What does a foul-mouthed cigar-smoking robot, near-indestructible walnuts and a broken heater have to do with beer? Well hold onto your socks for a deep dive into Benders Two Nuts – a beer nearly 6 months in the making!
But first I need to backtrack a little and explain the name of this beer…and for that matter, the name of all the other beers to follow in 2018. I’ve long thought about using annual “themes” for naming my beers, but never gotten around to doing it. So this year is the year – I’m running with a scifi/dystopian theme for naming this years brews. And with that note, many of you probably know who Bender is, and for the rest…well, google is your friend.
As my intro to the post suggests, this is going to be a long post. This beer literally started in August of 2017, and was not brewed until mid-January 2018. It was spot-on 6 months from the day when I first started the work on this brew to the day I poured the first pint.
This beer started with our move to the country, and the discovery that our yard has ~ 2 acres of black walnut trees. For those of you unfamiliar with these trees, it is a native North American variant of the classical English walnut (the walnuts you buy in grocery stores). Black walnuts have a more intense flavour, but are much smaller, than English walnuts. And, as I would later learn, are literally a tough nut to crack. As soon as we realised the nutty bounty we were about to reap, I began looking for ways to incorporate them into beer.
Because that is what I do (apparently).
So its time to delve into the beer. This is going to be a monster post, so I’ve split it into four sections: the trouble with f^@%ing nuts, those f^@%ing nuts, that f^@%ing brewday, and f^@% this beer. AKA: working with nuts in beer, making walnut extract, recipe & brewday, and tasting notes.
The Trouble With F&^%*ing Walnuts
In theory it is easy to add foods like nuts to a beer – simply grind them up and dump them in the secondary. The problem is the fats and oils found in foods such as walnuts, bacon, and citrus peel. These oils will kill the head on your beer. They can also go rancid, adding flavours and aromas we simply do not want in our beer.
So how to you add the flavour of nuts without adding the oil?
The answer is a process called fat washing. I cannot take credit for developing my method, as I stole it from Ryan over at Ryan Brews. Ryan has done a great job of optimising a fat-washing procedure for brewing that works with all sorts of foods and oils. The process is simple – you grind up the food and mix it with an equal amount of cheap vodka or other clear/unflavoured distilled spirit. The key component is you want that alcohol to be 40-50% ABV. Soak the food for a few weeks to a few months to absorb the flavours – and fats – from the food. You then separate the food and chill the liquid, which will cause the fat to float to the top. The fat can then be removed, leaving behind an intensely flavoured, but fat-free, extract.
A simple enough process…unless you try to do it with black walnuts.
Those F^@%ing Walnuts
So this brings me to the black walnuts that I chose to use for my beer. Black walnuts are a nice tasting food; more intense than English walnuts, with a bit of a buttery character on top of the walnut flavour. And I have them in spades; the trees started dropping nuts in September, and within a week our yard was effectively covered in ball-bearings. It was hard to take more than a few steps without rolling an ankle or falling flat on our assess after having a nut roll underfoot.
So you think that would mean that the walnuts would be easy to collect. But that would be hoping for too much. Black walnuts are covered in a thick green skin; in that skin is a chemical called juglone – the chemical that gives black walnuts their name. Juglone is an isomer of the same chemical that gives henna its red colour. And like henna, juglone deeply stains your skin. But unlike henna, juglone deep brown in colour, turning black when it oxidises. The process of removing the hulls from the nuts is one of stained hands, stained clothes, and hours of scrubbing and rinsing nuts to try and clean them off. It took a few weeks to process the nuts, I ruined two pairs of jeans, and it took a month for my hands to return to their normal colour, but we ended up with a little over 25 kg (55 lbs) of dehulled black walnuts.
Next up you need to dry the nuts – this involves placing them in bags and hanging them some place they can dry. A month is the minimum – this firms up the meat – but longer is better because the meat will dry a bit and pull away from the shell. A few months of ageing later and my two sacks of nuts were ready <insert bad joke here if you are so inclined>. It was a simple matter of cracking them open and collecting the meats.
And boy, was I a naive man.
In reality, the shell of a black walnut more resembles the hull of a battleship or the armour of a tank, than it does the shell of any other nut. It is thick, it is tough, and you need to use either a small sledge hammer or a bench vice to break it open. And once its open, you’ll find that the nut meat is squirrelled away into deep crevices that tenaciously hold onto every little shed of meat. Using a combination of a hammer, nut crackers, pliers and nut picks, I laboriously extracted about 1 litre worth of nut meat – in about 6 hours. I divvied the meat up by size; about half was big enough to be usable as a snack, a quarter was smaller fragments good for cooking, and I ended up with about a half-cup (~125 ml) of fine fragments. Those fine fragments I ground even smaller in a mortar and pestle, placed into a 1-cup sized canning jar.
To that nut flour I added an equal volume of cheap vodka, capped the jar, and placed it on my beer fridge. Every time I walked by I gave the jar a hard shake to mix the flour back into the vodka. Six weeks later I figured the extract was ready.
The next step was to separate the liquid…which I didn’t take pictures of. I first ran the material through a wire colander to filter out the larger fragments. To make sure I recovered as much of the good stuff as possible, I used the back of a spoon to push the filtered meat against the colander; extracting every drop of goodness. The filtrate was still very cloudy, with lots of small particulates suspended in it, and so I then filtered it through a coffee filter. This left me with an opaque light-brown liquid.
To force the oil to separate I placed the jar in the deep freeze. Over the next few days the solution lost its cloudiness, and some small droplets of oil appeared on the surface. Ryan claimed that he got thick layers, but I only ever got a few droplets. The clarity of the liquid convinced me that the oil was indeed gone, so I carefully removed the droplets of oil and my extract was complete. The extract had a rich, intense black walnut flavour, complete with that unique butter character that I enjoy.
That F^@%ing Brewday
So this brings us to my brewday. Let me just start off by asking whether you know that propane regulators have a safety feature that turns down the flow of gas to a trickle if it is triggered? And that it can be triggered by having the regulator valve open when you turn on the gas? Well I didn’t, and it nearly killed me. To get good propane flow with this safety “feature” on meant I had to put the tank on its side so that liquid propane was moving through the valve…which is decidedly non-safe. And irritating. And, to be honest, terrifying as well (picture occasional blasts of flame, higher than your head). To make things worse, the protected area I normally brew in was completely filled in with snow, and so I brewed on the driveway – in gale-force winds which do a great job of drawing off all the heat from the post. Long story short, my brewday sucked, I nearly quit half-way through, there was a lot of profanity, and my normally 4-5 hour brewday transformed into a 10-hour marathon.
Enough about the brewday, here’s the recipe:
Benders 2 Nuts – 20L
- 0.15 kg (3.3%) Rice Hulls
- 2.25 kg (49.3%) Maris Otter
- 0.45 kg (9.9%) Mild Malt
- 0.45 kg (9.9%) Flaked Oats
- 0.30 kg (6.6%) Crystal 60L
- 0.30 kg (6.6%) Crystal 40
- 0.30 kg (6.6%) Special Roast
- 0.18 kg (3.9%) Pale Chocolate
- 0.18 kg (3.9%) Victory Malt
- 0.00 kg of the kitchen sink (yes, I was cleaning out my grain stocks for this recipe)
- 32.5 g (24 IBU) EKG’s, 60 min
- 24.6 g (3 IBU) EKG’s, 5 min
- Nottingham yeast (1 packet, rehydrated)
- OG (expected): 1.048
- OG (actual): 1.046
- FG (Expected): 1.012
- FG (actual): 1.008
- ABV: 5.0
- IBU: 27
I mashed-in with 13 L of water, with a mash temp of 66.7C for 60 min. Well, it started off at 66.7C, but thanks to hurrican force winds and -10C temperatures it started at 66.7C, but ended around 66.3C.
I then batch-sparged with 19 L of water at 76C…well it started at 76C, but ended around 50C. Again, thanks to those hurricane-force winter winds.
Boiled for an hour (it took over two hours to get to a boil, thank you propane regulator and wind). Added hops at the indicated times, then chilled and transferred to my fermenter and pitched the yeast.
I set my temperature controller to 19C, to draw out a nice English ale character from the Nottingham.
But, of course, I didn’t actually end up fermenting at 19C (why would things go right now?). My heat-belts somehow unplug themselves, so I fermented at cellar temperatures – AKA 15C. So instead of a nice English ale profile I got a clean US-05/WLP001/1056 like finish.
Fermented 2 weeks, transferred to a keg and force carbonated. That part, at least, went well.
Except I forgot to add the walnut extract, so I opened the keg of carbonated beer, threw in the extract, and slammed the lid shut…and then had to carbonate for an extra few days.
F^@% this beer
So after all that torment, you may be wondering how the beer turned out. Heading for this section aside, it was a very good beer. But not good enough to justify all the crap I went through to make it. Had the brewday gone as usual, I’d happily make this beer again…without the nut extract.
Appearance: Its brown, as a brown ale should be. Pours with a thick beige head that doesn’t go away.
Aroma: Malty, slight hop earthiness, no yeast aroma. There is a subtle note that may be the nuts, but may also be the toasted malt.
Flavour: A fantastic brown ale – rich malt character, balanced with hop bitterness as to not be too sweet. Malt character is a crystal-sweet, with hints of raisin and toast. Walnut character is present, as a distinctly walnut flavour, but is subtle (I would double the amount of extract added next time…not that there will be a next time). Aftertaste is a lingering malt sweetness and a butter-like creaminess that comes from the walnut.
Mouthfeel: A bit thin, probably because of my drop in mash temperature and over-attenuation by the yeast, but not unreasonable. Is slightly overcarbonated for the style, but is where I prefer my carbonation. Beer is whetting and refreshing.
Overall: A great brown ale, which had it not been pure hell to brew, would have made my “brew again” list. Perhaps, appropriately, this was the only beer in my kegorator when it died – sort of a final “f-you” from the beer.
But seriously, fuck this beer.