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 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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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).

Apr 25 2010

Beer #2

For my second beer, I wanted to try something a little different. I wanted to try making a lighter smoked beer, also known as ‘Rauchbier.’ I noticed that Midwest Supplies sold a peated malt, described as: “While the malt is in the kiln, peat moss outside the kiln is gently smoked over slow burning coals, allowing its vapors to drift above the malt.” This sounded intriguing, so I figured I would throw some in.

  • 2 parts Simpson’s Golden Promise
  • 1 part Crisp Amber Malt
  • 1 part Peated Malt
  • Chinook Hops
  • Amarillo Hops
  • Scottish Ale Wyeast W1728

Overall, the beer came out just okay, but better than I was expecting. It a dark amber, slightly cloudy. It also seemed a little off-color, not sure why, maybe it had something to do with the hops. I had an obviously smokey , campfire aroma, mixed in with earthy woody smells. On tasting it, I thought the smokey flavor was a little too powerful. It’s probably good for a smoked beer, but I was trying for something a little less intense. However, underneath the smoke it was a nice, crisp ale. If it weren’t for the smoke, it would be a nice, refreshing brew, and it had a nice hoppy bite to it. The carbonation seemed low, so next time a little more honey before bottling it. I think I will revisit this recipe, both one without any of the peated malt, and one with the amount used either halved or quartered.

Apr 6 2010

Beer #1


First of all, I’m getting my grains, yeast, and hops from Midwest Supplies. The Brooklyn Brew Shop has some of the best kits around, and I’m currently anxiously awaiting an order of Bel-Gin Strong from them, so if you’re new to this (like I am) then you should check them out.

The Recipe

So this is my first beer. I say that in the sense that this is the first beer I’ve brewed that is my own ‘recipe.’ I want to use the term recipe lightly, as I pretty much just picked malts, hops, and yeast that I thought would go good together based on their description. So here’s what I used to make one gallon of my very first beer:

  • Golden Promise (Simpson’s) – 2 lbs
  • Roasted Barley (Simpson’s) – 2 lbs
  • Northdown Pellet Hops ~0.5 oz
  • Belgian Strong Ale Wyeast W1388

The Golden Promise sounded good to me, which is why I decided to use it as a base and starting point for my malt.

Simpsons bring you this barley traditionally grown in Scotland. Golden Promise is very versatile, and may be used in many ales and lagers as it produces a sweet and clean wort. An integral ingredient in Scottish ales and lagers. Great base malt for UK and American IPAs.

I got the roasted barley as I wanted to add some color and chocolate and coffee flavors. I intended to really only use a handful, but ended up using half of the 1 lb bag. The hops also seemed to be a good overall pick, and the Belgian strong yeast was picked for it’s ability to produce higher ABV beers. I’ll admit it, I like a beer with hotness to it that gives you a kick.

The Result

First things first, something crazy happened here. I made exploding beer. The bottles didn’t explode, but every time  I open one of the Grolsch swing tops beer comes spurting out. Most of the bottle ends up as head. I don’t know why, I guess over carbonation maybe from using too much honey before bottling. But once in a glass, it’s delicious.

The color is extremely dark, on a scale of 1-10 it’s defiantly a 10. The head is, as mentioned, very thick from tiny bubbles and is a dark tan. The aroma is actually kind of sweet and fruity, but mostly smells like chocolate. The beer is defiantly hoppy, but the main flavor is coffee. Since when I open the bottles they more or less go volcanic, all the sediment from the bottom gets all kicked up. The result is there is a definite yeasty/woody taste. Despite the semi-sweet aroma, the beer is dry.

So in conclusion, it was a good first beer. Maybe a little too dry for my liking, but it has a good stout taste. Unlike many stouts, it doesn’t have an acidic quality to it. And I like the chocolate-coffee flavor, next time I would ease up on the roasted malt.