Tasting Day Part 2: The Beer

 

People put all kinds of things into beer. There's pizza beersmoked pig parts beercollagen beer (!!!), and beer made with yeast from the brewmaster's beard. There are even a number of unusual beers made with ocean-sourced ingredients, like squid ink, and whale testicles—no joke. And of course oyster stout is a popular beer style that dates back to 1850s Britain (if you didn't know: yes, oyster stout is traditionally made with real oysters).

Given all that, seaweed beer really doesn't seem that far out. So a couple of months ago we decided to give it a shot. (And, to be fair, we were not the first. Several craft brewers have experimented with seaweed beer, perhaps most notably the Kelpie Ale from Scotland.)

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Now, I am by no means an accomplished brewmaster, but I've done a fair amount of homebrewing in my day, and I know the basics—you extract sugars from the grains to make a sweet infusion of grains that brewers call wort, then you boil it with hops and any other additives you want to use, then you put it in a bucket with some yeast and let it ferment. For this first round of brewing, our primary goal was to figure out what beer styles might work best with seaweed, so we decided to use the extract method (the simplest possible technique that substitutes liquid malt for much of the grain) and brew four mini-batches of four different styles of beer. The styles we selected were:

  • Stout: Oyster stout is tasty, which means stouts can work with briny oceany flavors. So seaweed stout isn't much of a leap.
  • Scotch Ale: This is a dark, sweet, full-bodied beer style, typically made with peated malts. We thought the peat and sweetness might pair nicely with an oceany flavor.

  • Gose: This is a delicious beer style made with lactic acid, coriander, and salt to produce a unique flavor. They put sea salt in gose, so why not throw some kelp in there too?

  • Pale Ale: Everyone loves a good pale ale...So maybe it'll work, who knows! Plus none of the other styles have a strong hop profile, and we wanted to see how seaweed will work with a hoppier brew.

We used seaweed during the boil stage for all four beers, then filtered it out before moving the wort to the fermentation bucket. Then we added yeast to the bucket to start the fermentation process. Here are some photos of the process:

After two weeks of fermentation, the beer was ready for bottling. I made a concentrated kombu tea, and added different amounts of the tea (measured in tablespoons) to different bottles, because I wanted to see what effect adding more seaweed would have on the beer.

Fast forward to Tasting Day, and the beers were ready to drink! We had our seaweed tasting, and then we sat back and relaxed on the couch to watch the Warriors-Spurs game. That's when I popped open some of the brews. We passed them around and chatted about them a bit while watching the game. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Seaweed is a fairly subtle flavor, it turns out. None of the brews had a strong seaweed taste.
  • The Stout was a favorite, with or without the extra kombu tea. But it didn't have a strong seaweed flavor, though I do think it had a higher level of savoriness than normal, which was part of its appeal.

  • The Scotch Ale is where seaweed taste came through the most, and it did work nicely with the peat malt, as expected.

  • Perhaps the most noticeable effect of the seaweed was on the beer texture and mouthfeel. Seaweed, it seems, makes for a smoother, creamier ale—perhaps due to the alginate content in the kombu.

My conclusion from this is that if our goal is to make a beer with a distinct oceany flavor (rather than just a general sense of savoriness), we need to use more seaweed! My vision for a follow-up experiment is to double down on the peat-seaweed combination, and make a Scotch Ale that has five times as much peat malt and seaweed as this batch did. I want the flavor to be smoky, bold and briny with a malty sweetness, and the texture to be thick like motor oil.

Til next time,

Lev