Thursday, September 20, 2007

Brewing by committee

Someone did th'usband and me a tremendous kindness, and although we can't repay that individual, it was pointed out to me that beer is always welcome. Then it hit me that right about now would be the time to get some holiday brews going anyhow, and the next thing I knew, I was planning a big step backwards, as it were, from the spiffy keg system I started with into more portable and gift-worthy bottles. Now all that's left is to choose my recipe.

I've posted four possibilities for your polling pleasure, selected from a list of a delectable dozen holiday beers dreamed up by one Randy Mosher. If you'd be so kind as to vote (look up to the right for the poll) for the one you'd theoretically be happiest to receive a couple of months down the road (I'm not making any promises, but if you live & move in my world it's not at all out of the question), I'd be much obliged. Here are the descriptions and how-to's for the finalists:

1. Caramel Quadrupel. Gravity: 1100; color: deep reddish brown.

A caramelized sugar and malt mixture imparts a lingering toffee-like quality. Mix a pound each of light malt extract and white sugar in a heavy saucepan. Heat until the mixture melts; stir only enough to mix together and continue heating until it starts to darken. Use your judgment about when to stop. Once it starts to brown, things happen quickly, but it can get fairly dark before it will make the beer taste burnt. When done, remove from the stove and cool by lowering the pan into a larger pan of water. Once cooled, add brewing water and reheat to dissolve the caramel, then add to your brew in progress.

2. Saffron Tripel. Gravity: 1090; color: orange-gold.

Pick your favorite Belgian tripel recipe as a start. If there’s no sugar in it, substitute 20 percent of the base malt for some unrefined sugar, such as turbinado or piloncillo. Jaggery (Indian palm sugar) is lovely. Add the zest of one orange at the end of the boil, along with a pinch of crushed grains of paradise or black pepper. Ferment with Belgian ale yeast, and add 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads after transferring to the secondary.

3. Crabapple Lambicky Ale. Gravity: 1050; color: pale pink.

Crabapples add not only a festive touch, but tannins and acidity as well, which makes it easier to get that tart, champagne-like character without extended aging. Brew a simple pale wheat recipe. If mashing, go low (145 degrees) and long (2 hours). Ferment with ale yeast, Belgian or otherwise. Obtain 3 to 4 pounds of crabapples (cranberries work also), wash well, then freeze. Thaw and add to the beer when it is transferred to the secondary, along with a package of Wyeast mixed lambic culture. Allow to age on the fruit for two months, then rack, allow to clear, then bottle. Lambic character will continue to increase with time.

4. Spiced Bourbon Stout. Gravity: 1050; color: India ink.

Take your favorite stout recipe and dose it with a vodka infusion. Into 6 ounces of vodka and 2 ounces of bourbon (more if you wish), add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 tablespoons crushed coriander, 1 whole star anise (or 1/4 teaspoon ground), 1/4 cup crushed juniper and a pinch of black pepper. When beer is ready to package, pull off some 1-ounce samples. Use a pipette or syringe to dose the samples with the strained infusion, increasing until you find the right dose. Then scale up and add an appropriate amount, plus a little extra to account for aging.

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