Warm Beer: An Experiment

wassail
wassail

The icy death-grip of a Toronto winter brings with it, some interesting challenges when it comes to brewing. The usual and frequent glycol chiller issues are no surprise, but it's the unexpected, out of left-field type events, like discovering that the green bins full of spent barley haven't been collected by the city garbage pick-up (and are now frozen solid) two days in a row, that can really throw a wrench in things.

Yesterday as we stared down into the green bins and then at each other, we knew we had a grade A bottleneck on our hands. If we don't have bins to mash out grain, we can't brew, and if we can't brew, well, all the wheels come off. So we returned to reality, which is to say, loaded those green bins into the back of the work van and headed to the friendly town dump.

Perhaps this confession comes as no surprise, but sometimes on these dark, cold days (in addition to sunny California) I dream about a beer-like beverage that could be served hot. Last year I tried a Liefmans Glühkriek that comes with instructions to heat it on the stove and serve it warm -- and really enjoyed it -- but without a cellar full of the stuff to access at my leisure, I knew I would have to pursue other options. So in light of recent arctic conditions, and with trusty Google at the helm, I dove bravely into unsubstantiated internet 'research' to uncover and discover the world of hot beer.

When it comes to taking risks with the delicious beers we brew, potentially turning them into undrinkable soup, I found 4 rather ancient recipes that seemed intriguing. They all appear to hail from England and Scotland, where I believe the traditions of drinking and freezing your ass off have long-standing histories:

From Scotland comes the HET PINT, which the internet tells me means 'hot pint', and was traditionally enjoyed during Hogmanay (the last day of the year) celebrations. A variant of eggnog, het pints were usually made with warmed ale, nutmeg, sugar, eggs, and whiskey. Like a few other warm ale recipes, this one is to be poured back and forth between two vessels before serving, making it frothy. For this experiment I wanted to steer clear of wasting both beer and eggs, so this recipe was a no go.

A FLIP appears to originate in England in the 1700's, and was a more basic recipe of ale (and sometimes spices) heated rapidly with a hot poker. In this age of ipads and instant ramen, few people still have 'pokers' around, much less a roaring fireplace in which to heat them. Alas, also not the winning recipe.

A BISHOP was a take on the Wassail (which I'll get to in a moment), but includes the addition of brandy and fortified wine. Though I do like port, this just sounded like punch bowl of not-so-sure. Moving on then.

This Wassail I mentioned is a spiced, hot beverage made with cider or ale, enjoyed on the British Twelfth Night. The name is thought to come from the Old English "hael" meaning "be healthy or whole", and with New Year's resolutions abound, I think we can all agree that, in sharing this recipe, I'm helping you to achieve your wellness goals. Lady MacBeth even plots to use Wassails to confuse the guards around King Duncan, and I figure, if it's good enough for Shakespeare, it's definitely good enough for me. LAMBSWOOL is a type of Wassail that includes apples, spices, and ales, which I figured could very well taste good together. We found a winner!

I scaled down a couple huge Lambswool recipes that called for ridiculous amounts of ale and apples, but I think the resulting volume works well for 2 decent servings. The apple in the recipe is supposed to rise to the top to create, with the foam or froth, the appearance of fluffy lamb's wool.

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wassail1

A BELLWOODS LAMBSWOOL BEERECIPE, FOR THE HARD TIMES

500ml Wizard Wolf Session Ale or Lost River Baltic Porter (depending on your preference, and we wouldn't recommend anything hoppier than a pale ale) 2 small apples (I used Pink Lady) 1/4 cup brown or demerera sugar 2 tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp ground ginger 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

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wassail3

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Core your apples and place them in a baking dish, along with a half cup of water. If you're feeling fancy, put a bit of brown sugar on the apples. Bake them for 45 minutes, or until very tender.

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wassail2

Once the apples are cooked, pull the skins off and mash them with a fork. If perfectionism is the name of your game, give 'em a zip in the blender or food processor. Set aside.

image (11)
image (11)

In a saucepan put the spices and sugar with just a touch of the beer. Warm on medium low heat until the spices become aromatic and the sugar dissolves. Add the mashed apples and the bottle of beer. Heat but don't boil (the old recipes are careful to warn you that boiling would REMOVE ALL THAT PRECIOUS ALCOHOL!). Another very important factor to consider, is that the hotter you go, and the longer you heat your concoction for, the further you are bittering the (already present) hops. The goal here is not bitter, so pull the pan off the heat just as soon as it's warmed through (70 degrees is a good goal). It shouldn't take long.

Serve with a cinnamon stick and a sense of pride.

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wassail5

After several phone calls to the city, this morning we were happy to see the green bins empty. A small success to celebrate.