Brew day: Molasses Stout (and brandywort chaser)

It’s all over but the cleaning now. Have a look at this fabulous wort. It’s a swampy dark hell just like it should be. Dig:

I’ve adjusted the original recipe post to reflect a few changes I made while picking up ingredients and actually assembling the brew. Biggest changes are a rather mammoth addition of molasses and the addition of juniper and grains of paradise. It’s a molasses imperial stout, I figured, there’s no point in trifling around with that. Not blackstrap anymore, though; the store didn’t have any.

But I have a present for you, even though it’s past Christmas. Another recipe for a truly fine thing I’m calling a Brandywort.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the fine beverage called a Hot Scotchie, which is toasty mash runoff with a bit of Scotch in. I like this version even better: a brandywort is cooled wort, sweet and malty and ripe with hop flavor and any other adjuncts you’ve added along the ride, topped off with a dollop of brandy. Brandy and hops are a natural match, as it turns out. I’ll have to experiment with that later. Take this stuff in small glasses, it’s strong.

Brandywort Recipe

1 oz wort (squish some out of your strainer)
1 tbsp of brandy, more or less to taste

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Finn time: Sima recipe

Gotta poke my head up here out of the haystack of late-year business and holiday things, most of them pleasant. Hi!

I’ve got the ingredients for the Great Matriarch’s Dire Stout just sitting and waiting for me to have an evening without a party or somesuch. Got a nice Zapap lauter tun waiting for January’s firhti (SCREW THE JUNIPER, EVERYTHING IS FIR NOW). But I wanted to share some plans I’ve got for the New Year’s Eve party brew.

I’m talking about sima!

Sima is a traditional Finn farmhouse thing; it’s low-alcohol, refreshing, and fast to make out of super simple ingredients. Mostly it sits in an uncovered pot in the corner of the kitchen taking care of itself while the pasties and whatnot get made. The recipe I’ll be using comes from the Pelkie Schools’ Reunion Cookbook, very kindly given to me by Lynn and Jack Lehto; I’ve found a few other recipes that vary in some minor details which I’ll address in a sec. (Pelkie School as in Pelkie, Michigan UP. Beautiful. And full of people who damn well know about Finn farmhouse things. Do not trifle with the UP.)

Here’s the recipe for a one-gallon batch of sima, transcribed verbatim:

4 quarts water

1 cup brown sugar

1 1/8 cup white sugar

2 lemons washed and thinly sliced

1/8 tsp dry yeast

1 tablespoon raisins

Heat water to boiling and stir in the brown sugar and 1c white sugar. Add the lemon slices. Cool to lukewarm and transfer liquid to a non-metallic container. Add yeast and stir. (Do not add the yeast until the liquid has cooled. Place a few drops on your wrist and if it feels neither hot or cold it is the right temperature.) Let the mixture stand overnight or at least 8-10 hours in a warm place. There should be tiny bubbles around the edge of the liquid after this length of time. Sterilize 8 pint bottles, or 4 quart bottles, or a 1 gal jar and place 1-2 tsp of sugar per quart of liquid into each container/s as well as 3-4 raisins. Strain the liquid and pour into the container/s. Seal and let stand at room temperature until the raisins have risen to the top of the bottle. This tells you that the sima has fermented enough and is ready to drink. In winter this may take 2 days or more: in summer 8 hours. Chill and store in the refrigerator.

So there you have it! The variations I found were primarily in the details of how to prepare the lemons and which fermentable sugar to use. Honey would be very suitable as a straight substitution, and so would malt extract. According to this handy ratio, you’d need about a pound of LME or 0.6 pounds of DME. This is an old, inexact, very forgiving recipe. Experiment! As for the lemons, some recipes recommended that you peel the fruit, remove and discard the pith, and slice the flesh–using both peel and flesh in the boil. I like bitter things so I’m using the whole fruit including the pith, but go with what you like. This is also a recipe that is very friendly to herbal additions like mint, ginger, lavender, or marjoram.

All accounts agree on the fact that sima should be drunk young. It’s supposed to be slightly fizzy and still have enough residual sugar to be somewhat sweet, with a fresh lemon tartness. It’s not supposed to be an intoxicant, either–it’s something to have when the weather is hot, or to refresh your mouth when you’re eating rich party food, or when you’ve had enough booze but still want a glassful of something interesting.

Maybe I’ll experiment with it to see what happens if you age it, or if you bump up the fermentables, but that’s basically light lemon citromel or lemon wine and that’s nothing new.

I’ll post some photos of the process and the results in due course, but since it only takes a couple of days to finish I can afford to procrastinate a bit longer. Bless those wily Finns, for they have devised a brew perfect for people with tons of other stuff to do.

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Molasses stout recipe

Not dead! Anybody who sells anything knows this is a very mixed blessing time of year and my shop’s been keeping me pretty busy. Good busy, but! It means the beer bucket’s been empty and that makes me get antsy.

Barleywine’s been rescheduled for early in the new year so it’ll have plenty of time to age. Super Star Destroyer Sahti is definitely happening–the trick is finding a damn juniper tree, believe it or not. I want to do it up in proper old-school Finn style with the mash poured then sparged over fresh foliage. AND THEN SAUNA AND PICKLES, HELL YEAH

Anyway, the bucket wants something nice in it so tomorrow’s brew day. The weather’s in the low forties with north winds and steady rain. I’m reaching out in desperation for a thick, dark, strong ale, so imperial stout it is. Spiced imperial stout. With molasses. In short, gingerbread stout. Here’s the recipe I’ll be using, hodgepodged from a few different impstouts and the absolutely perfect recipe for gingerbread cookies on the back of the Grandma’s Molasses jar:

Great Matriarch Molasses Stout (Grandma and her black strap. Had to be done.)

6 lbs Amber DME
1/2 lb 60-L Crystal Malt
1/2 lb black patent
1/2  lbs roasted barley
48 fl oz molasses, unsulphured. That’s a lot and that’s the point.
4 oz lactose
2 oz Perle hops (60 minutes)
1 oz Willamette hops (10 minutes)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon (60 minutes)
1 oz juniper berries, crushed (60)
1/2 tsp grains of paradise, crushed (60)
1/2 tsp allspice (60)
1 tbsp ground ginger (10 minutes)–substitute 2 oz chopped fresh

Wyeast #1084 Irish Ale yeast

Mash grain in 1 gallon for an hour–160F or so. Sparge with another hot gallon. Sparge again to roughly 2 1/2 gallons and boil. Pop in the lactose and adjust spice to taste just before flameout. Prep yeast, cool wort, pitch it and rejoice. Bottle in a few weeks.

Should be fairly sweet, with strong spice and molasses flavors. I’ve been wanting my own molasses stout since the Pumpkin Beer Festival and we’ll see how this one turns out. Pics tomorrow!

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Zugzug, beer done

The Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin is safely in bottles now. FIRST: PICTURES!

Here’s a quick recipe post-mortem.

Mouth experience:

  • Definite squashy/pumpkin flavor. Total success there. Huzzah!
  • Pleasantly spicy. Hops blend in with spice. May settle down during bottle-conditioning…more spice required? Probably more ginger.
  • Moderate breadiness. I like the yeast choice. No tartness.
  • Minimal sweetness. As usual, I underestimated how much malt/adjunct would be required. I need to tape a sign over the stove that reads DROWN THE YEASTS IN THEIR OWN URINE. That’ll put me in the proper spirit.

Recipe experience:

  • Keep yeast. Use more malt in general, especially dextrin and Crystal. Try Maris Otter next time?
  • Use kabocha, rather than pumpkin, for even more pronounced pumpkin flavor.
  • Don’t forget the ginger in the boil, geez.

And that’s pretty much that! This was my first recipe built from scratch, and I thank everybody who biffed their batches before me so I knew what not to do. If you like a pumpkin ale that has pronounced spice-bread flavor without tasting like dessert, stick with the original recipe. For a sweeter pumpkin-bread ale, you’ll want to tweak it with some of the suggestions above. Either way, IT’S PUMPKIN and that’s the important thing.

(incidentally, a note to Seattle-area folks. Sound Homebrew Supply is a sweet new joint and it’s about time a homebrew shop opened in the Georgetown/Sodo area given how many craft breweries, like Two Beers, Georgetown Brewing, Schooner Exact, Epic Ales, etc etc, are there already. I have no doubt they’ll do fine. They certainly don’t need me to boost their signal and they haven’t recompensed me in any way for this, but I did stop in yesterday and they were super-cool. It’s early days still and smells a bit of new carpet. 🙂 Check out the solid array of specialty grains. I want to see them stick around so I can keep having a brewshop so ridiculously close to home.)

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Calibrating a Brew to the House

This isn’t a brew about developing a house yeast, though I’ve got plans to try that out in the spring when the environment is a bit more cordial to micro (and macro) organisms. A friend of mine took advantage of the generosity of the folks at Big Al Brewing to score some of their yeast a while back. I’ve still got a few of the bottles I made with that. Big Al is seriously good stuff AND THEY’RE SOUNDERS FANS and I have a particular fondness for the funk-rich sours that they’re so good at, so I don’t think there’s a better place to start the Chez Ape Micro-Preserve than that yeast culture.

I did say this wasn’t going to be a post about that, though. Heh.

Mostly it’s about dealing with the fact that my housemates don’t drink enough beer.

I like to brew in 5-gal batches; maybe that’s the basic problem. But I love having a lot of a beer that turns out well, so eh. I am constantly running out of bottles. I’ve got about a batch and a half’s worth in constant rotation. Occasionally one gets gifted or purchased, so the number stays more or less constant. There’s just too much beer still in bottles when I come around to bottling day again. Like today, when the Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin gets decanted. I’m brewing faster than the house likes to drink.

The solution came to me in the car on the way to the brewshop today: BAAAAARLEYWINE. Pretend there’s a Ghost of Brewing Past saying that, it’s cooler that way. If the housies aren’t drinking enough beer, and I don’t want to deplete my stock of bottles by giving them out, the obvious solution is to calibrate what I brew to give them more time to drink the batch I just made. Batches that take longer are GO! Having a bucket filled up with nice fermenting things seems like the best way to deal with the urge to fill up buckets with nice fermenting things. So now I’m looking for recipes, just in time for prime barleywine season. Got a favorite? Let me know. Otherwise it’ll be some ridiculous Galactic Imperial Wheat Sahti nonsense, and who wants that?

(actually I do seriously want that now. It’ll give me a chance to bust out the stormtroopers again.)


Fir love, pumpkin ale update

The pumpkin update isn’t a very substantial one; it’s that the fermentation is done and tomorrow is bottling day as soon as I can get to the shop for some more bottles and sanitizer. I don’t have a photo of the sludge at the bottom of the fermenter, but it’s really pretty fabulous. I’ll see if I can’t get a shot tomorrow before I mess everything up. There are four distinct layers! The bottom one is probably pumpkin sediment from the boil, the second is likely to be yeast, and the top one is probably the post-fermentation dreck of the can of (preservative-free) pumpkin I stuck in last week for grins.

That’s only three layers, I know. I have absolutely no idea what the fourth one is. More yeast? Gremlins? Who knows.

I found a handy tip for making sure the spices in your beer are nice and potent, because fermenting time and bottle time do mellow them: make a mix of the spices you used in the brew in and steep them in an ounce or two of spirits for a bit (I used rum), then add them to taste at the same time you add your priming sugar. I forgot the ginger in the Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin during the boil, so I’m going to see if I can make up for that this way.

Now, the fir love! I was down at the liquor store a few days ago and spotted Douglas Fir Eau de Vie from Clear Creek Distillery! (scroll down) I didn’t get any, because that’s a bit steep for me, but–without discounting the fine work done by the Clear Creek guys–it seems like it ought to be easy enough to attempt a reasonable facsimile at home. Don’t you think? Some fir, some brandy, some time? Hell, it works for vodka-based liqueurs. I’m going to give it a whirl.


Bottling day! Herbal Brown

This was a deliberate freestyle mess from the very beginning, and after three weeks in the fermenter I finally bottled it up and had a chance to taste it. It’s good! Dryer than I expected (this keeps happening…I need to quit babystepping with my malt and just get a drum of it) and pleasantly herb-y. Unfortunately I can’t really post a full recipe, since I made so many side-trips, but here’s an approximation:

All-In Herbal Brown Ale

First: boil two gallons of water. Turn off the burner and dump in anywhere from a few pinches to a few ounces of these things, dry or fresh, mixed to your taste:

Sage, mint (any kind), lavender, citrus peel (any), chopped ginger root, apple peel/apple slices

Put a lid on it and let it cool off while you do everything else. Put it in the fridge if you have room. Just leave the herbs in to steep, they don’t mind. I used one to two ounces of everything and my brew was about as strong as a normal cup of herbal tea. An herbier brew will make an herbier beer: freestyle.

Take an unremarkable 5-gallon recipe for brown ale. Any will do, subtle differences will not be important by the time you’re done. Use a quarter of the hops called for. Proceed as normal, and chill wort.

Plop the chilled wort into your fermenter. Strain the herbal mix in. Top up to 5 gal if necessary, and pitch your yeast. Bottle in 2-3 weeks and rejoice!

So that’s what just came out of the carboy this morning. Tried it with lunch and it’s really good with spicy food. Also with sharp cheese–it cuts the spice and the milkfat really well and the herbs perk up your mouth. I’m going to give it a couple of weeks to bottle-condition and then rig up a peppery beef stew to go with it.

Here’s some action shots, including a moody noir close-up of the priming sugar waking the yeast back up:

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Annual Pumpkin Brew

I realized yesterday about an hour before my favorite brewshop closed that I had exactly one month until Halloween, and if I wanted to bottle a celebratory pumpkin beer in time for the holiday I’d better get it in the bucket NOW NOW NOW. (or then then then, but you get me.)

I’d thought about making a pumpkin stout, because Elysian Brewing‘s Dark o’ the Moon is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever consumed (and if you’re not going to try the rest of theirs at the Pumpkin Beer Festival Oct. 8 and 9, you’re seriously missing out on one of the best parts of autumn in Seattle). But I don’t think I can equal that one yet, and I’ve been loving me some  brown ales lately, so I hodge-podged together a recipe for a spiced pumpkin brown. I’m aiming for a pumpkin-bread feeling. Here’s the recipe I used:

The Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin

Before brew day: obtain a nice fat medium-size pumpkin, 10-15 pounds. This pumpkin will be the backbone of your beer, so choose one with a gracious and friendly bearing.

2 lb Vienna Malt
½ lb Crystal 60L malt
½ lb Cara-Pils malt
6 lbs roasted pumpkin chunks

6 lbs amber DME (60 minutes)
2 c molasses (60 minutes)
1 oz Mt. Hood hops (60 minutes)
1 tbsp cinnamon (60 minutes)
an arbitrary quantity of additional pumpkin chunks (60 minutes)

1/2 oz Saaz hops (5 minutes)
Nutmeg, coriander seeds, allspice, 1 tbs each (5 minutes)
1 oz fresh ginger, grated (5 minutes)
You want some orange peel? Add an ounce of orange peel here. (5 minutes)

Lallemand Windsor yeast (British-style. Use what you like best.)

Wash, gut, and chunk pumpkin. Roast pumpkin chunks in oven at 375 for 60 minutes.
Mash grain and 6lbs of pumpkin in 1 ½ gallons hot water at 170F for 45 minutes.
Sparge with 2 gallons hot water. Squish for maximum yield. Delight in sweet scent and warm amber color.
Boil 55 minutes with malt extract, molasses, cinnamon, Mt. Hood hops, and another pound or two of pumpkin chunks.
Add Saaz hops and late-addition spices, and boil 5 minutes.

THIS IS A PUMPKIN BEER WITH PUMPKIN IN IT so go ahead and drop the rest of the chunks into your sanitized fermenter.
Cool wort, strain into fermenter. Could be sludgy; be patient. Squish wort out of sludge. Top up to 5 gallons. Add yeast.
After a week, or when the fermentation slacks off, rack your exquisitely pumpkin-y ale off the sludge of the exquisite pumpkin that helped you make it, and let it finish up in a secondary fermenter for another week or two.

Prime and bottle! Enjoy.

It’s doing the first crazed fermentation right now. Wort tasting and airlock-sniffing suggest that I could probably afford to tone down the hops a bit, and maybe bump up the Crystal and dextrin (cara-pils) malts to a full pound each, but it’s not even a day in yet and there’s lots for the yeast to do. Also, I forgot the ginger. Oh well! I’ll update on its progress in a week or two when it goes into bottles or a secondary fermenter.

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September 23rd Massacre Wine

Most of a plum tree died for this wine.

It’ll be okay though, it’s just that my brother in Tacoma had a plum in his backyard that was taking it over and was coincidentally covered in fruit. Easy fix: cut off the branches with fruit and let his sister get in there like a locust and shark a couple buckets of gorgeously ripe Italian prunes.* (I’m every species. It’s all in me.)

So, 17 lbs of plums with their pits gouged out and crushed in an authoritative fist later, I’ve got a wine that’s coming along nicely. Have a 5-gallon-bucket recipe:

  • 17 pounds plums
  • 4 gallons water
  • 8 pounds sugar
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 5 Campden tablets, crushed
  • 2 tbs yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet of wine yeast

Wash and oppress your plums; just dig a thumb in there and gouge the pit out, then crush the sad fleshy remains in your fist before dropping it into the fermenter. You can use a mesh bag for your plums, I did not. Add all the other dry ingredients EXCEPT THE YEAST and pour boiling water over the mix. Stir to dissolve everything and pop the fermenter lid on. Wait 24 hours. Now that the Campden tablets have made your plum sludge all hygenic and such, prep and add the yeast. Pop the lid back on, stir daily, and enjoy the big heaps of bright pink fizz for a few days.

After a week or when you start to get a good thick layer of yeast corpses and other sediment at the bottom of the fermenter, siphon the wine out into a secondary fermenter and let it finish up its business for another two or three weeks. Now your wine’s done! It’ll be cloudy. Left to age for a good long time it may clear up, but don’t wait on that. Cloudy is fine.  (Let me tell you my thoughts on cloudy homemade wine.)

You can sweeten the wine before bottling by adding 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate (wine stabilizer), 1 Campden tablet, and a quarter-pound to a half-pound of sugar–all of these measurements are per gallon. Maybe you want half a batch of dryer table wine and half a batch of sweet dessert wine. Rock out.

Here’s a few shots of mine as it works it way through that process. It’s stopped fizzing hysterically, which is a shame because I liked to put my ear next to the fermenter and listen to it go. Like the ocean in a seashell, but the ocean is not made of delicious brew. I’ll probably plop it into a carboy later today and drag it over to the Ape Cave to finish fermenting.

Tasting notes so far: it’s been getting rapidly drier over the last few days and still has a nice plum-skin flavor. I’ll probably sweeten a couple of bottles and leave the rest as-is.

* The Italian Prune Plum is both a prune AND a plum, even while it’s fresh. This amuses me more than it should. Apparently they’re so named because they’re the perfect plum to dry for prunes: small, sweet, and free-stoned (i.e. the pit falls right out. It does.)

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Forest Mead of Endor

Hey all! Let’s kick this off in proper nerdy style. This is my first mead ever, and it’s got trees in it. Specifically, fir trees. I’ve been reading a lot about spruce and juniper ales and sahti and suchlike lately–but I live in Seattle and if there’s one thing we’ve got all over the place, it’s fir. There’s a bunch across the street from me. There’s one twenty feet from the door of the brewshop I like. All this delicious tree standing around for free and LIKE I’M EVEN GOING TO CONSIDER NOT BREWING WITH THAT.

Resiny trees bittering a brew is nothing new–I’d be surprised if the base recipe I used here hasn’t been a base recipe for a thousand years or more. The Imperial presence, however, is all me. First, the recipe:


1 gallon water

3 oz fir tips (snip the last couple of inches of new growth off a branch. You could use even more fir than I did, too.)

3 lbs honey, I used wildflower but whatever

(optional) essential oil mix: 7 drops wintergreen, 5 drops clove, 3 drops anise

1/2 packet wine yeast

Boil fir tips in water for 30-45 minutes, until the water is a nice pale green and the needles are a gross off-brown. Strain, and add honey to hot fir tea. Stir to dissolve. Add essential oils while it’s cooling, and prep the yeast, and once it’s cool bung it all into the fermenter. Wait. Wait a good long time.

I got my batch started two weeks ago, so here’s some action shots.

Naturally I’ve tasted it, and it’s coming along great–there’s a ton of honey in it so the result will be fairly sweet. The essential oils are meant to duplicate sarsaparilla bark, which I didn’t have on hand. I think steeping any of the actual spices (i.e. anise, wintergreen, or cloves) with the fir tea would give similar results. Or hell, real sarsaparilla bark. Or citrus peel. That sounds really good, actually, I think I’ll try that next time.

Combined with the fir resinousness and the honey sweetness, the Forest Mead of Endor tastes a whole lot like…really really good old-fashioned root beer. Just astringent enough to avoid being cloying with a growing alcohol bite. I can’t wait for this one to finish!

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