Sep 5 2012

Pombe (Banana Beer)

As mentioned previously, I’ve been reading about beer in different cultures in Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation by Stephen Harrod Buhner [Amazon]. One beer that caught my interest is Pombe, which is an African tribal beer brewed with bananas and millet. I based my recipe off a one that I found in the book.

The original traditional recipe goes a little like the following. First, a whole lot of bananas are mashed up. Then, they are put in a large wooden bowl and left for about 5 days to ferment naturally. After the 5 days have passed, water is added to the banana mash and is left to sit for another day. Then a more traditional mash is made with germinated millet seed. The millet is ground pretty fine, so the mixture is kind of doughy. The wort isn’t heated and instead is mixed with the banana water with the grains still in it. It sits over night and the following day is consumed.

I figured if I left a bowl of banana mush out for a week that 1. my apartment would smell like bananas 2. the bananas would just end up getting moldy and 3. the bananas would end up getting cat in them. So instead, I took about 3 bunches of bananas that were almost banana bread ripe and put them in the Kitchen Aid and pureed them. I then cooked them down a little. I poured that into a half gallon jug, which was pretty much filled up, added yeast, and left it to ferment overnight. Around 3 AM I awoke to a high pitch squealing noise. The banana was bubbling up though the airlock and clogging it, so I proceeded to remove the rubber stopper. What I failed to realize at the time was the noise was due to the immense pressure building up inside, which once the stopper was removed resulted in a geyser of pureed banana that ended up all over the ceiling. Needless to say, that batch got ruined.

The second time around, I put the banana mush into a 1 gallon fermented, which allowed for enough room for the banana to bubble up without clogging anything. After about a week of just letting the bananas ferment, I made a mash of barley and millet. As mentioned above, millet is the traditional ingredient, however it is difficult to find it malted. So instead I used a portion of barley to provide the enzymes needed for the starch conversion.

After the mash, I boiled the wort like normal and added a little bit of hops, which is not apart of the original recipe. As the wort cooled, I mixed the banana mash with water to extract the banana juices. I then mixed the grain wort with the banana juice, added yeast, and stuck it back in the fermenter for two weeks. I primed bottles with honey and let them sit about a month.

The result is interesting. It pretty much taste like banana bread. Not really something I would want to drink a lot of because, well, it taste like bananas. But I am curious to how else I could brew this – perhaps with chocolate malt? I want to see if I can make something more sessionable based on this, maybe just based on using a little banana and a lot of millet. I think a perfect nerd name for this would be Tali Me Bananas…

Aug 21 2011

Manioc Beer

I’ve been recently reading a little about the history of different cultural beers from around the world. Naturally, I would want to try them out myself and find a way to adapt them into “traditional” sense, in the way Dogfish Head does with their ancient ale series. (There’s a great article all about that in The Smithsonian Magazine.) One I’ve recently finished is a Manioc beer.

Manioc beer is a South American fermented beverage dating back 4,000 years. It’s main ingredient is the cassava root, also known as yuca (not yucca) root or a “real” yam. Cassava is a long, tuberous dark brown root that looks like it’s been covered in a waxy sugar. It is one of the largest sources of carbohydrates in the world and is extremely starchy.

cassava root

The first step in turing this tuber into a beer is to peel and cook it. Cassava contains cyanide, which is destroyed by heat, which is one of the reasons it must first be fully cooked. Next comes the interesting part. The beer we are used to is made from barley, which also supplies a large amount of starch. However, yeast cannot break down the starches to produce the alcohol and CO2 (carbonation) we so highly desire. Therefore, the starches must be first converted to sugar. Luckily, the barley can do this for us by germinating it, aslo known as malting. The grains begin to grow by first producing enzymes that can convert to the stored energy in the starches into usable sugars for the plant. Therefore, by using malted barley, the brewer can ensure the starches are converted to sugars for the yeast.

Cassava root, however, cannot be malted to produce enzymes. Therefore, another method can be used to break down the starches. Every do that experiment in elementary school where you place a saltine cracker on your tongue and after a minute it becomes sweet? That’s because your saliva contains similar enzymes. And that’s the process manioc beer uses.

cassava root sliced

After cooking two good sized roots, I chewed and spit the mush into a pot. The, I added water and boiled for about an hour, while adding a little bit of mildly bitter hops. Once it was done, I stuck it in a fermenter with some yeast and let it ferment until completion for two weeks. I then primed with a little honey and bottled.

After two weeks I tried one. It’s quite strange. It’s very dry and bitter with not much flavor, mostly tasting minerally/metallic and  reminds me of seltzer water. I’m thinking of how best to adapt this to a more traditional beer. First, I think I will use a mix of grain and cassava, that way I do not need to do the mastication part. Secondly, I would use even less bittering hops and use more floral and spicy ones. Finally, I would even consider adding some fruit to it to add a little more flavor. The cassava straight up with some hops didn’t really taste that good, but I’m not ready to write it off yet.

manioc beer

The book where I learned about manioc beer (as well as many others) is Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation by Stephen Harrod Buhner and is available from Amazon.

Aug 25 2010

Kiwi Beer?

Last week at work we ended up with about 50 or so left over kiwis. (It’s for a project we’re working on, don’t ask – besides, we can’t tell yet anyways.) Needless to say, there was a surplus of leftover fruit. So I nabbed a bag and figured I would do what instinctively came first – try to ferment them into alcohol. So I made up a one gallon batch of beer wort (nothing special, just an ale) and added in 10 sliced up kiwis for the last 5 minutes of the boil, just enough time I figure to sterilize them. Then I let them steep for about an hour before removing them. I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I tasted a bit of the wort and it didn’t taste like kiwis, but it did have hints of the sourness. Because of the sugars in the fruit, the expected ABV on this bad boy is 15%. I didn’t have any yeast that could withstand that amount of alcohol at the time, so it should be more around the 12% mark. It’s been a day since I pitched the yeast, and I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an active fermentation before – bubbles like crazy. Very curious to how this will turn out.

Aug 8 2010

Special Project Series #1: Doritos Style Ale

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Flash Developer by trade at Firstborn. While working on my last project, I came up with a neat idea. For every project I worked on, I would make a special beer that somehow relates to that project, and upon site launch, the team would celebrate with these unique custom home brews. I recently finished and launched my first project that I decided to do this for. (Actually, it was weeks ago but only recently have we gotten the PR approval to talk about it.)

The first beer in what I am calling the ‘Special Project Series’ was for Doritos. Though the ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Firstborn created the homepage for, for which I was lead developer on (as well as lead brewer). At first, I had thought about putting actual Doritos into the beer – but that sounds disgusting. I think while cheese and beer pair well together, putting cheese in beer is not a good idea. So instead, I decided to use ingredients that are similar to Doritos.

Since Doritos are corn tortillas, it made sense to add flaked corn into the mash as an adjunct. And since Doritos are deemed a pretty American snack, I also wanted an American barley, so I went with American 6-Row. I also added some Briess Special Roast, which is supposed to impart biscuit and bread-like toasty flavors. For my hops, I went for different hops that had characteristics of Doritos, so I picked ones described as peppery and spicy. The exact hops I chose were Yakima Magnum Pellet Hops (Intensely spicy (black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg), Simcoe Hop Pellets (mahogany/walnut wood aroma), and Argentine Cascade Pellet Hops (spicy, peppery, and herbal lemon grass). Lastly, for choice of yeast I went with Wyeast Belgian Saison, which is used for farmhouse style ales. I also threw in a few peppercorns into the boil.

In the end, it came out pretty damn good. One day after the project launched, I sat down with most of the main team for the project (Jen, our art director, Jason our producer, Francis our Technical Director, and Roushey one of the supporting developers) and we all had a bottle. The beer came out dry, and it did in fact have toasty bread-like flavors. It didn’t seem as spicy as I thought it would, but it was still good. And everyone seemed to really dig it, and that was the most important part. However, picking a beer for Doritos seemed pretty easy. My next/current project, however, might be a little more tricky…

Note: There are some process photos on flickr.

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Jul 3 2010

Beers of Paris

Recently I got to go to Paris to speak at a digital media conference called OFFF. While there, I made sure to be on the lookout for different beers of France. The most common beer, which I assume is France’s equivalent of Budweiser is Kronenbourg 1664. There’s not really much to say about this beer, other than it’s no difference than any other mass produced no frills beer.

The first ‘good’ French beer I had was called Adelscott. Although not as common as 1664, I did notice it at a bunch of different brasseries. It was pretty good, although it wasn’t a good thirst quencher. In fact, I would just say it was ‘alright.’ It had a heavy mouth feel and a nice hint of whiskey.

Another pretty common beer was Pelforth, known for the iconic pelican logo. Pelforth Blonde, a Euro Pale Lager, really wasn’t anything special. It was pretty light, good for a hot day. Later, I had a Pelforth Brune, which is apparently a bock. Like the name implies, it’s a darker brown ale. This one was quite good, I can say that so far in my journey, this was the best one I had so far.

My friend/coworker/co-presenter Mathieu is from France and lived in Paris for a few years and told me that mussels are very popular. Loving mussels myself I went out of find some. So on one night we found a nice place to have a big plate of mussels, watch the Brazil vs Chile match, and enjoy some beer. One of which was La Goudale. A light blonde, it paired well with the mussels. Very enjoyable. If I remember correctly, it had some floral notes to it.

One of my favorite beers in France was Desperados. Not for the taste, but just the concept. Desperados is a beer that is mixed with tequila. Just to be clear, it is sold that way premixed in the bottle, this is not something that you would do yourself. That said, it’s not really a great tasting beer. I like to think of it as a French Corona, except it is the beer that Corona might want to be – it’s a little stronger and has more of a bite. It is sometimes served with a lime, but doesn’t need it as it seems to have a citrus taste on it’s own. Either way, this is a very common beer in Paris and I would recommend people trying it, if just for the experience alone.

The last beer I want to mention is more like a mixed drink. It’s called a Monaco, and it’s beer mixed with a sweet fruit syrup, usually grenadine. It doesn’t taste like beer at all, it taste more like cherry soda or flavored seltzer water.

And that’s about it. I had a bunch of other beers as well, but I only wanted to ‘report’ on the ones from France. For instance, Carlsberg was pretty popular there. What was nice though was the lack of American macro brews, it was nice not to see Bud, Miller, Coors at every bar.

Jun 14 2010

Homegrown Hops

I decided it would be fun to grow my own hops. I placed an order from and got 3 rhizomes: a Nugget, a Willamette, and a Sunbeam. I brought the Nugget hop plant to work with me and left the other two at my apartment. Apparently, Firstborn is a great place for a hop plant. In only about one month, the Nugget hop has grown all the way to the ceiling, which must be 7 or 8 feet of rope. It will still be some time until she produces any buds for harvest. (Note: Hop plants actually do have genders, so calling the plant ‘her’ is actually scientifically correct.)

Jun 14 2010

Introducing Singleton Brewing

I’ve been trying to come up with a name for myself as a brewer, or basically what my brewery would be called. Obviously, I’m not a brewery, or even a brewer in that sense – I just end up messing around and trying to make some delicious beer every now and then. But in the event that I wanted to enter a contents or anything like that, I figure I would need a name for myself. Since I’m a Flash Developer by trade, I wanted the name to have something in common with that. I went though some pretty nerdy names, but finally I settled on Singleton Brewing.

Named after the Singleton pattern in Object Oriented Programming, it was just the right amount of geek yet still sounds “normal” enough to non-developers. Here’s the explanation of the Singleton pattern in a nutshell from Wikipedia:

In software engineering, the singleton pattern is a design pattern used to implement the mathematical concept of a singleton, by restricting the instantiation of a class to one object. This is useful when exactly one object is needed to coordinate actions across the system. The concept is sometimes generalized to systems that operate more efficiently when only one object exists, or that restrict the instantiation to a certain number of objects (say, five). Some consider it an anti-pattern, judging that it is overused, introduces unnecessary limitations in situations where a sole instance of a class is not actually required, and introduces global state into an application.

I have really two thoughts on why I thought Singleton was an appropriate name. (Note: I’m going to talk programming for a bit to explain, so I’ll try not to lose the non-developers here). First, since a Singleton restricts to only one instantiation of an object, it can (loosely) be thought of a “one and only” type of thing – I guess kind of arrogant but still fitting. Secondly, some people think that using a Singleton is hacky and is a bad practice, and at the same time, I might try and do some pretty bizarre experiments (such as the catnip beer, and my current Special Project Series #1 which is currently underway and legally needs be be kept secret under NDA). So, it might not be the strongest connection, but the name seemed to fit without being too nerdy (like “Method Overload Brewery”) and in the end, the name just grew on me.

A current placeholder page is set up at, but don’t expect any real content there for some time.

Jun 14 2010

Homebrew: Smoked Beer (second attempt)

Made another attempt at the smoked beer. I used Golden Promise and Crisp Amber Ale for my grains. I only used a half a cup of the Simpson’s Peated Malt. I chose Argentinian Cascade as my bittering hops, and Chinook and Amarillo for bittering and aroma.  I also used some Irish moss this time as it is supposed to help with clarity. I went with the Scottish Ale yeast, and the expected ABV is 6.0%.

Again, I felt that the smoke flavor and aroma was too strong. I am going to really reduce it next batch – I’m thinking even less than 1/8 of a cup. I guess the flavors imparted by peated malt are really strong.

Jun 14 2010

Homebrew: Catnip Wheat (#3)

I was super excited to try making this beer. I’m not sure where the idea to add catnip to my beer came from, but I think it might have something to do with me trying to figure a way to piss off my cats. Since I knew that catnip could be used to make tea, I figured beer wasn’t too large of a leap. In fact, I found out afterward that this wasn’t a totally original idea. Apparently, monks had once used catnip when the price of hops were too great. I didn’t use catnip in place of hops, but rather in addition.

So here’s what I used for this batch. For grains, I used Bohemian Pilsner Malt and Golden Promise, which I’ve been using for almost every batch now. I also used a little bit of flaked wheat. I learned that when using wheat in the mash, I needed to add some extra water and pay more attention to it, stirring it more often. For hops, I choose Chinook and Amarillo, and of course added in some fresh catnip. I made sure to add the catnip towards the end of the boil, but I think next time I would add half at where I did (the 0:40 mark) and then steep the rest right after the boil. Finally, I used a Belgian Strong Ale yeast. The expected ABV for this beer is 7.5%.

The result is that I am extremely happy with this beer. In fact, this is my best one yet. There’s really no taste of catnip, and next time I am going to add a lot more, but at the same time I don’t want that to be the focus of the beer. The wheat actually seems to add some nice weight, especially paired with the Strong Ale yeast (if it’s not apparent yet I do like heavier ABV beers).

May 7 2010

Homebrew: Bel-Gin Strong

Cracked open a bottle of one of my Bel-Gin Strong beers, which was made from a kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop. As I’ve mentioned before, they make really kick ass kits. Not only are the recipes interesting, but they come with high quality ‘real’ ingredients (actual grain, not extracts). Not to mention the instructions are really well written and have nice packaging design.

The Bel-Gin Strong came out really well, I was very happy with it. It has a very heavy mouth feel, and a very intense taste. It’s actually pretty sweet, and the coriander and juniper berries impart a nice flavor. I think I would actually do this kit again, and recommend it to other brewers. I think I might have over carbonated it, as you can see in the picture below there’s quite a head on it. I think I need to go a little easier with the honey from here on out. Luckily I haven’t had any bottle explosions (yet).