4 Awesome Ingredients (that wouldn’t fly under the Reinheitsgebot)

Imagine a world where the only ingredients allowed in beer were hops, malts, water and yeast? It doesn’t sound all that bad at first. You would still be able to enjoy a great number of beer styles, whose profiles have been finely tuned over centuries to yield the most satiating results. Take the Germans for example;  they were all about the ‘purity’ of their ingredients, even creating laws around it with the Reinheitsgebot.

When you think about it, those four simple ingredients in combination can do so much, but what would we be missing out on? The world of beer would look a whole lot different if everyone played by the German rules, instead of having experimented with their methods and inputs. I for one am thankful that we beer lovers haven’t settled and are continuing blaze new trails, try new and increasingly wacky things and not be afraid to get outside of our comfort zones.

In the spirit of being different, here are four ingredients that I have come across recently that have excited the beer nerd in me:

Coffee

Coffee flavours are naturally occurring in many beers styles brewed using dark, roasted malts. In general, it is considered perfectly compatible with Stouts, Porters or Schwarzbiers, for example. What’s often overlooked, however, when assigning the ‘coffee’ label to describe flavours and aromas present in beer, is that coffee in and of itself has flavour intricacies.

The range of flavour in coffee is a byproduct of a number of factors, including the genetics of the bean, the climate in which they are grown, the method in which they are processed/roasted, etc. Flavour profiles can include earthy, smoky, chocolatey, fruity, citrusy, floral, nutty, caramely – notice anything?

To assume that coffee can only work in harmony with dark roasted malts is closed-minded; an assumption that the folks at Beyond the Pale Brewery and the coffee experts at Bridgehead ignore with their recent collaboration ‘Brewmance Begins’.

Brewmance Begins

‘Brewmance Begins’ is an IPA and a great one at that. Unlike with many coffee beers, they haven’t gone about producing a beer and then clumsily introducing coffee to the mix. The star ingredient is truly that. Take it out and you wouldn’t be left with much. The coffee is used to give the beer that golden-copper hue and augment the malt flavour – I have it on good authority that 2-Row Pale Ale malt was used as a base; the rest is coffee. Rather than stop there, the coffee is used in harmony with a variety of New Zealand hops to add bitterness as well as floral, citrus and tropical fruit flavours. Finally, it produces a very nice and balanced aroma of coffee along with the characteristic floral and citrus notes.

I was thrilled to hear that there are more in the works – and it doesn’t sound like there will be too many stouts or porters either!

Another great beer brewed with coffee is Sawdust City’s Red Rocket Stout, made with Red Rocket Coffee’s House Blend, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. While the coffee is a great ingredient that enhances the flavour of the beer, a different ingredient stands out to me.

Cayenne Pepper

Rated hotter than a Jalapeno on the Scoville Scale, cayenne pepper is something you’re more likely to use on chicken wings than in any form of beverage. I have had hot pepper beer once before; Calapooia Chili Beer from Albany, Oregon. I remember it being like an APA with a shot of Tabasco in it. In short, not great. Though not unusual to find cayenne pepper paired up with dark chocolate, a common flavour in stout beers, this is not a go-to ingredient for many brewers.

Red Rocket Stout

While it’s not particularly visible or easily picked out as an aroma, the cayenne pepper acts as a catalyst in Red Rocket Stout. Cayenne pepper invigorates your taste buds, enhancing other flavours – in particular the cinnamon. Without the cayenne pepper, I expect that the cinnamon would come across dull – adding sweetness but no sharpness. The bitter edge that is brought forward by the cayenne serves to also augment the coffee and other toasty malt flavours. Sweet and savoury, this beer works in a number of applications; on its own, with a spicy or barbecue dinner, with a decadent dessert, you name it.

Beyond flavour, the pepper creates an interesting mouth-feel that lingers. This may be a bit much for those who can’t handle their spice, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Cocoa Nibs

Chocolate is another flavour that is often noted in dark beers. Much like coffee, cocoa beans can take on many flavour characteristics based on their growing region and the way in which they are processed. Rich and earthy cocoa nibs, when used in a balanced manner, can take a beer up a notch. A shining example of this, for me, was Flying Monkey‘s collaboration with the Barenaked Ladies: BNL Imperial Chocolate Stout.

From its frothy tan head to its rich and creamy mouth-feel, this beer was abundantly chocolatey – and it worked. It worked magnificently, in fact.  Some chocolate beers, I have found can borderline on being nauseating. Chocolate has a tendency of taking over anything you use it in if you aren’t careful. That was not the case with this one; the richness from the nibs was beautiful balanced with some inherent and some hop bitterness. Chocolate flavours were present at every turn, as I gradually consumed that fine beer; but they weren’t allowed to get out of hand.

In contrast, I was less pleased with their Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout that I tried on cask at Beau’s Oktoberfest. Augmented with cinnamon and vanilla, an initial surge of rich, earthy chocolate promised great things. Unfortunately, it seemed to cut out abruptly in one dry, bitter moment. It was good, but it didn’t utilize the chocolate to its fullest.

Cocoa is not an ingredient for the lighthearted. Even when it isn’t being used as the star ingredient, it can add another dimension to a beer. Let’s face it, chocolate anything is usually delicious and if you can master brewing with it, you’re going to go through a lot of beer.

Yams

One of the more interesting ingredients that I’ve come across recently is yams. A refreshing change of pace from your run-of-the-mill pumpkin ale, a yam beer, as you might imagine, employs yams as a source of fermentable sugar as well as a flavour base. In Ontario this fall, we have been drinking sweet potato beer without even knowing it. Breweries like Great Lakes Brewery use sweet potato in their Pumpkin Ale for additional flavour.

Like most root vegetables, yams marry well with sweet flavours such as maple, molasses and brown sugar. Though not flashy, yams provide an interesting earthy base, which in a sweeter beer serves to balance it and keep it drinkable.

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I was lucky enough to have a bottle of The Bruery‘s Autumn Maple come my way, and I have to say it was one of best fall seasonals I have ever tasted. It was so packed with flavour; clove, spice, cinnamon and molasses, similar to a Christmas Ale in many ways. Though what could have so easily become lost in a flurry of tastes was instead a binding agent and the element that made the beer work. It was the yam.

One of my favourite things to do when I visit the US is go out for dinner and get a big ol’ baked sweet potato with butter and brown sugar. I think I may have found something that’s better!

 

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