I do not know exactly why it took so long for me to brew up my next batch of beer. I guess I wanted to wait to see how the pumpkin beer was received. Then I suppose the winter holidays came and went pretty quickly, filled with days of shopping and drinking said pumpkin beer. As I got to the end of my supply of homebrew, I quickly ealized that I didn’t have another batch to replace it with.
Which taught me a very important lesson about timing homebrews: Always have one fermenting in the pipeline.
I was thinking about the beer though. I wanted to go a bit seasonal again to celebrate the melting of the snow and one of Quebec’s greatest staples, maple syrup. If I wanted to get the beer ready for March (and not two months after the season like my pumpkin beer) I would have to start soon.
It’s easy to get lost in research and the science of homebrewing but at a certain point you just have to go for it. After looking up recipes suitable for maple syrup and how the syrup reacts with the yeast and what flavours it imparts I got my ingredients and hit the ground running (or boiling). So I present to you my Maple Cream Ale.
This is probably the most boring part to write about, but it is just as important as a good recipe. Because I am still new at this, before a brew day I will once over the equipment I have and make decisions where I can improve.
I have a pretty basic kit that I inherited from my dad so I need to supplement it with new equipment when I get the money. The above picture isn’t my kit and just there as an example.
My kit includes:
Now I realize this is far from perfect. However this should show you that it is incredibly easy to get started without fancy equipment. There are places for improvement in my kit and needed additions.
For starters my ceramic coated stock pots aren’t very good. It’s frowned upon to use these since they will chip and rust with heavy stirring. I will eventually make my way to aluminum stock pots. My fermenting bucket doesn’t have a hole drilled in the lid for an airlock. Right now I loosely fit the bucket lid and put a towel over it to keep anything bad from getting in.
However this time around I made some extra additions to my kit:
I bought a stopper and airlock for my carboy (I used saran wrap last time to cover the hole). I also picked up an auto siphon so I don’t need to use my mouth (!!) when racking and bottling and a bottle filler that you press down into the bottle to fill (as opposed to just using a tube kinker). I also bought a large funnel just in case in the future.
I like this way of building a kit. It’s relatively cheap to buy the kit up front but there is a bit of a thrill going to the store and buying new toys every once in awhile. The brew store is like a Toy’s R Us for homebrewers.
Now that I have spent most of yesterday researching and thinking about maple syrup, it’s time to formulate a recipe. I won’t lie to you, I’m not an expert in brewing beer or crafting recipes yet. I am still an extract brewer. I just know what I like and what I want to try and make. With that, I will go online and look for a recipe to base my experiment on. Then I will tweak and add to it as I see fit to create the beer I want.
In this case I had the idea of a Maple Cream Ale. So I looked at how-to’s and recipes for cream ale. The essentials to a typical cream ale are using corn adjuncts and the type of yeast (and the temperature it ferments at). Normally you would use a lager yeast at higher temperatures at around 20°C but some strains of ale yeast fermented at around the same temperature will work.
How will a cream ale work with maple syrup anyway? Most of the cream ales I’ve tried were mild in flavour, light in colour and a bit bitter. I want the creamy mouth feel but this beer won’t taste like a traditional cream ale. It needs to be a bit sweet and because of the maple it will be a lot darker. So I searched the homebrewtalk forums for a hybrid cream ale recipe and I found an extract Caramel Cream Ale recipe. Reading the comments for the recipe, it sounded like this is a sweet beer, which is perfect to compliment the maple flavours. But a bit of tweaking will be needed.
When maple is boiled and fermented, the yeast will eat the sugars in the syrup leaving a dry wood flavour. It is distinctly maple but without the instinctive sweet taste. The Caramel/Crystal malt and a hint of vanilla will add back a bit of the sweetness expected with maple syrup. Adding lactose, which is an unfermentable sugar, will also add sweetness and a nice smooth body to the beer. I just need to make sure that the beer ends up balanced. The last thing I want is a sweet candy beer. I will probably add more hops and dial back the vanilla and lactose. And of course, add maple syrup.
There are a lot of recipe applications out there. I use BrewTarger simply because it is free. It works well in organizing ingredients and calculating expected values. It will also print out a nice recipe and brew day sheet. There are other applications out there like BeerTools but I do not have any experience with them.
Now I use BrewTarget to add my ingredients, tweak it a bit and then I’ll make sure my local home brew store carries what I need. My tentative recipe looks something like this:
Maple Cream Ale
3lbs Extra Light Dry Malt Extract
3lbs Light Wheat Dry Malt Extract
1lbs Crystal Malt (steeped at 150°F – 165°F)
25g Cascade Pellets (60 minutes)
25g Saaz (20 minutes)
25g Tettnanger (10 minutes)
4oz (liquid oz) Lactose (15 minutes)
1tsp Irish Moss (10 minutes)
? Vanilla Extract
? Maple Syrup
As you can see I am not sure when to add the maple and how much I will need. I will have to keep thinking about those amounts and will probably only decide on brew day.
The recipe also calls for 1 cup lactose, vanilla and dry malt extract at priming. I will decide that when I taste the beer at that time and judge if it needs more sweetness/vanilla flavour. Also, I will just use dextrose for priming. It is easier to prime with and from what I understand there is no difference in taste. DME is a bit more unpredictable when priming.
Next step is looking at my equipment and buying the ingredients.
The process begins with a thought, an idea, for the perfect beer. Something good. Something different. Before any of the real heavy lifting, since I am relatively new to homebrewing, I will take that idea to the internet to nurture and grow it.
This time my idea is to brew with maple syrup. Spring is around the corner and in Quebec it is the perfect time of the year to indulge in lots of maple at a Cabane à Sucre. There are a lot of questions to ask when brewing with maple and I have no idea how to properly use it.
The first place I will look for answers is the forums at homebrewtalk.com. Pretty much any questions you might have about brewing will already be answered. A quick search of their forums or wiki will get you a good portion of the information you need or at the very least a good starting point for deeper investigation. Also, Google is always your friend.
There will be a lot of information out there. In my case, there are many different opinions on using maple syrup. Some say it doesn’t add any flavour, some say it does. Then there are different times to use it in the process. Boiling it will add a dry woody flavour. Adding too much will dry out the beer and up the alcohol content. Some books add maple during fermentation. Some people use it to prime their bottles (and then you have to make the proper calculations). There are also different grades of maple (and then Canada has different grades than the labels in America).
That’s a lot of information to process. Which is why I won’t jump in head first. I probably won’t decide how to use maple properly until brew day.
Here’s what I know so far about using maple syrup.
Keep reading tomorrow when I begin to craft the recipe.