By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
While there’s always something new and interesting happening in the beer world, it’s important to occasionally look back on how breweries began to get a new perspective on techniques and styles. There is plenty of research available to homebrewers that highlights the development of beer throughout the centuries. By digging into the past, we may be able to try out a new recipe to begin the next year of making beer at home.
In the beginning, it’s believed that the brewing of beer was the result of a happy accident. Grain was likely left outside in the rain, creating the perfect set of circumstances to create the first batch of beer. We commend the brave soul who took the initial sip of this probably terrible-smelling, odd-looking concoction. But the risk obviously paid off.
The process was then refined over a long period of time and it took quite a while for humans to discover the science that makes it all happen. But modern beer wouldn’t be what it is today without the first homebrewer. As with musicians, it can be helpful for beer makers to examine their historical counterparts. Some interesting ingredients have come and gone and reappeared. One example is heather tips, which are found in some modern brews. Finding a way to mesh the past and the present can lead to new and wonderful flavors.
Whoever came up with the phrase “You can’t reinvent the wheel” never met a homebrewer on a mission to create the next exciting style. Every year new beers hit the market that in some form or another first came about in a home-based brewery. While it may seem as though everything under the sun has been tried (or even some experiments that shouldn’t have seen the light of day), that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to build upon and improve the Cascadian dark ale or even the India pale lager. With all of the new ingredients made available every year, it’s only a matter of time before a Belgian-style peanut butter imperial IPA has swept the country. The objective should not be to shock people, but instead try to find the perfect balance of ingredients that is truly unique.
This constant struggle is the curse of the homebrewer. Along the way there will be epic failures, but instead of viewing them as losses embrace the experience as a learning opportunity. While we know that the liquid that comes out of our fermenters doesn’t always taste right, there are always plenty of friends who are more than happy to drink it anyway.
Dubbel Double Bubble [AG]
Dubbel Double Bubble [Extract]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
As the temperatures plummet, those light, crisp summer ales that were a form of escape from the brutal heat are surely being replaced by winter warmers. Ambers, stouts, porters and spice beers are now in season. The most interesting of them all are holiday ales. They can be spiced, but that is not required. For the most part, the best-quality holiday ales have good malt flavor, a solid body and a slight alcohol warmth.
This is an argument for the ages: Do spices have a place in winter beers? There are definitely some spices that, if used properly, can lead to a subtle spice note without overpowering the brew. Of course, a little goes a long way and there is a fine line between just enough and way too much. Unfortunately, there’s no guide or chart we can look to when trying to figure out what combinations of which spices and how much will work best. That’s when good old-fashioned homebrew experimentation comes into play.
The most common spices used in commercial and homebrew beers alike are as expensive as the selection offered at your local grocery store. A handful of holiday-themed ingredients that stand out are dried ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and orange peel. Before selecting a spice mixture, be sure you have a great base beer: something with good body, some roasted notes (without being burnt), a nice caramel roundness and enough alcohol to warm your bones on a cold winter night.
Now that you have a base beer, selecting which spices to use is more or less dependent on personal preference. There’s no rule saying you must use spices in a holiday beer. The malt, hops and yeast selected can lend their own subtle spice notes to the finished produce without the assistance of dried spices. Trial and error is the best way to determine what flavor combinations work best. Of course, if you don’t want to make 50 different recipes to determine the perfect ratio, read up on what flavors the malt, hops and yeast can provide.
If you choose to add spices, they can come in fresh or dried form. These will produce different flavors, depending on which you go with, and can be incorporated at different times during the brewing process. With dry ingredients, add them in the last five minutes of your boil. This is because the flavor and aroma need to be cooked out of the dried spices. You can also soak the dried ingredients in a clear 80-proof or higher grain alcohol. This will create a tincture or extract of the spice you can then use to dose the batch. The best time to add fresh ingredients is after fermentation has almost completely finished, helping protect the beer from infection because there is already alcohol present. That method will also help prevent the fermentation process from gassing off all of the wonderful aromas you’re hoping for.
Naturally as homebrewers, rules and guidelines are meant to be broken, so there’s nothing out there saying your next award-winning holiday ale isn’t going to be a Belgian tripel with cranberries and some fresh ginger root.
Shurly Warmer [AG]
Shurly Warmer [Extract]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the wide world of beer making, there are many different places where homebrewers can find inspiration. When traveling for vacation, it may at times be difficult to find tasty beer, depending on the location. However, sampling another culture’s traditional fermented beverage can be an enjoyable and unique experience. Even if there isn’t beer readily available, trying new drinks can help develop your palate and spur future hybrid experiments back at home.
Expanding Your Brewing Pantry
In some parts of the world, people drink fermented milk and even blood. Of course, those ingredients may not make their way into your homebrew, but it’s still important to be open minded about unique ingredients.
The addition of fruit is no stranger to many homebrewers these days, but incorporating grapes in your next doppelbock or even some chanterelle mushrooms with hints of nuttiness can be a fun adventure. Be sure to have a good balance with the flavors you add and the beer itself; so experimentation is key. Even humongous breweries have a research and development department. This allows them to come up with the next crazy idea like a Cascadian dark ale. Of course, these research teams would be nothing without seriously dedicated homebrewers who are always willing and wanting to push the envelope.
The whole reason for traveling the world is to experience another culture and what makes it unique. Sometimes that means skipping the generic, mass-produced lager and instead trying a local drink made with fresh lime juice, a little sugar and a clear liquor made by distilling fermented sugar cane. You can then use those new-to-you beverages to develop a homebrew. Lime is easy, but getting the flavor of a banana or even a coconut to work well with beer can be a challenge.
Beyond the beverages, don’t overlook the possibility to be influenced by all of that wonderful food you’ll no doubt be gorging on because, after all, calories don’t count on vacation! For instance, the pomegranate chicken you may order for dinner contains an array of spices that could spark ideas about a unique flavor profile for a spiced beer instead of one made with the same old cinnamon and clove. Just remember that at the end of the day, everything you eat and drink can be used to create your next award-winning homebrew.
Building the Future
Once you have a fully stocked pantry of unique brewing ingredients, it’s time to build recipes and begin experimenting. Start by selecting flavors that will go well together. For example, lime and roasted malts probably won’t work. However, lime would pair wonderfully with mole spices in a dry stout. Take meticulous notes, so if you knock the first one out of the park you can replicate that process. But if the brew bunted and got tagged out, use your written record to edit and proceed in a different direction.
Keeping notes on what went into the beer and when is important, but so is a tasting log. This will allow you to see how the beer developed over time. Collecting feedback from people who try the beer is also useful. Homebrewing is all about trial and error, and what better way to experiment than to incorporate international flavors.
Down for the Brown [AG]
Down for the Brown [Extract]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the beer world, there are brews that cover nearly every shade of the yellow-to-brown spectrum. This huge array is possible thanks to the careful addition of grains. Grain doesn’t just add color; it also helps shape the flavor of any particular style. Not unlike hops, the grain helps the consumer identify the type of brew they’re enjoying (or choking down).
What’s Out There?
Although there’s a large selection of grains to choose from and an even greater number of combinations to be used, don’t be alarmed. This is the most exciting part about brewing — the experimentation. Not only is there barley in all of its malted, unmalted, caramel and roasted glory; you can also brew with wheat, rye, spelt and some gluten-free grains that have been given the same treatment to add more dynamism to your batches.
With all of this variety, you can also opt to use a roasted malt that’s had its hulls removed. This provides a great deal of color with only a small amount of roasty character and little-to-no bitter/astringent flavor. Some grains like Chocolate Wheat also offer that flavor and color profile, but it can also enhance mouthfeel.
Of course, the grains you select help you determine the style of beer you’ll brew, but they can also be used in crazy ways to create new, interesting concoctions. The only limiting factor is your imagination.
Experimentation is aided by brewing software. You can also guesstimate by researching the malt and knowing how it’s produced. First and foremost, every grain you use has a measured color that will contribute to the Standard Reference Method (SRM) of the finished product. The unit of measure in the U.S. is called Lovibond. The Lovibond of the grain will tell you where it sits on the range of colors: from light yellow to amber to pitch black. There is a different unit of measurement used by European malting companies called European Brewing Convention (EBC). Thankfully, the conversion to Lovibond is easy and most malting companies provide both measurements.
Just as important as color is the flavor the malt contributes. Using too many specialty malts can result in a product that’s overly sweet or tastes burnt. On the SRM scale, anything above 40 is only adding roastiness. Take care to avoid going overboard with roasted barley, otherwise your brew will have an ashtray-like quality. And if you add too many caramel malts, you’ll be stuck with a cloying finished batch. If either of these things happen, the flavors will not fade with time.
The process of creating specialty malts requires more heat and time to allow the sugars to caramelize, eventually begin to toast and then burn. In the caramel malt world, you have flavors that run from a light caramel note to those that taste like dried fruit or burnt sugar. In the roasted malt category, there are characteristics that range from light toast to charcoal. With the wonderful variety of flavor and color combinations available, grains are definitely the paint on the brewer’s palette. When creating your next award-winning homebrew, remember that there is a spectrum of options.
Squealing Pig Wheat Pale [AG]
Squealing Pig Wheat Pale [Extract]
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s no secret that Oregon’s soil is rich with buried treasure. But only a small segment of the population possesses the knowledge to unearth the goods.
The hunt is unusual — the map moves and the untrained eye can’t tell whether they’ve discovered prize or poison. But over the years, foragers have helped create a thriving mushroom and truffle industry in this state. Lately, beer lovers have been able to sample these intriguing forest organisms in liquid form, as an increasing number of local brewers have started experimenting with tops and tubers to create unique seasonals and one-offs. To better understand these wild ingredients as well as how they can be incorporated into the brewing process, two beer makers helped explain their methods. Additionally, a fourth-generation chef at a mushroom- and truffle-themed restaurant described the practice of gathering the traveling fungi.
“The best season for hunting mushrooms is the season when it rains,” said Christopher Czarnecki, head-of-the-kitchen at The Joel Palmer House in Dayton.
That means hunting for mushrooms in Oregon is somewhat of a marathon. Of course, no two years are exactly the same when it comes to the harvest. A plot of land that was flourishing one season may become a dud the next. Czarnecki said rainfall, humidity and elevation can all affect growth. He’s pleased that 2016 has been particularly good for morels and chanterelles. Just like with crops you’d find at the farmers market, the seasons produce different varieties of mushroom. Finicky morels, for instance, tend to pop up in spring in Oregon and are known for emerging from the charred land following fires.
“Morels are particular. Those are the ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego’ of the mushroom world,” Czarnecki described.
Chanterelles, however, tend to be a little more reliable. Currently, professional and home cooks are taking advantage of Oregon’s fall chanterelles. A smaller, firmer version arrives in spring. The closest thing the state has to a dry period for mushrooms is in the dead of summer. But Czarnecki explained that even then the motivated hunter need only drive a little farther out of town. The region’s consistently damper areas, like coastal woods or the Mount Hood National Forest, still host mushrooms even when temperatures climb in the Willamette Valley.
Czarnecki is deeply familiar with mushroom growth, and not just because he needs to know how to plan his menu. His family does much of the foraging to supply the restaurant, which was owned by his father before he took it over nearly 10 years ago. The tradition of hunting for and cooking with mushrooms has been passed down, father to son, four times, with Czarnecki’s great-grandfather opening what was initially a tavern in 1916.
Many types of mushrooms can be found within the state’s borders, and Czarnecki isn’t the only one who’s conducted some culinary research on the various options available. Andrew Lamont, head brewer at Old Town Brewing in Portland, can tick off the list of mushrooms that didn’t make the cut: oyster, portobello, shitake. When he decided he wanted to make a mushroom beer, his trial work started in the kitchen. Lamont shared that his wife hates mushrooms, so examining options for the recipe was actually a fun opportunity to cook with an ingredient that rarely sees his stove. Ultimately, for the beer he envisioned, most of the flavors were dull. Lamont wanted something that stood out. He eventually found what he was looking for in the candy cap, which has more of a maple syrup character instead of the typical earthy notes found in many mushrooms.
So why the foray into fungi, beyond yeast, to begin with? Turns out, the answer is pretty simple.
“I’ve never had a mushroom beer!” Lamont said with a big laugh. “That was really the reason behind it. I never had one and it was just one of those ingredients that I never really heard anybody doing before, so I decided to give it a go.”
Lamont was also looking to bring a bold, new creation to the Oregon Brewers Festival last year. The event is one of the nation’s longest running when it comes to beer, which means plenty of producers use the platform to showcase something unusual. For Lamont, that became 1-Up Mushroom Ale, with a nod to Nintendo nerds in the name.
Once the mushroom was chosen, Lamont had to figure out how to incorporate them into the batch. Rather than tossing candy caps into the wort, he “dry hopped” them after standard fermentation. The cold soak lasted almost two weeks, which was plenty of time to allow the sweet mushroom flavor to make its imprint on the liquid. Lamont also researched this route by making a tea beforehand — a practice he employs when working with any sort of powder or peel.
“So I’ll take the dried mushroom, or whatever [the ingredient] is, put it in some hot water, let it steep for a certain amount of time and then I’ll actually taste that tea,” Lamont outlined. “That really gives you a good idea of how those flavors are going to be put into the beer.”
If he likes what hits his palate, the next step is a two-day cold soak in a growler. Almost immediately after a sip of that candy cap tea, Lamont realized Old Town had a beer on tap that would serve as a solid base — an alt. To help ensure the batch with mushrooms wouldn’t taste like a sugar bomb — going form a subtle sweetness to a triple-decker waffle tower dripping in maple syrup and melted Werther’s Originals — Lamont toned down the caramel notes and amped up the bitterness. He only needed about 2 ounces of candy cap per barrel, the supply coming from Oregon Mushrooms LLC in Southern Oregon. In the end, he struck a good balance as evidenced by an August limited-edition bottle release of what many fans have described as “pancake beer” going so fast, it even surprised Lamont.
“I just didn’t think that many people would want a mushroom beer!” he laughed.
Truffle beers have also proven popular, possibly in part because they’re still extraordinarily rare. However, a few Oregon breweries have released bottles made with the beneath-the-surface brethren of the mushroom. One of those is La Truffe, a stout infused with Oregon white truffles and hazelnuts — the result of a collaboration between Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery in Newberg and the Oregon Truffle Festival. The event, which takes place again Jan. 20-22, 2017, happens to coincide with the beginning of harvest season for the Oregon Winter White. The state is home to four of its own truffle species recognized for their culinary value, according to the Festival. And you don’t necessarily need the exhaustive search party to track them down like you do with mushrooms. Chef Czarnecki explained that if you return to a tree where you found truffles before, you’ll find them there again as long as the roots weren’t damaged.
But that doesn’t blunt the thrill of the hunt. Wolves & People founder Christian DeBenedetti exuded enthusiasm when recounting the opportunity he had to accompany experts and their truffle dogs.
“One minute, you’re standing out in an open field; next you’re crouching in the underbrush of a young pine forest. And the dogs are going crazy, and pretty soon you’re digging,” he described. “You’re on your hands and knees digging through the soil to find your own truffles and picking them out, one by one. It’s really incredible.”
After that, he knew he had to follow through with an idea he’d been kicking around for years: making a truffle beer. DeBenedetti approached Oregon Truffle Festival organizers, who essentially ended up loaning him 5 pounds of Oregon white truffle for the project. That’s right — Wolves & People could return the fungi since they weren’t being destroyed or altered by the brewing technique. So truffles that helped shape La Truffe could have gone on to make another truffle lover happy by showing up in a different form on a dinner plate.
The borrowed truffles got very cozy with 50 pounds of custom-roasted hazelnuts from Springbrook Farm near the brewery. “We don’t like to go into extreme detail,” DeBenedetti explained, “about our method.” But he did say that the filbert was an excellent vehicle for the truffles.
“We found that by infusing those hazelnuts, which are very rich in fatty acids, with the aroma of truffles that the essence really kind of hitchhiked into the beer nicely,” DeBenedetti said.
Using a whole truffle “in all its glory,” as DeBenedetti puts it, was imperative. Experts advised him to avoid extracts, oils and salts, which are sometimes composed of artificial or chemical ingredients. And then, of course, there’s that addicting smell emitted by a ripe truffle that just can’t be beat. Researchers have found that that truffles have chemical compounds that mimic the reproductive pheromones of mammals. What’s not so clear, though, is how that translates in terms of flavor.
“One of the most common questions I get is, ‘What does a truffle taste like?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, it doesn’t really taste like anything.’ It in itself does not have any flavor. It’s all in the aroma,” Chef Czarnecki said.
DeBenedetti characterized the gas as exotic and almost fuel-like. “Some have compared it to the aroma of ozone, which is not something I could pick out, necessarily, in a lineup. But once you learn to identify the smell, it’s a little fusel-y.”
The key is that the gases attach themselves to fatty oils — those found in meats, cheeses and eggs. When a truffle mingles with steak or butter, for instance, it imparts its unique properties to those foods.
“Something fatty that really likes to coat the palate, that’s when you can ‘taste it’ because what’s happening is its coating the inside of your mouth. You’re inhaling, you’re exhaling,” Chef Czarnecki said. “You’re getting what my dad likes to refer to as the ‘truffle burp,’ and that’s the closest thing you ever get to tasting the truffle.”
While most brewers haven’t yet taken a chance on mushrooms or truffles, Lamont and DeBenedetti seem to be part of a growing, brave group — including Portland’s Base Camp Brewing Company and de Garde Brewing in Tillamook — that embraces fungus along with all of the challenges and rewards that come with it. Increased interest in these ingredients can be attributed to a few factors: brewer curiosity, the urge to express originality and relying on the local environment to provide sustainable, inspiring new resources.
“To me, it’s just something that’s unique. Something different. Whenever you go to a bar, it’s the inquisitive nature of, ‘Hmmm … mushrooms,’” said Lamont. “I think brewers are just being more creative, especially up in this region.”
“I think any brewer who is interested in taking his or her brewing to the next level in terms of local ingredients — foraging, sourcing from right here where we live — that it’s a natural progression to try something with mushrooms or truffles,” DeBenetti offered. “As difficult as it may be, I think it’s at the very least a fascinating experiment, and at its best can be truly something delicious.”
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