-05 fermented it out nice and dry.

Next season I will likely get a bigger Golding crop, and I plan to try this recipe again with wet-hop and dry-hop additions. Then Scott’s revenge against bland B.C. ales will be complete.

Simba Oshikundu

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Simba is Swahili for lion, and in Namibia, Oshikundu (also known as Ontaku) is a naturally fermented beverage of varying alcoholic strength. Some is mild enough for children, in the way that fermented kombucha is. Some is strong enough that you’d better not drive that lorry from Windhoek to Walvis Bay.

Traditional oshikundu is made from pearl millet flour. The people of Namibia call their millet mahangu. Meme Mahangu is the brand to look for, produced by Namib Mills Ltd. and sold in a premixed bag containing a bit of sorghum flour for added flavor.

A small amount of hot water is blended with the flour to form a slurry, and then a starter, known as oshihete shoshikundu—a small amount of the previous batch—is added. This is left to ferment overnight, and in the morning more water and some sugar is added to continue the fermentation. In 24 to 48 hours the beverage is ready to drink: a little fizzy, a little sweet and a little tart.

Needless to say, oshikundu starter is hard to come by outside of Namibia, as is, for that matter, mahangu. For the enterprising fermentation hobbyist however, there are work-arounds that produce a very nice and in several ways inebriating beverage.

A trip to the health-food store, or even the bulk food section of the supermarket will likely not turn up the key ingredient of Simba Oshikundu. That is unhulled millet. The grain found in food stores is invariably hulled, as it has been prepared for eating and cooking as a cereal grain. Hulled millet cannot be sprouted satisfactorily, and this process is important to the creation of the malted millet that forms the base grain of Simba Oshikundu.
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There is, however, a plentiful supply of unhulled millet readily available in stores, and that is—Budgie Mix. Yes, you can make oshikundu from bird seed, and in fact, the flavor is superior to that made of plain millet. The important consideration is to find a mix that has only seeds in it, and this is usually provided in bulk. The mix that went into Simba Oshikundu consisted of about two-thirds red and white millet, with the remainder made up of canary grass, niger seeds, sesame seeds, and brown flax. I was initially skeptical, but as it turns out, those budgies know good chow!

The seeds sprouted very well after about four days, and were dried in an oven until they were golden in color, and toasty in flavor. Then they were ground into as fine a powder as was possible in a small food processor. I used the same technique to produce a malt flour from some millet sprays, which are also sold as bird seed. This added an even more toasty flavor to the blend.

I mixed the coarse flour with water in a stainless steel pot to make a stiff mash, and raised the temperature to 65-70 C (150-160F.) I added amylase enzyme for good luck and held the mash at that temperature for 18 hours, adding more hot water as the grains absorbed the liquid. The resulting flavor was mildly sweet and grainy.

Then in went three kinds of African flowers: Lion’s Tail, Nile Lily, and Lotus Blossom. I brought the mixture to a boil, and simmered it for 20 minutes. Instead of sugar I added wildflower honey, brought the mash back to a boil, and then cooled it quickly to room temperature. I pitched California ale yeast and yogurt starter into the cooled mash, covered it and let it ferment three days at about 26C (80F).

When the fermentation was complete I ladled the mash into a large metal strainer to separate the liquid from the grains, and gently poured the brew into swing top bottles, which went directly into the refrigerator.

Simba Oshikundu is above all a silky smooth, creamy beverage. It is packed with the nutritional value associated with millet, and is gluten free. The yeast and lactobacillus add probiotic factors. If you can find a source for Bambera ground nut, it can be made even more nutritious.

The flavor is indeed a bit tart, and it can be sweetened with sugar or more honey. I prefer it fairly dry. The flowers produce a subtle bitterness, and a subtle sense of well-being that is enhanced by the moderate alcoholic strenth of the beverage. Since the official language of Namibia is English, you should do fine just raising a glass and declaring “Cheers!”

Ziegensauger Doppelmaibock

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What would you get if you tripled every ingredient in a lager beer except the water? Zeigensauger Doppelmaibock: a recipe that has evolved from the German bock lager tradition, but inspired also by ‘t Ij Columbus beer, brewed in Amsterdam.

Ziegensauger, like Columbus, comes in at 9% ABV, making it considerably stronger than Maibock-style beer, which traditionally maxes out at around 7.5%. That makes this a Doppel Maibock! The traditional symbol of bock beer, the goat, has been consumed in this case by the German version of the Chupacabra. Zeigenrsauger is a goat hell-bent on destruction. bock goatw

Zeigensauger gets its fullness of flavor from a micro-mash of pale, pale crystal, Munich, CaraPils, and even black malt. The backbone is provided by 3.4 kilos of Cooper Pilsner extract, and 1.5 kilos of Breiss extra light DME. The beer is hopped with German Hallertau, Crystal, Pearle and Saaz varieties for the main additions, and dry-hopped with more Hallertau, which lays down a spicy aroma beside the rich maltiness.

Wyeast 2112 California Lager yeast, with its high alcohol tolerance, ferments the brew for four months at a temperature below 16 C (61 F.) It is bottled using corn sugar syrup made with a Saaz hop tea. Held another two to six months, this is a monumental beer that crashes around like a goat, sucker!