I like to occasionally brew beers with usual ingredients. I’ve done ancho pepper ambers, chai milk stouts and I’ve done an oyster stout, with raw oysters added during the last 10 minutes of the boil, to name a few. They’ve all been interesting and one batch away from being tweaked into something very good. Even with that track record, I think I scared a few people when I announced that I was going to make a Coconut Curry Hefeweizen.
In my defense, it wasn’t my original idea. Charlie Papazain had a recipe for this in The Homebrewer’s Companion, which I bought back in 1997. I saw that recipe, with those absurd ingredients, and it has been isomerizing in the back of my head for 12 years. Finally, I was crazy enough to try to make it, and the ingredients came together in a way that made it feel like a beer of destiny. I had friend in Thailand who sent me Kaffir leaves, and I hit up the Indian supermarket for the stranger spices. The recipe was scaled down from a 5 gallon to a 3 gallon batch, and I divided the spice into a quarter of what it should have been. (If there is anything I’ve learned from spiced beers, divide what you think you need in half and then only use half of that. You are better off with ¼ of what you think you need and then making a spiced tea at bottling than having a beer that tastes like potpourri.)
The brew day went well, but the taste and aroma of the spices were overwhelming at the end of fermentation. That left me with a decision: dump it or brew an unspiced batch and blend the two. I did another 3 gallons of hefe and then blended the two. A previous blog post covers the scheming up of the Coconut Curry Hefeweizen.
Well, how did it turn out? I have to man up and take the good brews with the bad, right?
The head on the Coconut Curry Hefeweizen is big and airy. Not dense or creamy at all, and it dissipates quickly. The color is that of aged oranges with patches of brown in the deeper parts of the glass. Despite the amount of floating junk that went into the wort (lime leaves, unsweetened coconut flakes, etc.), it remains as clear as a normal hefeweizen. Perhaps a bit clearer, but that is faint praise.
The nose is a big fist of ginger and fenugreek. The lime leaves creep into the background with gentle citrus and herbal notes, but they are completely overshadowed by the ginger. The body is thin as a result of the honey I add to the boil.
The taste of this beer is pleasant. At first. There is an obvious curry flavor that is interesting, but not multi-dimensional. There are earthy notes with a subdued maltiness and well-balanced bitterness. But then the cayenne pepper kicks in and seizes around your neck with a slight burning. That is where this one surprises and overwhelms you a little. That heat greatly reduces the drinkability of the brew and doesn’t give you a reprieve if you are matching it with spicy foods. The coconut, which you would think would balance this, is non-existant.
All and all, it is not as bad as I expected after brewing the first 3 gallons, but it still has some balance issues. If I brewed this again, and I don’t have plans to do so anytime soon, I would greatly reduce the amount of fresh grated ginger and I might omit the cayenne completely. I would use more coconut, too, and add it a little later in the boil.
When I took this to a homebrew club meeting the other night, it faired pretty well. There were a few brewers who hated it and thought it was undrinkable (which I completely get), but the majority thought it was not bad and really interesting. But I think we homebrewers also award each other points for originality and ballsiness. This one might have skated by on those alone.
The Coconut Curry Hefeweizen was a failed experiment, but not a bad beer. If you have a question about the recipe, send me a note. (I won’t post it to the site since, although I made some tweaks, it is still Charlie’s recipe and in one of his books.) After tasing the final product, this one has been named “Bombay the Hard Way.”
What is the next weird beer? I don’t know. I’ve been threatening an Old Bay Lager, but that is just a joke among friends.
Or is it?