Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I've got these tried-and-true recipes that keep my taps flowing and keep my wife happy (the most important): Scottish 80 shilling, maple syrup porter, nut brown ale, to name a few. I've got a few I like and am working a few minor bugs out of, like a smoked Scottish Wee Heavy, chocolate milk stout and American wheat ale. I've got some standard beers I want to add to me repertoire: American pale, IPA, saison, doppelbock. So many beers, so little time.
But I also want to try to come up with a really catchy, kitschy beer. Something that pushes the envelope just a little. Something that stands out from the crowd and challenges my personal creativity. FSM-knows I can't draw or paint. Woodworking is out. But come the Zombiepocalypse, I can make the Funny Juice. That's how I know I'm still human.
So here's where the stage is set. Sunday afternoon last week was a bright, beautiful day. The snow was wet as the temp hovered just below freezing; with the sun beating on it, suspended in a liquid-blue sky, it was perfect packing snow. I took the boys to the woods near our house. We played Star Wars (they each had light sabers), threw snowballs, worked on a fort, and built a snowman once we walked back home (which they promptly beat to the ground with their lightsabers). And what do you do after a fun winter afternoon outdoors? Drink hot chocolate.
Bear with me. I'm getting to the beer part.
The boys don't really want anything more sophisticated than a Swiss Miss packet and some marshmallows, so a few minutes in the microwave had three happy boys sipping merrily away, complete with chocolate mustaches and sticky fingers from fishing the marshmallows out of their mugs.
But me? I wanted more. Hmm...Girardelli dark chocolate mix? Mmm, nah. Oh, hey, Girardelli dark chocolate hazelnut mix? Hey...mmm, nah. But wait. What's this? Near the back?
Hot chocolate like I had in the Yucatan.
Cacao powder, bits of ground pure dark chocolate, cane sugar, chili (cayenne), and cinnamon. This cup of hot chocolate was bliss. Dark, bitter-rich, with that spicy cinnamon that goes so well with those velvety chocolates dominates the taste. Sweet, lucious, slightly complex. Then the cayenne hits and bites the tongue and back of the throat just a little; just a touch so the next sip carries that much more flavor. That much more punch. This hot chocolate is alive.
And then I started thinking.
There are chocolate beers. There are chili beers. There are holiday beers spiced with (among other things) cinnamon. I think there's even a chocolate chili beer on the market somewhere. But I want to make a chocolate beer spiced the way the Mayans do. Xocolatl.
This is not a unique idea, I found to my dismay. A few beers were even named Xocolatl; one a porter, the other a barleywine. But I do want to experiment based not only on the "Mayan" aspect of the spices - cinnamon, cacao, and chili - but also on the experience I had drinking the hot chocolate I had. Hence, the story. I had to get myself there, in that place: happily worn-out, frothy mug of spicy-sweet xocolatl that woke me right back up again on top of being just damn comfortable. That. That's what I want to recreate.
I consulted the brewers' tome of unimaginably weird stuff for beer (Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing) and found some sage advice about when to add spices, non-hop bitterers (like cacao) and sweeteners (like chocolate). The question now is how much.
I am going to start with Northern Brewer's Chocolate Milk Stout as a base. It has received some smashing reviews, especially after they replaced the artificial chocolate sweetener with real cacao nibs, and I have brewed it here before. The keg was drained in a week. Starting with a tried-and-true base recipe gives me the beginning foundation I am after: dark, slightly bitter chocolate with a milky sweetness and creaminess (from the addition of lactose). I don't have to tinker with that. What I have left now is the interesting stuff: cinnamon and chili. Perhaps I'll boost the chocolate flavor and add some shaved dark chocolate (60% cacao), perhaps not.
So the base recipe:
- 8 lbs Rahr pale malt
- .75 lbs of Fawcett pale chocolate malt
- .25 lbs English extra dark crystal
- .75 lbs Weyermann DeHucked Carafa II
- .75 oz Cluster hops (60 minutes)
- 1 lb lactose (60 minutes)
- .5 oz Cluster hops (30 minutes)
- 4 oz. cacao nibs - secondary fermenter
- Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale Yeast
Chili and cinnamon are left. You could taste those ingredients in the hot chocolate. They were present individually, but not overpowered; they were definitely part of the total, working in conjunction with each other flavor, not as some dominant stratification. But I've had enough baaaad chili beers to know that one misstep gives a beer that makes you quite literally choke.
Advice? Ideas? Shut up and trust myself?