Big Chico Creek Water


Big Chico Creek runs ice cold out of the Colby Mountain watershed, over the basalt rocks of the Lassen volcanic shield, and through Bidwell Park and Cal State University in Chico, California. When the temperature hits 117 F in downtown Chico, the swimming holes of Big Chico Creek offer a welcome relief.

Big Chico Creek Water is another ice-cold treat for a hot summer day. I first brewed it for a Fourth of July party I went to in Chico. The hostess, my boss, had invited a few of her employees over for the party, but when we got there it became obvious that we were expected to be wait staff for the real guests, who were her neighbors! The most ambitious guy among us went over to the barn and mucked out the stalls. Big Chico Creek Water offered a welcome relief….

Big Chico Creek Water has no fixed recipe. A beer constructed of leftover amounts of specialty grains, it nonetheless retains certain characteristics. It is very malty, dark amber, with assertive hop bitterness and hop aroma, medium-full body and a bitter finish. Its 5.5 to 6% ABV makes it a bit more than a session beer, but still eminently quaffable. The key ingredient is the “Chico” California ale yeast, which produces a dry but malty beer with a nice full flavor accentuating the hops.

A typical recipe is about 75% pale malt. Anywhere from 400 to 700 grams of specialty malt for a 20 liter batch provide the amber maltiness. This version uses Cara Munich, crystal blend, Special B, Breiss Extra Special, chocolate, and black malts. Flaked barley contributes graininess and a full head.

As with the grain bill, the hop additions vary depending on what is at hand. I have used Nugget, Columbus, Ahtanham, Kent Golding, Challenger, Chinook, Cluster, Cascade, Styrian, Fuggle and Willamette in various combinations. This one is a melange of home-grown hops. A bit of gypsum and sea salt adds an edge to the hop ingredients.

This is a great beer if you want to be drinking a full, rich malt-hop extravaganza in less than four weeks. The yeast ferments quickly, drops out fast, and leaves a bottle-ready brew right in the primary fermenter. Two weeks in the bottle and the potion is dry and smooth, though it will develop its complex flavor for six months or more.

Oaked Burton Ale

Oaked Burton This is a heavy one, and definitely a keeper. I wanted a barley-wine-style ale that I could age for ten years, to see how it develops. Oaked Burton was brewed in August, 2008, and it’s maturing very well.

My original tribute to the legendary Ballantine Burton Ale, Oaked Burton derives its name from the tincture, made from a half-ounce of home-toasted oak chips soaked in Everclear, which was added to the secondary fermenter. Significantly, this addition boosts the ABV by almost a point, to about 9.4%.

Oaked Burton is a partial-mash brew that is based on Munton light DME. The mash was 2-row pale barley malt, with additions of four kinds of crystal malt, English brown malt, chocolate and black malts, and roasted barley. Burton salts and gray sea salt went into the boiling water. Maltodextrin adds body. To further boost body and alcoholic content, I added Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Malawi demerara sugar.

Hopped with Northern Brewer bittering, Golding flavor and Fuggle aroma varieties, it is only moderately bitter, with the malt components dominating its profile. The excellent White Labs’ WLP023 Burton Ale yeast contributed its uniquely mild fruity character.

Oaked Burton pours a medium brown with hints of gold; almost an extreme amber. It has a tan, long-lasting head that leaves very little lacing on the glass. The aroma is malty, with hints of oak. The taste is of malt, with caramel, almonds and dark fruit like plum. Roasted grain, oak, and mild alcohol dance in the background. It finishes with a hoppy tang, oaky astringency and an alcoholic warmness.

No one is going to age a commercial beer for ten years these days. The era of the ancient barrel-aged Ballantine is over. But a home-brewer can certainly put a few bottles away for five years, and ten is only double that and well worth the wait–if you’ve got some West Coast Amber to tide you over in the meantime.

All Aboard! Steam Porter


Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco gets credit for reintroducing Porter beer to the world, after its production declined to essentially nothing in the place of its birth, London, England. Strictly speaking, because Anchor owns the trademark for the term “Steam” as it refers to beer, this beer is not named Steam Porter.

The “steam” part refers to the yeast it uses, namely, White Labs WLP 810 San Francisco Lager. Plus, I can still remember the Coast Daylight steam train that ran from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the 1950s, and the porters that worked on it. A romantic beer in memory of romantic days. All Aboard!

Shasta Daylight

There’s no record of what the original porter beers tasted like, apart from descriptions dating from Edwardian times calling them “sweet, bitter, and a bit burnt all at once. Very warming.” The workers of the time, including porters, accustomed to a bland diet, are thought to have been attracted to the robust, astringent and bitter flavors rarely encountered in their everyday consumption.

Some information exists though, regarding what they were made of. The earliest available recipes, dating from around 1750, show that the most prominent ingredients were pale malt and brown malt. This was not the same as the brown malt that is available today. Back then, the malt was processed by turning it out on a metal floor above a fierce wood fire. Despite its dark character, it retained a lot of sugar and malting enzymes, making it suitable for assuming a large proportion of the mash.

Today’s brown malt is an English product still, but processed in drum roasters like its darker cousins the black malts. Black malts themselves now provide a significant addition to modern porter recipes. But porter is still distinct from stout. Significantly, historically accurate porter should not be opaque black. Rather, it is a very dark ruby red when it is brewed properly, as All Aboard! is.

Besides a hefty addition of modern brown malt to provide a nice rich nutty flavor, All Aboard! uses five grades of crystal malt, plus Melanoidin malt to add more red color to the brown. Small additions of chocolate and black malts create layers of complex flavor. Munton DME provides the base sugars, and flaked barley creates a thick head.

Historically, all manner of strange ingredients were added to create distinctive flavors, most notoriously Nux Vomica. Hangovers were inevitable. This recipe ventures less far. Instead, for interest it settles for 4 grams of gypsum, 2 grams of cracked Grains of Paradise and 12 grams of sea salt.

Traditional Golding and Fuggles English hops provide bitterness and flavor, and homegrown Willamette hops add aroma. With a start at 16 Plato (1.064) this is a beer up to the demands of the most hard-working porter in Londontown.

Aromas of nutty toasted grains combine with nice floral notes. Its malty-full richness, with a chocolaty bitter tang, contrasts with its residual sweetness. At 7.7% alcohol by volume it is an assertive but not hot beverage. Delicious and inebriating, it makes me want to pick up my bags and head for the station.

ZBO: A New Style of Extreme Umami Brew

Zeer Bruine Oude
The name of this beer, Zeer Bruine Oude, or ZBO, reflects its original inspiration from a type of Belgian beer called Oud Bruin–sometimes known as Flanders Brown. The Oud Bruin beers are typically a dark red-brown color, with medium body and very little bitterness. The “Oud” part (old) refers to the long aging these beers undergo, so that their yeast and bacteria content can develop an interesting sweet/sour flavor.

But because this beer draws inspiration also from Guinness Stout, is is a “Zeer” (very) Bruine Oude. It is an extremely dark red-brown color, with an aroma of dark fruits and malt. In the tradition of Guinness, about 3 percent of the wort was soured by incubating it with lactobacillus delbrueckii from White Labs. To this I added about 7ml of Bio-K+ L. Caesi L. Acidophilus blend in rice extract. About 700ml of wort was drawn off from the main batch, inoculated with the lacto bacteria, and incubated at 27 C (81 F) for 72 hours. This mildly sour wort was then pasteurized at 80 C (177 F) for 30 minutes and returned to the main batch, which was fermenting with White Labs Edinburgh Ale yeast. I felt it appropriate to use Scottish yeast because legend has it that Scotland provided the original Belgian yeast strains.

A complex beer demands a complex grain bill, and this is one of the most, incorporating cara-crystal wheat, chocolate wheat, black prinz malt, cara-pils, cara-aroma, and a Belgian blend of cara-Munich, Special B, biscuit and honey malts. Breiss extra-light dry malt extract provided the base. About 225g of Brewcraft Belgian extra-dark aromatic candi sugar helped boost the original gravity to 22.5 degrees Plato (1.090).

Typically, Oud Bruin beers have little to no hoppy character. This one does, though the hop additions are moderate in deference to the original style. About 12 HBU of bitterness are provided by a boiling addition of Warrior and Perle hops, and a flavor addition of German Hallertau. No aroma hops were added.

The result: a nicely sweet/sour beer reminiscent of Scottish Wee Heavy strong ale, Irish Stout and Belgian Oud. Mildly estery with flavors of malt and dark fruit, an intensely malty aroma, complex malt flavors and a bit more hop assertiveness than either the traditional Bruin or Heavy styles offer. The blend of caramelized wheat and barley malts provide an umami backbone that creates a nice, chewy, satisfying meal out of a pint of beer.

A year after the original brew date, and with three months in the bottle, this beer has a long cellar life ahead of it, during which the flavors will continue to meld and blend. It should be an amazing winter quaff next year!