Aged Chhaang

chhaangChhaang is the refreshingly tart, lightly-alcoholic drink popular in Tibet and Nepal. It seems to be a close relative of rice wine, although it can be made from rice, millet or barley, whatever’s handy. As I understand it, Tibetan chhaang is usually made from rice, and Nepali chhaang from millet. In the “whatever’s handy” spirit I used rice, millet, barley and wheat.

The fermenting agent in the Himalayas is a mysterious ingredient known in English as “yeast balls.” Evidently these are highly revered, and perhaps passed down in the family, though they are said to be available in ethnic grocery stores. I tried to find a source for them through the internet, and a Chinese variety is now manufactured by Toronto’s Onto Yeast Company. A bag sufficient for 10 liters of rice wine—if my simplified Chinese translation can be trusted—costs about $10. Sous Chef also sells a smaller bag online at considerably less cost, depending on where they ship to.

According to my research, Himalayan yeast balls are made with local ginger, grain flour, and water. The ginger is said to have the necessary organisms residing on it’s skin–yeast and Aspergillus oryzae . This fungus is able to convert the starches in grains into sugars without the need to sprout or malt them, and is used to ferment soy beans for tamari, and rice for sake.

I tried mixing shredded store-bought organic ginger with barley flour and water, formed this into cakes and proofed them for 3 days under a damp cloth. I got a smelly mess. I guess the ginger just isn’t the same. Probably too clean for one thing. So instead I steamed some rice, added koji-kin, and made myself a moto starter as I would for sake.

I mixed mold-coated rice with Windsor Ale yeast, known for its estery, fruity contribution to a brew. After three days this starter was nicely soupy, and so I added a culture of two strains of lactobacillus bacteria and let it ferment for another day.

The main mash consisted of malted barley, to which was added pearl barley, millet, rice and dark wheat, all of which had been boiled for 20 minutes in a ginger-root tea. This was mashed for two hours and cooled to room temperature. The moto starter went into the mash soup with all the grains, and fermented for three days.

Traditionally, the mash would at this point be placed in a bowl or mug, warm water poured over, and the drink sipped through a bamboo straining straw. More water would go in until the drink was too weak to continue. Because I wanted to keep the chhaang for a while, I strained it, bottled it, and kept these bottles refrigerated. At this time the chhaang has been aging cold for about 2 years.

Aged Chhaang is a dark creamy color, opaque and has a nice layer of bubbles on the surface. The moto/koji/sake aroma is very prominent. It is very slightly sweet, with a mostly tart flavor. Sugar may be added to taste. Full-bodied and lightly carbonated, it finishes with a mouthwatering tang. I don’t know what Nepalese chhaang tastes like, but this one is certainly an interesting and mildly inebriating beverage. I would be proud to serve it to a visiting yeti.

Stout 17

Stout 17abc
In 1973 I was a Gaucho with a taste for good beer, and no money to buy it. Santa Barbara had a store on upper State Street called Wine Art of America. A look inside revealed that they sold the ingredients for beer too. At that time brewing beer was illegal, but buying the makings was not. In fact, since the ingredients were food items, there wasn’t even any tax on them.

The guy in the store was very helpful, and he sold me the ingredients for my first beer, an amber lager made with Vierka Munich Dark Lager yeast. He also sold me a book called The Art of Making Beer by Anderson and Hull. The book was pretty simplistic by today’s standards, but it got me started and fortunately, my first batch was excellent. The recipes were numbered, and I’d made number 1.

Both my dad and I used the book for years, but as others came out over time it got moved to the remote end of the shelf. Last year I picked up a can of Cooper’s Stout malt extract on sale. Thinking about what to do with it I thumbed through the old Anderson book. A lot of memories came back to me. Then I got to the seventeenth recipe. It called for a can of stout wort. It also specified four pounds of corn sugar, a pound of crystal malt and “1/3 stick licorice.” I’d found my inspiration.

Stout 17 starts of course with the can of Cooper’s. Instead of corn sugar it has 900 grams of Breiss DME and 280 grams of Rogers Demerara sugar. For the crystal malt addition I blended six varieties of increasing caramelization. Left over home roasted barley that I’d made for a previous batch went in. Also 50 grams of Hugh Baird black malt.

I had chopped natural licorice root on hand. I also had Paradise seed. I had some Irish Stout yeast. I had my recipe.

Stout 17 uses Challenger hop pellets for bittering and Goldings flowers for flavor. As Irish stouts are low on hop aroma, Stout 17 has no aroma hop addition. This one started at 12 Plato and finished at 2.25. That’s about 82 percent attenuation, making this a very dry stout, with about 5.8% ABV.

It pours nearly opaque black but holding it to the light reveals very dark ruby color. The head is thick, and dark tan. The aroma is of malt, with toasted notes. A very roasty flavor finishes with mild mouth-watering bitterness and an alcohol tang. A very complex, tasty stout!

Backcountry Nut Brown Ale

Backcountry NBA
There are no nuts in Nut Brown Ale, let’s get that settled right away. Toasted nuts are of course a big source of umami. The nutty flavor in Nut Brown Ale, however, comes from specialty malts including British Brown and Special B that are an integral part of its recipe.

I first brewed this beer on March 20, 1999 and called it Equinox NBA. The idea was to create a home brew that I could take to the “Backcountry Weekend” at Henry Coe State Park, where I was a volunteer docent. We would set up camp at the back country staging area, help the visitors, and then enjoy some grub and homebrew and play for the visitors around the campfire that night. My esteemed band mate at the time Dave Perrin declared it “extraordinary” and so I decided to brew it again.

My updated recipe is brown the way that mahogany is brown, with deep red highlights. It’s as nutty as a jaybird hoarding umami booty. Where the original recipe used corn sugar to boost the starting gravity to 1.050 (12.5 Plato) this one relies on the umami-boosting traits of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Taikoo golden unrefined sugar from Mauritius and some hand-picked dark Belgian candi sugar crystals. A touch of sea salt and gypsum rounds out the character.

This version was bittered with Challenger hops and flavored with Goldings. I added aroma with some home grown “Feral Fuggle“ I’d gathered from the local hop vines. Brewed with White Labs’ WLP 004 Irish Ale yeast this version picked up a silver medal at the Toronto Anything Goes competition.

What’s That Umami Doing in My Yorkshire Ale?

Yorkshire Ale2Umami in beer comes primarily from two sources. First, barley malt has considerable protein in it (in the range of 10 to 15 percent) and the largest component of this is glutamic acid. The processes required to turn barley into beer involve reactions that convert this to glutamates. Most importantly though, I believe, is the contribution of the yeast. Nutritional yeast, known for its nutty, creamy flavors, provides a sample of this flavor.

Yorkshire Ale provides a vivid example of fermentation-induced umami flavor. The yeast produces a variety of metabolic by-products that create a well-balanced beer that is malty, and even meaty. The flavors are toasty with estery notes that accentuate the malt ingredients. These ingredients are chosen for their ability to contribute glutamates and nucleotides of a wide variety.

Archetypical Yorkshire Ale is a sweet, full-bodied beer with a deep red-brown cola color. It has a thick head and a mash/roast malty smell. It tastes of bread, caramel, chocolate, nuts, brown sugar, carob and earth. In the mouth it’s robust, mildly bitter and astringent, with a roasted finish.

My recipe relies on brown and chocolate malts, with a crystal malt blend, cara-aroma, and melanoidin malts to develop the glutamates derived from Maillard reactions.

Demerara and extra-dark aromatic Belgian sugar contribute caramel to the profile. Flaked barley provides raw glutamates that also contribute to a thick long-lasting head.

This version is bittered with a highly bitter variety, but in a mild proportion. Traditional English hops provide flavor and aroma that does not overwhelm the malty nose. It comes in at 7% ABV, which makes it, while not a Tadcaster Stingo, a funky, earthy–but in a good way–experience as rich as tucking into a plate of roasted mutton chops.