In mid-March when COVID-19 restrictions started to come into place in Colorado I stopped by my friendly local homebrew store to get some ingredients. "Not being able to leave home for several weeks sounds like a great opportunity to make some beer." The Yeast Herders Gatherum at Dragonfest recently started doing annual challenges, and one of this year's is a braggot, which is alcohol made from a combination of honey and grain sugar. I've been thinking about braggot options for several months, but hadn't hit on a recipe I really liked. I decided that following something resembling an Irish red ale would be a decent first braggot experiment and at least ought to look interesting. 4 pounds sparkling amber liquid malt extract, 1 pound red malt, five pounds of Brazilian wildflower honey from the 50 pound bucket we ordered years ago.
But then I got pulled into other weekend projects, and come late may the only thing I'd gotten fermenting was a continuous brew jun kombucha. (The jun style has yeast and bacteria adapted to green tea and honey rather than black tea and sugar and boy howdy do I have a lot more green tea and honey in my kitchen.)
So a rainy day on Memorial Day weekend, two months after picking up the supplies, became the day to finally get around to making this braggot. I spent four and a half hours cleaning the kitchen, gathering brewing supplies, remembering how this all works, realizing I hadn't started an extract beer for almost two years. I heated a gallon of water and put the "Viking Red" malted barley in my metal steeping basket. After that steeped for about 45 minutes I sparged it into the big brew pot. Then I opened my container of liquid malt extract…
… and discovered it had developed several spots of mold on the surface while sitting on the counter for two months. Crap.
I briefly considered scraping the top layer off and brewing with the rest. That's totally what my European ancestors would've done, right? It'll be boiled for an hour, and then the hops and later alcohol will keep the micro-organisms at bay, right?
I thought about it, and realized that "Hope there's no mold in here" would be hanging in the back of my head any time I went to drink a beer, and that thought is definitely going to detract from the flavor.
So I called an audible and decided to make a "mostly mead" braggot rather than the half-and-half plan I had. So I started adding honey to the warm malt wort. (If I'd thought about it a little harder I probably would've boiled the red wort first, so we'll see if the small malt flavor is even detectable in the end.) The honey in the bucket has been starting to crystalize, so scooping out five pounds worth was something of an adventure, but it dissolved fairly nicely.
I then cast around the kitchen for other things I could add to the pot which might bring more interest to the brew, since my "nice balance of honey and malt flavors" plan was defunct. I tossed in some freeze-dried ginger bits, not having fresh ginger on hand. And then I realized that maybe I should add some of the hops I'd planned for the original brew and treat this like a red hopped mead. Worth a shot, eh?
So I pitched the yeast, my first attempt at making mead with ale yeast. Then had dinner and took a break.
After regaining sustenance I embarked on Phase II of my kitchen plans for the day: make banana bread with the spent barley grains from the brewing. But this plan was quickly redirected when I discovered that the very-brown bananas on my counter had mold on the bottom. (I'd intended to make banana bread last weekend, but lacked the energy.) I Googled up [spent grain cookies] and found a recipe that looked reasonable. 1.5 cups flour, 1.5 cups spent grain, eggs, (vegan) butter, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, etc.
I got that batter stirred up and then set to smashing up a giant clump of brown sugar in a mortar and pestle. Kelly asked me what I was doing to make all that noise. She then Googled ways to de-clump brown sugar, so we talked for a minute. I then returned to the kitchen, noticed the oven was heated, and put cookies on the sheets.
While cleaning up I realized that the sugar was still in the mortar. Crap. I'd gotten distracted by the conversation and forgotten that I hadn't finished the batter. So I sprinkled some sugar on the half-baked cookies in the hopes that they wouldn't be totally inedible. But damn, this wasn't a good day for culinary execution.
The cookies taste alright, though I need to find a way to remove the husks from spent grain before I cook with it. It's tasty, but the dry and pokey grain skins are a big distraction.
And the wort tastes alright. It's hard to go wrong with honey water :-) I think the hops was a good move, but so far it really doesn't taste like malt. Maybe I'll make two gallons of barley wort when I transfer this to secondary and go from a 3 gallon hop mead to a 5 gallon full braggot? Or maybe I'll just craft a new braggot recipe and compare the malt level influence.
Given today's adventure, my next brewing project is starting to look a little quixotic. Another Yeast Herders challenge is to use pear, so I got a big can of pear puree a couple months ago, then discovered it seemed to be leaking, but it stopped. Is the can spoiled? Or can I combine it with ~9 pounds of crystalized honey to make something semi-palatable? Tune in next time for "My sobering kitchen."
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