Tag Archives: recipe

Sakura Wine


Tiiiiime for flower wiiiiiiine~

Chez Ape has a couple of flowering cherries right close. Not the ones that have been bred to go off as early as possible, and not ones that make fruit worth anything, but what they can do, really well, is once they get around to it they make vast wads of huge fluffy pink blossoms. Gorgeous. I’ve never tried to make a cherry-petal wine before, so I have no idea how the delicate scent and color will translate to a final brew. Whatever, life’s a mystery, let’s do this.

I’m following a pretty basic “country wine” template: make a tea/decoction, add sugar, add acid (citrus) and tannin (raisins) as appropriate, and go to town. Since the scent is so delicate I’m being pretty gentle with the acid and skipping the tannin entirely.

Here’s what a gallon of cherry blossoms looks like before you cook them.


Here’s what it looks like afterward.


Initial notes: scent is a bit disappointing. It smells more like vegetables than flowers. I’m feeling a little ripped-off by life. I’m feeling like I should have expected this with trying to make brew out of a faintly-scented flower, and also like I kinda WAS expecting it, and disappointed that life has FUCKING FAILED TO SURPRISE AND DELIGHT ME DESPITE MY FONDEST HOPES AND DREAMS.

Screw it, it’s gonna be wine anyway.

So here’s the recipe:

1 gal sakura

1.5 gal water

zest of 1/2 lemon

1/2 tsp malic acid

2lbs sugar

1 packet white wine yeast

Boil water. Turn off burner. Chuck sakura and zest into pot; let the mess sit and fill you with doubts until it’s no longer steaming but still feels warm. Chuck everything else in; stir to dissolve sugar. Pour into a couple of gallon jugs, cap and wait until it’s not warm anymore and then chuck the yeast in and put an airlock on.

Squint at it. Wait.

So that’s where we are now. Waiting. We are waiting to find out that we have basically made lettuce wine and that we should re-think our life choices. We are suspicious. Check back in a couple of weeks.

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I Like to Gruit Gruit (recipe and tasting notes)

Super-quick history lesson: gruit is unhopped beer, and nearly all beer used to be unhopped. Hops became the standard brewing herb for a complicated mess of reasons involving religion, taxes, public health, the rise of commercial vs home brewing, and more taxes. Hops are also very easy to grow in mass quantities and are both pleasingly bitter and antiseptic, a handy one-plant equivalent to the herbal mix that does the same thing in gruit. So there you go.

So why make gruit when you can get hops? BECAUSE IT TASTES AWESOME. It is delicious in its own right. This stuff wasn’t the default state of beer for hundreds of years for nothing.

Here’s my recipe. It’s very, VERY flexible and pretty much any part of it can be tweaked to your taste.

I Like to Gruit Gruit

6lbs DME. That’s it. The type is entirely up to you, I used half pils, half wheat. Make a gruit porter or something. Do it.
1/2 tsp grains of paradise – 20 min
2 oz. yarrow flowers, leaves, stems (fresh) – 10 min
6 oz. mugwort (dried) – 10 min
8 oz. mint leaves, stems, maybe some bugs (fresh) – add at flameout for about 3-5 minutes steeping.
Champagne yeast, why the hell not.

Still got a 60 minute boil here, get your 3 gallons going and do what comes naturally. You can spend some of the time picking bugs off the mint or you can say screw it. Once the boil’s done you get to strain a frankly alarming amount of yard waste out of your wort (and have a fascinatingly bitter and herbal brandywort), top it off with cold water to 5 gal, cool and pitch yeast.

When you bottle it a month later, it might look a little something like this.


Liquid sun, my friends. The yarrow gives it a little extra yellow tint. @#$%$ beautiful.

Tasting notes: Yes, you need all that mint if you want to be able to taste it in the finished product. Mint will boil off, ferment off, and age out. You could probably use twice the mint. As it is, it’s a mild harmonious note in a slightly woody, complicated herbal bitterness. The champagne yeast is better at fermenting sucrose and fructose (fruit sugar) than maltose (barley sugar) so it leaves some sweetness in the beer and makes for a fairly low alcohol content. This is a real farmhouse brew, easy to drink a lot of and still be fine to get useful stuff done. I got pretty much what I was aiming for with this one and I LOVE it.

If you want some more recipes, gruitale.com has some. They are by no means a complete or definitive list. The herbal mix in a gruit is a lot like chili recipes: variable and exquisitely attuned to the cook’s personal taste. Mess around a little. Heed the ape: it’s your bucket, and you can put whatever you want in it.

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Cyser Stout

I’ve been slacking on posting, not brewing: summer brought in a rad heather ale for which I’ve completely lost the recipe, two different batches of plum wine more or less based on the September 23rd Massacre. One of the two carboys of that batch contains 32 lbs of plums and 14 lbs of sugar. #@!$%!# phenomenal.

More recently I’ve gotten this cyser-stout thing in the bucket. I don’t know if this is a thing that people do and I just wasn’t able to find any record of it, or if it’s just a freestyle clusterfuck from beginning to end, but I’ve been wanting to make a hybrid cider-beer for a couple of years now. I’ve had some really excellent hopped ciders but I wanted more of a roasted-apple flavor, so I rigged up a modestly hoppy stout recipe. This recipe is exceptionally well-suited to a partial malt technique; it’s got the fermentables of a full 5-gal batch but keeping the liquid volume down is crucial to leave room for the 3 gallons of cider.

Here’s the stout recipe:

9 lb DME light
1 lb caramel malt
1 lb carafa/black
2oz Warrior hops (60 min)
1 oz Amarillo hops (15 min)
1 oz Cascade/Chinook/Centennial (your choice) (5 min)

Do the usual with mashing and sparging the black/carafa, then top up to about 2.5 gallons for the boil and, again, conduct yourself in the appropriate and accustomed manner for 60 minutes. Rejoice. Strain the wort into your fermenter, save a few tablespoons for a brandywort, and the stout portion of your cyser stout is complete. Alternately, you can top it off with cold water and make a totally acceptable basic stout with the yeast of your choice.

If, on the other hand, you want to kick out the same jam I did, you top it off with 3 gallons of no-preservative cider, cool, and pitch. I’m lucky enough to live pretty close to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula–these same orchards grow heirloom apples for some of Washington’s best damn cideries and what do you know, they’ll sell that stuff to anybody who walks up. (Thanks Annaka!) Trader Joes also sells an excellent preservative-free spiced cider. I used two gallons of orchard cider and one TJ. I wish I could remember what yeasts I used, but the specifics escape me at this point: a packet of dry ale yeast and a packet of dry wine yeast. Not champagne yeast. Use whatever you like best, this recipe’s all over the place anyway. I trust you.

Let me know how it turns out if you try this. It’s been fermenting for a couple of weeks and probably still has another to go before bottling day. The airlock smells amazing.

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Pseudomalainen Firhti (recipe)

Finally, my firhti! I’ve been planning this fir beer for ages and it’s fermenting right now. A bit of background on the name: “suomalainen” is Finn for “Finnish”, pronounced “soo-muh-lye-nen”. I’m messing with sahti, one of the mighty god-kings of low-tech, low-equipment, freestyle shackbrew here, and it behooves me to be a little humble about that.

This is probably the most simple recipe I have ever used. No hops at all. Barely a boil. No chiller. Here it is.

Pseudomalainen Firhti (3-4 gal batch)

6 lbs pilsner DME

1 lb rye malt

About a pound of fir tips and twigs (to filter grain, and also to go in the brewpot)

Yeast (various recipes call for anything from bread yeast to champagne yeast. I went with Red Star Champagne)

Steep the rye in a gallon of water for one hour at 170 (the lowest my oven will go). Layer a bed of fir pieces into your strainer, and strain the mash through that. Squish. Sparge with another hot gallon. Squish again. DO NOT CLEAN YOUR STRAINER. LEAVE THAT JUNK IN THERE.

Go get more fir if you need to. Drop the rest of the fir into your brewpot, top off a bit so most of the fir is in the water–within reason, given the size of your pot and the amount of fir you have. Heat it up to 150-170, a nice steamy sub-boil. The wort will turn a pea-soup yellow and smell like Christmas. Keep it about that warm for 10 or 15 minutes.

Get out your strainer with the rye and the fir needles and decant the wort from your brewpot through that grainbed into your fermenter. You’re basically doing an extra sparge with your wort. Squish. Done!

I didn’t chill my wort at all, I just left the carboy on the counter with a plate over the mouth until the next morning, when I pitched the yeast. I see bubbles as of an hour ago: success!

Thoughts: I wanted my first firhti to be pure fir so I could find out how the flavor worked in isolation. It’s nice, but pretty resinous and a bit acrid–future batches of this will contain a few things to round out the flavor. Since this is an experiment in seeing what sahti would taste like if it had grown up in the Pacific Northwest instead of Finland, I’m thinking mint and hops. I have Saaz and Cascade vines in the backyard; I think Saaz would be a better match.

Since this recipe also has no preservatives (such as hops) other than the alcohol, and since it’s not going to be a high-hooch brew, it’s got to be drunk young. I anticipate that a fair bit of it will go sour before I finish drinking it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out.

Look at this junk. LOOK. I’m so proud of it.

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What am I even doing: Fermented Tears of Failed Human Beings (recipe)

I haven’t started up a new bucket for a while, and a few days ago I was talking to a friend about cocktails. “The ones you like are too sweet,” I groused, because I have a bitter black soul. “Let’s just chug the fermented tears of failed human beings.”

I was joking at the time, but it didn’t take long to remember that I had three pounds of honey sitting around and a spare gallon jug and no reason not to take the joke way too far. It’s in the jug starting up right now. No pictures, because it came together ridiculously fast and now it just looks like a jug. Want a recipe?

Let’s pretend that you do. HERE IT IS!

The Fermented Tears of Failed Human Beings (1 gal)

3 lbs honey

3 oz fresh mint leaves

1 2-inch piece dried kelp for soup (kombu)

1 tsp sea salt

0.5 gallon water, plus more to top off

Boil the water. Add mint, kelp, and salt. Let boil for a minute or two, then turn off heat. Add honey. Strain into jug, top up to 1 gallon. Let cool. Add yeast. Wait a few weeks.

So that’s what’s going on right now. Pre-fermentation tasting tells me that I have the salt just about right–I was aiming for a very soft water with just enough saltiness to be perceptible and emphasize the honey sweetness. Like salted caramels or kettle corn. Like what actual brewers’ salts do for malt, even. The kelp is in there to give it more of that ocean-y trace element goodness, just like human tears. We’re basically bags of ocean walking around, after all. And the mint? I don’t know, it just seemed like a good idea. As though drinking tears straight would somehow be gauche.

If this turns out to somehow not be completely terrible, there are a few other adjuncts that traditionally work well with salt that might be worth a try…I’m thinking lemons or plums. But first this batch has to not suck, so I’ll keep you posted.

Quick science note: ocean water averages around 35 ppt (parts per thousand) of salt. Ape HQ is in Seattle, next to the Puget Sound, which is technically a brackish estuary at 28-30 ppt depending on how much runoff and rainfall we’re having. Human tears are about 9 ppt.

There are 768 teaspoons in a gallon, and roughly 1.5 teaspoons of salt in this recipe, giving it an approximate salinity of 2 parts per thousand. It’s much less salty than actual tears but I’m pretty sure I can fool my friends anyway.

Supplementary research note: A little looking around revealed to me the existence of Gose, an old and nearly-extinct German beer variety that incorporates salt and coriander. Of course it’s not Reinheitsgebot-compliant, which didn’t help it during those more strictly regulated times. But it’s still being brewed, albeit in small quantities. I wasn’t able to find a salt-mead equivalent, so if you know of any I hope you’ll say so. 🙂

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Mak Kimchi

Not brewed, but fermented so it totally counts! My last batch of kimchi just ran out and the weather today is drippy and cold and generally crap, which is pretty much perfect weather for putting things in buckets to ferment.

I wish I could say that I got this recipe from my Korean grandmother. Nana was Swedish. Doesn’t matter! I spent a bit over a year in South Korea and didn’t quite manage to eat all the kimchi but I TRIED–oh how I tried. This recipe is a hybrid of several different ones I found once I came back to the States and messed with until it tasted almost as good as the stuff I remember at the lunch counter in the basement of the building I worked in. I don’t know if they made it in-house or what, but it was always super-garlicky and really sour: apparently I like my kimchi a lot sourer than most. Conventional wisdom says that kimchi the way I like it is past its prime and should be used up in soup and fried dishes but I say PFFFF. You can eat it however you want at any stage of fermentation.

When I’m a Korean grandmother I’m going to make sure my granddaughters make it EXACTLY LIKE THIS.

Here’s  how it goes:

1 medium-sized head napa cabbage, cut into quarters lengthwise then sliced into 1-inch segments

1 c sea salt

1 lb daikon/mu (radish), grated. If you can get green radish, USE THAT. Its peppery, herbal flavor really makes the kimchi perfect.

2 or 3 carrots, grated

1 bunch green onions, cut into 1-inch segments

2 heads worth of peeled garlic cloves, chopped (more, if you want. Maybe you are a garlic-based organism too.)

1 2-inch ginger root, grated

1/2 cup Korean red pepper flakes

1/4 c shrimp paste or fish sauce

Dissolve the salt in 1/2 gallon of water and drop the cabbage in.  Combine all other ingredients (seasoning mix). Go do something else for 3-4 hours and then come back and drain the cabbage. Rinse it well and press it to get as much water out as you can. Combine the cabbage and the seasoning mix, stir it all up very well, and pop it all into a jar or jars–LEAVE THE LIDS LOOSE. You know what fermentation does in a closed container. I have had fizzy kimchi and you probably don’t want that. Probably.

Let it sit out on your counter for 2-4 days or so, stirring daily, until it tastes sour enough for you. Then you can tighten the lid and put it in the fridge. It’ll get more sour and make more juice (which is perfect for soup broth), but slowly.

Yeast is not the primary thing that’s working on the kimchi, but it’s there. Mostly it’s a nice stew of lactobacilluses and acetobacter chugging away to lower the pH in the jar and I kind of love that it’s those same beasties I’m usually trying to keep away from my beer. I wish it was just that simple–give them something else to work on.

Oh well, that’s microflora for you. Now GET TO WORK, MICROFLORA! I made this nice pot of fermentables for you, so no lollygagging.

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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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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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