Tangent 1

January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

So there was a flood! I had a whole week at home waiting for work to become accessible again, which gave me lots of time to do think about brewing.

Tried the root beer recipe again and added a bit of star anise tea for more spicyness. This time the two batches had similar colours, I guess the caramel wasn’t heated as much this time.

The rice malt took off quicker again, and ate all of the sugar pretty quickly. After 36 hours it had slowed down and had no sweetness at all! Which suggests that the maltotriose is fermented easily and it’s not sweet anyway! There goes that idea.

The caramel went a lot slower and took a lot longer to get past the maximum carbonation rate. Have tried capping it a couple times, even with dextrose for rapid carbonation, but haven’t managed to get the bottle to firm up yet. Something in the caramel must really be inhibiting the yeast. The fact that there’s plenty of residual sweetness is promising, though.

I suppose you’re wondering what they taste like? Well, pretty unappealing really. I really should’ve looked up the meaning of “phenolic notes” in the Belgian yeast description. I believe those are the flavours dominating all of the root beer. I’m sure disinfectant and band-aid flavours go just great with beer, but leave them out of my beverage! To be fair, these flavours are apparently enhanced by too-warm fermentation. Did I mention it’s been effing hot here?? The bottles have been under the house in a bucket of water, with added ice every few hours in the day. This, however, still yielded temperatures ranging from 23-25 degrees.

Which brings me to the first tangent in this crusade: why use Belgian yeast in a Northern Australian climate? Surely there’s wild yeast strains here that enjoy these temperatures. This will sound very wishy-washy coming from someone with a science degree, but I feel like a happy yeast will produce a happy beverage. Also, harvesting wild yeast is inexpensive and fun!

Here’s what I’ve learned in my week off (actually, I’m digesting brewing information so much I’m virtually still on holidays!). Most fermentation agents from the wild are bacteria, most of which produce lactic acid (lactobacilii in yoghurt, kefir, etc) or acetic acid (acetobacter in vinegar). This would be fine for some drinks, but probably not root beer. However, some of these pair up with yeast in a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), popular examples being sourdough cultures, kefir grains, kombucha and ginger beer plant.

This last one really caught my attention, and there is a lot of mystery surrounding it. Ginger beer plant seems to be similar to kefir grains, but more gelatinous and comprised of different organisms, namely Saccharomyces florentinus and Lactobacillus hilgardii. It has a long history in England, with a week-long feeding ritual of ginger and sugar, after which the liquid is added to a brew and the plant is invariably divided in two I assume to prevent overpopulation. Recipes for a starter often include organic sultanas as a source of wild yeast and lemon juice (as a buffer?). What remains most mysterious is the role of ginger in all of this… I was also very excited to learn that the aforementioned S. Florentinus does not consume maltose, which is potent food for one of my irrational obsessions! I will now try my luck at plucking ginger beer plant out of the air.

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