Licorice Ale


The foam is with you.

I like alternative beer.

Over the Thanksgiving week, I was beyond #blessed to read Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, a fantastic tome that really motivated me to experiment with a concept of what fermentation was before the German Purity law introduced the first drug control laws in human history. So, I decided to make a Licorice Ale.

Look up the medicinal benefits of licorice root and you’d be crazy not to agree that herbally these affect far outweigh the affects of hops, the most prevelant additive of beer in this age. So why not dump 4 ounces of it in a way too high gravity base and see what happens? I boiled some British Crisp Pale Ale with 3 pounds of Extra Light DME and 2 lbs of real local organic vegan brown sugar, threw the in the licorice root, poured it through a giant strainer, and dumped Safale US-05 in a 5 gallon fermenter.

I let it sit for 8 days, then it sat for 4 more, then I thought 2 weeks should be enough time to eat all those sugars, so I bottled the thing, and then left it for a while because I was scared to try it.

Upon opening each beer, a very slow, steady, consistent foam growth protruded out of the bottle. Pouring out helps slow the onslaught, but left unattended this behemoth head would drip itself all over your counter.

Real licorice is incredibly sweet flavored, unlike the ainse-y black candy my Mom can’t get enough of. I was also pleased to notice Brewery Ommegang’s use of licorice in their fantastic belgians. However, one taste delivered a very different product. I’d describe the taste as chilled, generously sweetened banana bread beer. Definitely not weak hearted, something like this would never make the commercial market, and quite possibly would be coughed at by the most fervent homebrew supporters.

But a learned experience can be had by whatever one embarks on with good intentions. And so I shall not cease, yet I will dive into the pool of Gruit, research Rosemary Ale, attempt to grow mandrake root, and get in further touch with the ancient secrets of fermentation.

As the next season of Game of Thrones comes out, a reprise of the Monday Eve will be brewed and reviewed, + the Gillian Coffee Porter, a currently fermenting Solsagan IPA, and all the unplanned brews in the few month future.


Thanksgiving Beer Round-up

I made several beers in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday week, spent with the family Hood in Red Hook, NY. They most graciously offered productive feedback on the beers I’m about to describe.

Roscoe Brown Ale

Roscoe Brown Ale II

Roscoe Brown Ale II

I modified my first brown ale recipe from this spring for batch #19, adding 1/4 lb of Special Roast to the grain bill, utilizing a 1 liter starter of Wyeast #1028 London Ale, and hardening the water with gypsum.

The beer pours well with a good carbonation level, and a slight brown hue to the foam. The mouthfeel is velvety and much more full than effort 1. Tastes malty with a roast-y bite at the finish. East Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops balance the malt.

Overall, very happy with the result, the character is really pleasing, a vast improvement from effort 1 (I suspect a stronger yeast pitch rate really helped). For the next version, I would add more malts to get the ABV increased to 5.5%.

Steve-weizer IPA

Steve-weizer (IPA)

Steve-weizer (IPA)

For this IPA (batch #18), I experimented with large amounts of hops to bitter, and large quantity of dry hopping, since previous IPA’s have not produced the sharp aromas I’m looking for. Using heavy doses of CTZ, Citra, and Cascade, the aroma still leaves something to be desired. A single smack pack of Wyeast #1272 American Ale II was pitched, my first time using this yeast.

The IPA pours with a large, consistent foamy head. The color is orangish-brown due to the Amber LME and light additions of Crystal 60L and Cara-malt, with good clarity. I blew away the expected original gravity by .003, huzzah! However, the final gravity was a bit high so the ABV settled at an expected 5.5%.

I was hoping for a more citrus, tropical flavor to this beer, but the taste comes out quite earthy to me. Heavier additions of Citra to replace the Cascade might have produced a better result. The beer is bitter enough at 76 calculated IBUs, but isn’t overly resin-y or tropical, so it doesn’t really have any solid identity. I’ll keep working on combinations, and perhaps remove some of the specialty malts to do focused testing on hop mixtures.

Humble Braggot

Humble Braggot

Humble Braggot

Batch #17 is a completely custom recipe, inspired by the legend of medieval European drinking traditional beverage style, Braggot, where mead is combined with barley malts. The ancient and historical methods of brewing greatly interest me as of late and this beer is the first manifestation of this theme. I chose to brew a dark Saison style beer with a pound raw honey sourced from Champlain Valley Apiaries Lemon Fair Honeyworks, acquired from the Middlebury Co-op.

The grain bill consists of a mix of Amber LME and DME, 3 pounds of UK Crisp Pale Ale mashed at 152 degrees for an hour, with a 1/4 pound each of Roasted Barley and Flaked Wheat to add roast flavor and heft to the brew. Northern Brewer, Mt. Hood, and Kent Goldings hops bring the bitterness up to 38 IBUs, and two smack packs of Wyeast #3711 French Saison yeast finish up the Brew Day recipe sheet.

Original gravity (1.073) hit its mark, and the final gravity beat expectations at 1.012 to bring this ale to 7.88% ABV. Pours dark brown, slightly hazy, with good foam and head retention. Taste is superb, a balanced bitter dark beer with a strong sweet finish from the honey, exactly what I had hoped for. I’m really proud of this beer and can’t wait to try more historic medieval beer styles.

Holiday Raspberry/Ginger Mead

Barkshack Ginger Mead

Barkshack Ginger Mead

I brewed this Barkshack Ginger Mead in Dec/Jan, (raw honey courtesy of Northwoods Apiaries) and after nearly a year it’s ready to share with friends and family to celebrate the holiday season. Pours bright pink, brilliantly clear and effervescent, filled with bubbles. The taste is a bit medicinal, especially if comparing to Schweppes Raspberry Ginger Ale, its closest non-alcoholic cousin. Finished to an un-established ABV, this mead lifts the spirits and inspires great cheer. More will be distributed as X-mas rolls around, and hopefully more than myself will be partaking.

Winter brews incoming…

Belgian Golden Strong Ale

belgian-golden-strong-aleIn honor of season 5 of Game of Thrones, I made a strong thrust back into homebrewing after a long hiatus, planning a Belgian to be drunk for the season finale. I named it Monday Eve to commemorate the time we watch the show.

This beer was my first attempt at making a yeast starter. With the ideal pitch rate being at ~380 billion cells, I bought two smack packs of #1388 Belgian Strong Ale yeast and fired up two one-liter starters in separate growlers. Shaking as much as possible worked okay, but without the proper equipment it’s tough to accurately test how many cells were produced. The estimates for un-oxygenated starters came close to the target.

I snagged 3.5 pounds of Belgian Pilsner malt for a partial mash on stove top. The temperature after adding the grain was a little high at 155 degrees, but the temperature held well for the full 60 minutes because of the little head space under the lid.

A boil of 90 minutes with some Light DME and Pilsen LME + all the Sazz and Styrian goldings hops up front was intended to drive off any DMS from the mash and maximize the bittering power. Two pounds of corn sugar is responsible for the large bump in alcohol.

The fermentation started a little warm at 78 degrees but then dropped comfortably down to the 74-75 degree range. Still a little warmer than intended. Definitely the least vigorous bubbling I’ve seen, yet the gravity dropped from 1.082 to 1.025 pretty quickly. I blame the pitch rate!

A transfer to secondary roused the yeast a bit more to get a FG of 1.020, resulting in an ABV of 7.7%. I’ll test the flavor out in a week, but the before-bottling sample yielded a complex flavor that sneaks up on the tongue with a nice touch of warming alcohol in the aftermath. The taste was a bit sweeter than I prefer, so next time more bittering hops would be nice to balance that a bit better.

The final takeaways:

  • thick and foamy head
  • brilliant golden color and consistent bubbling to the top
  • neutral aroma
  • light to medium bodied
  • sweet, sugary flavor and aftertaste
  • no harsh off flavors (that I can tell)

Top Gun: Meg Ryan’s a Babe

First and foremost let’s put this out there first, Meg Ryan possibly has the best part in this movie. Not only does she make me want to be Goose (SPOILER ALERT: who dies 5/8th of the way through the film, so it’s not exactly a “desirable” final destination) but makes me want to have children as well. I still want to give my offspring several embarrassing middle names. Obviously, not ready for fatherhood. Anyways…

…a timeless 1987 directed by Tony Scott, action film extraordinaire, and produced by film Pirate himself Jerry Bruckheimer, ‘Top Gun’ needs to be aired with a damn good subwoofer. Play this one with the bass thumping your chest with every fly by, admirals daughter, and gayly hit volleyball.

How the one liners are still somehow relevant over almost 30 years? I don’t have a F-14 clue. How many times has this movie been used to sing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” to a poor unfortunate soul at a bar? That data is still not in but I’m glad to say I’ve contributed to that stat.

Don’t think, just put it on and drink until you feel like your face is making love in slow motion, probably in black and white if you’re doing it correctly.


1. Any time they use a call sign
2. Any time “wingman” is referenced or seen on screen
3. Any homoerotic tendency is shown passed off as merely “military male bonding”
* Any time they’re acting slightly ‘gay’
4. Any time ‘Iceman’ is eating, chewing, or biting during his scene
5. Any time 80’s synth music brings the acting together

R.I.P. Rule: Chug for the entirety of Gooses’ death, from “eject” to limp body hoisting.

Roscoe Brown Ale

As my new pup demolishes my laptop bag strap, the wooden doorstop, and part of my wrist, I regret not making this ale more of a son-of-a-bitch. Though the slight under-carbonation of the finished product could be viewed as annoying as Roscoe’s constant need for something to chew on. The first new beer of the year is a 4.5% ABV malty brown ale inspired by this little guy:

Not pleased with the workplace.

Not pleased with the workplace.

The hop additions of added just enough bitterness to offset the sweet, and the malty taste is incredibly satisfying, brought out by just over a pound of the specialty malts Chocolate, Crystal 60L and Roasted Barley. Mouthfeel needs improvement, the beer is not especially hefty.

It’s pretty good when two are poured into a large stein, which is on the immediate to-do list after arriving home. California Common style is next, which should be fully carbonated by March 8th.