Brew With Us: Experimentation is much of the fun in homebrewing. As we get ready to brew a beer this weekend, learn about the creativity and inspiration behind a couple of strange brews I've created.
Breweries run the risk of turning customers off with beers that are “too weird.” But as a homebrewer, you have the freedom to be creative.
A reader asked us in a comment recently about the American pale ale we’re brewing: “Can we follow and brew along if we want to make variations? I’m really interested in trying something with freshly foraged nettle.” The answer: Yes, always.
How is beer made?Water + malt + hops + yeast. Learn what goes into beer and the processes in brewing.
I’ve experimented with some crazy ingredients myself, including chanterelle mushrooms for a seasonal Belgian ale last fall. I was pleasantly surprised by the hints of apricot that the mushrooms added to the fruity aroma created by the Belgian yeast I used.
Another recent concept: seaweed sour beer. Bear with me here …
Recently, I’ve been playing around with my recipe for Berliner weisse — a very light, sour wheat beer fermented with the same bacteria used to sour yogurt and sourdough bread. This bacteria, called lactobacillus, gives the beer a refreshing, dry, tart taste.
I started thinking about how I could modify the Berliner weisse to make it a summer seasonal, and found inspiration in the sea: I came up with an idea to add seaweed and saltwater to a beer to make it taste like summer by the sea.
Disgusting? Maybe. But it turns out that seaweed was actually an ancient ingredient used in beer-making, long before hops became a staple of brewing.There’s even a brewery in Scotland that offers a salty, seaworthy “Kelpie Ale.” The brewers add bladderwrack seaweed straight to the wort in the last 10-15 minutes of the boil.
Brewing timelineWhat we’ll accomplish in the weeks ahead
- Brew day (4-5 hours): We'll make the beer starting on May 30. Read part of the recipe covering Brew Day.
- Fermentation (2+ weeks): Deadline to start fermentation is June 6. Read part of the recipe covering fermentation.
- Bottling and conditioning (10+ days): Deadline to bottle beer is June 27. Read part of the recipe covering bottling.
- Drink! The beer will be ready to drink as soon as July 4.
I decided to go even more extreme: Why not add saltwater directly to the beer as well? Salty beers do exist, like the German sour beer “gose” (pronounced gose-uh), similar to Berliner weisse except that it has a salty taste from the water used for brewing.
Saltwater is quite high in sulfates, which can create astringent taste in beer if too much is present. But I decided to just go for it — nothing to lose as a small-time brewer.
I asked a friend to harvest a local variety of bladderwrack for me near Neah Bay, and to scoop up a jar of saltwater. On brew day, a curious co-worker stopped by just as I was about to add the seaweed and saltwater. He was visibly revolted, but I was able to convince him to try a sip before it went into the fermenter.
It was surprisingly drinkable, with hints of the sea. But I’ll have to wait for it to come out of the fermenter in a month or so to find out if anyone else agrees.
Have any weird ideas for a beer yourself? Leave a comment below.