A friend who's interested in home brewing came over today to help me bottle and then brew.
We started by bottling the rhubarb melomel
which I started during last year's Independence Day long weekend. I then started losing body mass and caloric intake, making it hard to get up the energy to clean the whole kitchen and bottle that batch of mead. The nice perk of the year-long fermentation process is that I was able to add several stalks worth of fresh rhubarb to the carboy this spring to help bring out the rhubarb flavor. For whatever reason, the final product tastes odd: like a sour rhubarb with a medium-sweet honey flavor and a too-fusile alcohol kick. I'm hoping that it mellows over a couple years in the bottles.
After taking a break for lunch, we proceeded to brew the spruce beer concoction that I've been wanting to do for a while. Bottling and then brewing makes for a long day, but it saves on having to clean the whole kitchen and dining room table twice, and all the gear is already hand and out of the box.
My original plan was to feature spruce needles (in place of hops), a medium liquid malt, ginger, and a pound of honey. When I went to the grocery store for honey and ginger I spotted some maple syrup and realized that that might compliment the spruce as something of a kindred tree spirit sugar. Maple syrup is one of the most expensive sugars you can put in a beer: a quart cost me as much as all the stuff I got at the homebrew store. I chose sparkling amber liquid malt extract for the main fermentable, but the dispenser was really slow (maybe almost out), so I gave up after I got 3 lbs. I rounded out the sugars with 2 lbs of crystal malt grain&emdash;half 40°, half 120°. I also picked up some dried bitter orange peel (to compliment the citrus taste of the needles) and Lallemand Nottingham ale yeast. The clerk started pondering about other possible yeasts and I opined that I had plenty of ways to mess this brew up; choosing a less-than-optimal yeast was not going to be the key factor.
I clipped a loose mason jar worth of fresh blue spruce tips from the tree in our yard. This turned out to be not nearly enough: the spruce flavor is almost undetectable in the wort, even after adding another 50-75% of needs clipped after sampling the brew in progress. Maybe I'll "dry hop" with needles during secondary, or make a needle tea and add it at bottling time.
Nonetheless, the wort is pretty tasty. The malt flavor is very subtle and the ginger is prominent but not intense. The maple syrup doesn't seem to contribute a lot of flavor, but I think it's helping be sweet without strongly malty. Initial reading is about 5% potential alcohol. Like 2015's ginger juniper, folks who don't care for beer may really enjoy this.
ETA: The yeast are really digging this beer. Less than four hours after mixing them in, bubbles are emerging through the airlock in force.
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