Inspired by Food Network’s “Chopped,” a homebrew club’s members concoct some beers with unusual flavors. Stout with vanilla and Mexican chilies tops them all.
By Alan J. Wax
Borrowing a page from the Food Network show “Chopped,” a Long Island homebrew club sponsored an unusual brewing competition that required entrants to brew a beer using key ingredients drawn from a hat.
The competition run by Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts involved the brewing of various beer styles with random, often-unlikely ingredient combinations, testing the creativity of those involved.
The contest got underway in early March, when ten teams were formed and a drawing held to determine who would brew a particular style and what flavors were to be added to each brew.
– Porter with wood chips and chocolate
– Amber ale with smoked malt and cherries
– Brown ale with tea and blueberries.
– Black rye ale with ginger and cinnamon
– Pale ale with coconut and blackberries
– IPA with hot peppers and peaches
– ESB with honey and coffee
– Rye IPA with orange peel and basil.
– Roggenbier with raspberries and licorice root
– Stout with vanilla and Mexican chilies.
Brewing ensued in April and club members judged the resulting beers at a June meeting using drinking pleasure as their guide instead of BJCP style guidelines. The winning beer is to be brewed at Great South Bay Brewery in Bay Shore, New York.
Some of the teams took liberties, One used Sambuca and Chambord liquors instead of licorice and raspberries, while others used such exotic additions as avocado honey, Ethiopian coffee, and ghost pepper chilies—among the hottest on the planet.
My team, led by Brian Giebel, a research chemist with a PhD and aspirations of becoming a professional brewer, concocted an Earl Gray-tea infused English brown ale with blueberries. After an online team consultation about recipe formulation, the beer was made at Giebel’s garage-turned-home brewery in Smithtown, New York. Our recipe included 9 pounds of Maris Otter malt, 12 oz. of Special Roast malt and 8 oz. each of crystal 40L, Victory and chocolate malt and just 2 oz. of East Kent Golding hops. One-third oz. of Earl Gray team in a mesh bag was added at flame out for 5 minutes. Two pounds of frozen blueberries were added to the secondary after two weeks of fermenting with rehydrated SAF04 yeast. The berries sat in the secondary for about 20 days and the beer was then kegged.
Despite my participation, the beer we produced was not my favorite – and not my least. I felt the Early Gray tea added astringency. Giebel said he was pleased with our beer, noting that he would’ve left it home were he unhappy.
My favorite, however, was the porter with chocolate and wood chips, which finished third. Its brewers, led by Thomas Fox, who worked at Chelsea Brewing in New York City, substituted chocolate malt for the confection and used cherry wood chips soaked in Sailor Jerry spiced rum. The flavors were reminiscent of a Black Forest cake.
Close behind, at least for me, was the pale ale with toasted coconut, blackberries and and raspberries. Though the berry flavor wasn’t pronounced, the beer’s biscuity malt and coconut notes reminded me of a coconut macaroon cookie.
Competition organizer Chris Kelly and his team brewed a rye IPA flavored with orange peel and basil along with Amarillo and Citra hops. It scored third.
The vanilla and pepper infused stout was the crowd favorite, finishing first.
Other brews were less successful. The Sambuca and Chambord infused beer came across as a high-alcohol beer cocktail that was undrinkable in my opinion.
“I was looking for an excuse to get people together to brew,” Kelly said explaining the rationale for the unusual competition. Working with Andrew Luberto, a national BJCP judge, he fine tuned the idea. He said the group would hold a similar competition again, adding that he hopes to improve on the concept.