Our fifth original recipe: The Making of “Big Chief Hazel”

February 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

I am a son of New Orleans. While I wasn’t born there, I have lived there since age seven and lived there since (except for the past few years in the frigid north). The city took me in, and it is the place I have called home despite my wandering. It is a unique city and world: a place with a deep, shared culture of music, food, interpersonal warmth, and, well, sharing. One of the liveliest and most classic demonstrations of this theme is Mardi Gras, the annual carnival. And part of that, each year, is the Mardi Gras Indians, close-knit bands of men (mostly African American) who celebrate their kinship by parading with intricate costumes of feathers and sequins that they hand-sew. To celebrate that culture, I am planning a “Crescent City” series of brews, the first being a celebration of the Mardi Gras Indians.

While some consider brown ales boring, I think there is a lot of room for creativity, warmth, and easy enjoyment. The laissez-faire attitude of New Orleans natives fits well with the easy drinkability of a good brown ale. To accompany this Southern pace of life, I figured that hazelnuts would be a good accompaniment. Especially toasted hazelnuts.

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I tried patting down the toasted hazelnuts with paper towels to absorb any oils, but nothing picked up. We might lose some of the head of the beer due to oils from the nuts, but ah well; such is life. It will still be a majestic brew. In the future, I may try smashing the nuts on something absorbent; these were pre-cut nuts.

So, I figured I might as well throw in some caramel malt as well. Oh, and how about a little smokiness, say with cherrywood smoked malt? Smoky, tasty, hazelnutty, caramel goodness. Steeped, boiled, and brewed on this flame of righteousness.

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This is one of the burners on our gas stove. It is… robust. It’s no banjo burner, but I wonder if it can give most propane burners a run for their money.

We have taken to steeping grains which adds a few more minutes to the brewing process. The steeping is mostly occurring during the heating of the cool water to the first boil, so that doesn’t really add any time. However, the grains do need to be measured out, placed in a nylon bag, and then held above the pot to drip once they are done. I have separated the grains into 4 oz, 8 oz, and 16 oz batches, so hopefully this will expedite further brewing with these various specialty malts.

One area that provides significant time savings is the use of a wort chiller. I use a typical standard wort chiller that I obtained from Northern Brewer. It didn’t come with the proper fitting for my sink, but that I could obtain for a few extra dollars. It takes perhaps 5-10 minutes to cool what initially took a minimum of 30 minutes of spinning a lidded enamel pot in cold running water lined with ice packs. Even if running water is still involved, this requires much less effort on my part and frees up my hands, which means more consumption of home brew.

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So, another successful brew day completed! However, I did break my first hydrometer: it slipped out of the plastic sleeve as I was brandishing the hydrometer like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir (actually, I was just moving it from the sanitation bucket to the countertop). Ah well, good thing I had the forethought to obtain a spare. Someday, if we open our own brewery-airship, I will break a hydrometer against the hull to christen it on its maiden voyage.

I admittedly was surprising by the original gravity that resulted from the steeping of the grains.

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Behold, this is the Big Chief Hazel!

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(For those of you who have not read the great rabbit classic Watership Down, this beer is also a tribute to Hazel, the protagonist of the adventure novel and the leader of a group of homeless rabbits on a journey to find a new home. At our future brewery, we plan to serve “Fivers” [5 oz tasters] and “Bigwigs” [22 oz bombers].)

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