Gotlandsdricka – Review

DSC_0073

Juniperus virginiana

There is now absolutely no doubt in my mind as to why this is one of the most famous of old European beer recipes. The adaptive recipe that I followed to produce my own take on this profoundly flavored and legendary beer noted that the finished beer would take about a month to fully carbonate in the bottles. Despite this obvious instruction, I couldn’t help but sample this beer early, and to be honest it was carbonated enough. There wasn’t much of a head, but I’m sure this will improve over time. I also wanted to know if this was going to turn out to be another one of my sweeter recipes (which isn’t bad but on many occasions I was hoping for something bitter) or whether I had indeed added a sufficient amount of non-hop ingredients to sufficiently bitter and flavor the beer.

Turns out I was well rewarded for my impatience, more than rewarded in fact. The 1.3 pounds of freshly harvested juniper (from less than 1.5km away I might add), boiled and then steeped in the fermenting wort have imparted an enormous and completely crazy flavor profile. I’ll try to do my best to describe it.. but you had better swing by and grab yourself a bottle or two to truly appreciated it.

The aroma of this specialty herbal dark ale invigorates with sweet evergreen resins, turpentines and hits of wintergreen, peat and oranges. The flavor is lush with fragrant citrus, accompanied by the almost overwhelming and entirely unique coniferous complexity of juniper. It is overall pleasantly bitter with a lingering, tannin-rich and menthol-like aftertaste.

Considering the purity of this recipe (there are no other ingredients other than malt extract and yeast) this beverage can also be considered a medicinal tonic, as the amounts of juniper distilled into this beer are strong enough to effectively transmit its therapeutic properties. I would consider this recipe an effective digestive stimulant, urinary tract-antiseptic and astringent. Juniper possess potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties that cleanse the urinary system and also rid the intestines and colon of undesirable bacteria. The astringency aids in digestion by stimulating the liver and gall-bladder to produce digestive enzymes and also reduces inflammation and swelling.

You can bet that I am going to be re-visiting this recipe. I was having an internal conflict about what I thought my favorite home brew recipes were in my previous post involving the making of Gotlandsdricka but I’m convinced that this recipe trumps them all. Something cleansing, woodsy, wild and untamable. A few bottles are definitely going to be aged for the cold months to come, inevitably, in the future. Might be fun to hop this buddy up and try to convert it into an IPA, but I love it de-hopped, just over-the-top pure juniper; savory and delightfully rich. I wouldn’t change a thing to this base-line recipe.

westerberg5

Winter Sprucer – Review

Winter SprucerThis recipe matured a whole lot faster than I expected. Once again, my lack of patience got the best of me and I couldn’t help but sneak a peak of my winter sprucer, which was bottled on the 4th of December, although I’m sure it will develop further character with a little bit of aging. To begin with, I’m pretty impressed. I got buffeted by some staggering levels of delicious from this one. The flavor is sufficiently bittered, but not to excess, with a light maltiness shining through. The aroma is rich in bright, tropical scents akin to pineapple and orange with a floral chamomile undertone. The initial flavor is a nice balance of light chamomile and malt, the aftertaste being dominated by a wonderfully potent and lingering flavor of roasted toffee accompanied by the essence of the deep winter woods; conifer boughs and sweet resin. As with all of my alcoholic experiments, I have not idea what the alcohol percentage is because I can’t use a hydrometer (All of my hippie ingredients throw off the measurements which are required to determine the gravity readings)

I am really proud of this recipe, and will most certainly use spruce tips again in future recipes, perhaps with an even greater volume being made in a single go. Together with the Earth hop gruit ale, I am pretty confident to say that these have been my best beers to date. With my Gotlandsdricka currently finishing it’s fermentation, I have high hopes that it will turn out to be another winner. As diverse as the craft beer in scene is Ontario, I’ve got to say that I think there is fundamental fault that has resulted in a shriveled variety of ingredients in beer. Although some recipes incorporate herbs other than hops, the majority of beers that are mass produced are made with the same 4 ingredients, occasionally one or two others. By ‘thinking outside the hops’, the experience of a beer can explode with potential and include the widest range of bittering, preserving and flavoring ingredients. But that’s just little ol’ me talking.

4.5westerberg

Lemon Ginger Beer

Lemon Ginger BeerThis one really turned out unique; a very special winter treat that completely surprised me and turned out quite different from what I initially anticipated. Everyone knows what ginger ale tastes like, I know for me it comprised a large proportion of my liquid intake when I was a young’n. Likewise, with the onset of adulthood (whatever that really is) I turned the bulk of my appreciation of ginger ale to the fermented variety.

This beer tastes pretty much exactly like regular ginger ale, except it is most definitely alchoholic. It was brewed as a 3 gallon batch, and contains 750ml of liquid amber malt extract and 1 pound of brown sugar. Given the ratios involved (1 pound sugar or 1.1 pounds liquid malt extract = 1 gallon 5% alc./vol. beer) and the fact that 750ml of liquid malt extract weights approx. 3 pounds, this batch should be around 5.5-6%.

The little bit of boost provided by the extra concentration of alcohol as well as the spicy, warm flavour and aroma of ginger make this a real winter warmer. It’s really refreshing even though it’s beer. Another interesting aspect to this recipe was the addition of lemon juice. There is no hops what-so-ever involved with this beer, and yet it  is not sickingly sweet or tastes like table syrup. I think this is because the powerful sourness of the lemon juice cuts off the natural sweetness of the malt. This leaves a well balanced sweetness than is not overwhelming.

So, now for the specs: the color is a light yellow-amber, with a numbing soft carbonation (this ought to get better with time). The flavour is neutrally sweet, smooth and thirst quenching with a mild sour aftertaste. The scent is that of a clear cold stream; clementines, and crushed fir needles.

Would I make any improvements next time? Yes: grate or finely chop the ginger in order to get the maximum flavour released from them (I want a ginger flavour so strong it’ll make you cry) and do not leave the ginger chunks in the fermenter unless contained in a muslin bag and weighted down so that they do not float at the surface. The ginger chunks that were left in the beer as it fermented settled just below the surface and a few fostered some mold growth. There wasen’t enough growth to threaten the whole batch of beer and during bottling the patches (which only grew on the surface of the beer where it was exposed to air) were easily avoided. But still… best to avoid that as a possible complication.

Thanks again to Michelle Doherty for assisting with this recipe; this being one occasion among many. You have evidence in writing that half of this batch is yours. So come and get it! Preferably with someone that drives so you can pick it up all at once. Just give them a cut, pretty much anyone will agree to drive you around if they get paid in beer.

paulwesterburg3.5

Winter Herb-Beer Review

Winter Herb-BeerThis beer has been ready for a few weeks now and has successfully carbonated even though the primitive scale that I was using to measure out the dextrose (corn sugar) to mix with the fermented wort was faulty and cryptic to decipher. It took a little bit longer to fully cardbonate but it was definitely a success in that regard. All in all: this is one of the most laid-back and easy drinking beers that I have ever made. Let’s review what’s in it: water (duh), amber malt extract, wild carrot seeds, yarrow flowers, rosemary sprigs and yeast (double duh).

The flavour is light, well balanced and has a hint of cider-like dryness. The head is light but sustaining and if you dump this one into the glass it will remain for the entire duration of your drink. The color is a pale orange/light amber and quite clear (thanks Irish moss!). The aroma is sweet and mellow with a strange musk; possibly due to the yeast giving off wierd flavours because of the addition of unconventional herbal ingredients. The flavour is very pleasant and floral, with some herbal tang and an aftertaste of mild bitterness from the small amount of hops added (50 grams of Cascade).

This is a winner; I really couldn’t have hoped for anything better. I don’t mean to toot my own horn (best expression) by saying all this stuff, but I think after many attempts at herbal wierd beers I am starting to get the hang of what to expect from the unorthodox ingredients that I continually experiment with. I have had some good ones as well as my share of dives; let’s not forget the embarassing folly of the licorice/valerian beer that Rob Nagy and I partnered on which ended up culturing various blue and green moulds instead of fermenting cleanly. Oh well, It probably would have tasted like sickingly sweet sweaty socks anyways since Valerian (the roots of the plant Valeriana officinalis) has a reputation for putting people off. I personally like the flavour, but I’m a wierdo.

May 2013 be filled with more successful homebrews. I think I deserve another.

westerberg4