Jun 22 2009

Homebrewed Coconut Curry Hefeweizen Review

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?

Coconut Curry Hefe -

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.”

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?


May 23 2009

Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale Review

This time around I’m trying the Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.  Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery is located in Farmville, NC and they call themselves “The Dark Beer Specialist”.  

I tried a couple their beers while in the Outer Banks last summer, but I honestly wouldn’t have tried them if the owner of the shop hadn’t recommended them to me.  Word of mouth, or in this day and age good reviews on the internet, is still a huge factor in how we all figure what we want to try next.  The Duck-Rabbit symbol is the old image that was used by psychologists to reinforce that what we perceive is not only a product of our senses, but also our current mental processes and state of mind.

Honestly, it’s a cool concept that isn’t played up in the marketing I’ve seen.  And without that, just having that image and the packaging they use, the beers of Duck-Rabbit just don’t jump off from the shelf at me.  Luckily, I got some shop advice.

I remembered liking them, so it is good to see that they are expanding and now available in Virginia.  I picked up a few of their brews the other day and the first to get the formal review is the Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.

It pours a half inch dirty, brown head which dissipates quickly, but clings nicely to the rim of the glass.  The beer is a deep red with cherry highlights. It is very clear for a brown ale and striking.


The aroma is slightly sweet, with hints of caramel and nuttiness that brings pecans to mind.  What really jumps out at you is the smell of the roasted grains.  Usually roasted grains come across in beers as a coffee flavor which can be complex, but mostly end up being overwhelming and boring.  This smells exactly like the actual roasted grains I use when homebrewing.  I taste everything I put in the mash and the pot, and to me roasted barley is warm bread with a slight astringency.  They nailed that, and I loved that smell.

The good news is that that pure roasted flavor comes across in the taste, too.  The mouthfeel is full and there is a hint of toffee.  The bitterness becomes sharper as the beer warms and seems to come from the grains as much as the hops.  Duck-Rabbit says they use Amarillo and Czech Saaz hops in this, but the presence of both was muted at best.  The citrus of the Amarillo was a no-show, but I did get some of the spicy of the Saaz.  Unfortunately, it seemed like the Saaz only helped to make the swelling bitterness even more pronounced.  I wish I had checked the bottling date on this one to see if it was an older bottle.

In the end, I liked this beer and thought the authentic roastiness was amazing, but it puts some wear and tear on your palate.  Solo, it would be really hard for me to drink this all night.  But, with the right foods, it would probably become amazing.  This brown ale with a thick burger, or ribs, or just about any red meat off the grill, would enhance those caramelized flavors and the meat, in turn, would mute the bitterness.  

Try this out, but do so with food.  The Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale is good, but it needs a copilot to really get off the ground.


Apr 28 2009

Founders Cerise Review

Here is yet another Founders review, because they just came to Virginia and I am like a kid in a candy shop. Well, a candy shop that only sells beer. And, of course, I’m not a kid and I’m old enough to drink. You know what I mean.

The Founders Cerise is a fruit beer flavored with cherries. That kind of statement usually sends beer drinkers in several directions. I’ll give you a moment. Ready? OK.

If you are the kind of drinker who cringes when you hear about fruit being added to beer, I feel you. I love fruit lambics, and I’ve brewed a few fruit beers in my time (mostly stouts and sour ales), but it is rare that I taste a fruit beer that I want to try again.

The story behind this brew is that they used to make a beer called Rubaeus, which was brewed with raspberries. That has been replaced with Cerise due to the rising cost of raspberries, and to support the farmers of their home state, since the majority of tart cherries sold in the U.S. are from Michigan.

This beer is 15 IBUs and 6.5% alcohol. The color of the Cerise is candy red, but not translucent. Like a dull Kool-Aid red that stains the lips of little kids. The head is thin and light pink in color.

The aroma is tart cherry. There is a back note of acidity, too.

The flavor? This beer has a liquor sweetness to it. It is almost as if someone cracked open a case of chocolate covered cherries and drained the contents into a glass and then threw away the chocolate. There is tons of cherry flavor and cherry skins. The cherries are supposedly added during five different times during fermentation, and there is isn’t a drop of this beer that isn’t riddled with red fruit.

This is a very well crafted beer. It has to be, because the sweetness of the fruit could have quickly over powered this one and turned it into a mosh pit of sweetness. But this has a backbone of light bitterness that keeps this one from becoming too cloying. I’m sure the multiple fruit additions are the secret behind this.

In the end, this one was hard to finish. It just isn’t my thing, but I might try it again with the right food pairing. It might be amazing with a dark, chocolate cake.

So the Founders lovefest ends here. It had to happen eventually, and I had a feeling this would be the dud for me.

It would be interesting to see Founders sour this one up. Dump with one in oak barrels with some brettanomyces, and I’ll be your Huckleberry.


Apr 12 2009

Avery Brewing’s Brabant Barrel-Aged Wild Ale Review

Years ago I read that the Native Americans could not see Christopher Columbus’ ships as they approached the mainland.  The concept being that our minds cannot interpret things that are beyond our experiences and immediate understanding.  As interesting as that is, and as pregnant with metaphor as it may seem, that’s a load of bullshit.


The Indians had the same sense sight and abilities of perception that you and I enjoy.  They could, of course, see the ships, but they may not have understood them to be ships as these mammoth vessels, with huge sails, had little in common with the canoes they used.  They could be seen, but when you walk that close to survival on a daily basis the things that are not immediate threats or sources of food just get ignored.  But surely there is something more to life than that.


But I digress.


The Avery Brabant is the 1st in their barrel-aged series of beers.  It is classified as a dark, wild ale aged in zinfandel barrels for 8 months.  It was fermented with two strains of wild yeast, otherwise known as brettanomyces, and only 694 cases of this were made and bottled on February 10th, 2009


For those of you not familiar with the world of sour beers, this one is probably not the starting place.  These naturally occurring wild yeasts ferment sugars down more completely than normal beer yeasts, but at a slower pace. Lactic acid producing bacteria like lactobacillus and pediococcus are often used in conjunction with the brettanomyces, as well.  The flavor compounds and aromas that they create are usually an acquired taste.  It is common to hear that these beers have a “barnyard character”, and my personal favorite descriptor is “horse blanket”. 


Still with me?  Good, because this one has lots of horse blanket.  I might goes as far as calling it more of a sweaty horse blanket.  You sourheads know what I am talking about, and the rest of you can read on while you wait for your reverse hysteria to recede.


This one pours a thin, black color, like Coca-Cola.  I poured it vigorously into a large brandy snifter and it went fizzy as the head dissipated until it was a thin line of bubbles around the edge of the glass.


The immediate smell was overwhelmingly horse blanket and vinegar.  After a time, a tiny hint of wood snuck in with some vanilla in its back pocket, but it was hard to pick it up above the horse blanket which was getting a little chaffed and agitated.


The first sip was just like the aroma, but slightly milder.  I took this bottle out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes before I opened it, and it still seems at bit blunted by coldness.  There was alcohol warming right from the first taste which was a little surprising since this is a big beer, at 8.65% alcohol by volume, but not THAT big.


The more that this warmed up, the more it took on the character of wood and wine.  It seemed to thicken, and there were notes of plum and blackberry.  It became slightly acrid, and it had that absorbing wood dryness.  


Overall, this is a good beer that will probably be amazing in a few years.  It is still young, and it needs to be aged so that the harshness of the sour character diminishes and the background flavors bubble up to the surface.  I have another bottle of this and I look forward to reviewing it in, perhaps, 2011.  But do I have the patience?


If you have never tried a sour beer, I really encourage you to do so.  These usually are not love at first site beers, and I would suggest starting with an Orval before a Monk’s Café or a Rodenbach Grand Cru. 


I know that if I had the Brabant a few years ago, I probably would have poured it out.  It would have been way beyond what I would have expected a beer should be and, frankly, too much of a challenge.  If you feel that way right now, I get that.  Sometimes I don’t want to work too hard on a beer either.  


But if you see the sails of a sour beer come over the horizon, give it a try.  If you don’t like it, then put it down but don’t give up there.  Try it again in a year or so, because there is something more interesting than the beers you know.