I am a simple all-grain home-brewer. I don’t have a Brutus 10 Home-Brewing System.
There is no fancy Blichmann top-tier brewing stand in my garage. I have no HERMS. I have no RIMS. There is no automation in my brewing process. My hot-liquor-tank is my brew pot which I pick up and empty manually into my 10 gallon gott cooler.
To drain the mash tun, I lift it up onto a table, attach a hose, open a ball valve, and let gravity move my wort into my brew pot. There is absolutely nothing sophisticated about any part of my brew day.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t get creative with my beers. It doesn’t mean I can’t experiment.
Sunday, I brewed my Gringo Cerveza Jalapeño Cream Ale (follow the hyperlink if you would like to review the recipe). I split this 5 gallon batch into 2 small fermentors. In one, I am going to add jalapeños. In the other, I am going to just let the beer ferment out into a light, sessionable, lawn-mower beer to suck down in a couple of months when it starts to get hot here in Denver.
Popcorn in the mash
The jalapeños are not even the experimental part of this particular beer. The cooler part (at least to me) is that I am using popcorn in this beer.
Of course, you know that the purpose of malting grains is to expose starches so that enzymatic activity in the mash tun can convert those starches to sugar. The act of popping kernels of corn does the same thing. Popcorn will become a fermentable sugar when added to your mash.
I got the idea of adding popcorn from an interview that the Brewing Network did with Sun King Brewery in Indiana. By doing a little math, I calculated that around 13 ounces of popcorn in a 5.5 gallon batch would scale to the amounts that the brewer mentioned in the podcast.
BeerSmith (my brewing software) did not include popcorn as an ingredient, but it did include flaked corn. For the purposes of my recipe design I simply copied flaked corn and changed its name.
The night before brew day, I popped 13 ounces of popcorn in my wife’s air-popper. 13 ounces of popcorn was 4 batches of popping and it pops into a volume of about 40% of a 13 gallon trash bag. Of course I knew the volume would increase, but when I saw it all, I was a bit worried that when wet, it would cause mash problems. Well, I didn’t let myself worry too much. Part of the fun of using an unusual ingredient is to find out how it reacts to the brewing process. RDWHAHB.
So, on brew day, I heated up my strike water to around 170, and added it to the mash tun. Then I added about half my grain bill to the tun, mixing it up. I had my brewing assistant add the popcorn and mix it in.
Then we added the last of the barley, and mixed again. After letting the temperature stabilize for a few minutes, my mash temperature was at about 154, which was about where I wanted it. Don’t you just love thermodynamics?
One thing I did not do, mostly because the Sun King guy said they didn’t do it, was crush up the popped corn in any way. I would think that you could increase sugar conversion of the corn if it were crushed up more finely. As it turned out, my pre-boil gravity reading was pretty much right what I expected and my OG into the fermentors was actually a bit higher than planned. Since that is the case, if I use popcorn in another beer, I will not change this part of the process.
The mash itself was pretty typical. Because I was a little worried about the popcorn getting all gooey, I used a sparge bag inside the mash tun. This is something I do when I suspect that I might have a higher probability of a stuck sparge. It has actually never saved me from anything, but it does give me a piece of mind. If I were to get a stuck sparge, I would simply switch to BIAB mode and move on with minimal headache.
At some point towards the end of the mash I fished out a piece of popcorn and tasted it. It was sweet, of course, and did still have a popcorn flavor. It actually reminded me of kettle corn. Soggy kettle corn, but it really was a promising taste test.
As it turns out, there was no reason to worry about the sparge. I am a batch sparger, and the popcorn didn’t cause any problems at all.
And as you can probably imagine, the rest of the brew day was the same as any other. I did a 90 minute boil with only one hop addition at 60 minutes. I added some yeast nutrient towards the end of the boil.
Since it is not yet hot in Denver, the wort chilling was pretty quick and easy. Finally I drained my wort into two small (Mr. Beer) fermentors.
My OG reading came in at around 1.050. If you took time to look at the recipe, you know that my plan was 1.046. I pitched the yeast at a little less than 65 degrees F.
And Now …
The two fermentors were going strong Monday morning. As I type this, I am on day 3 of fermentation. Last night I bought 6 jalapeños, and I will be adding those in a hop sack or two to one of the fermentors tomorrow or the next day. I will be leaving the jalapeños in for around 4 days. I should be bottling by the second week in April. I will be drinking a few of these on Cinco de Mayo.
My plan is to follow-up on this blog post after the beer is bottled and I have taken my first taste of each of the beers. At that point, I’ll share a little more detail on my techniques for adding jalapeños to a beer.
A little more information
If you have not been totally bored already, here are a few of links to additional information:
- You can read about how the idea came to me at Popcorn Beer #HomeBrew
- My recipe is posted at Gringo Cerveza Jalapeño Cream Ale
- Sun King posted a youtube video about their popcorn beer at Sun King PopCorn Pilsner
- The Brewing Network episode that inspired me is Sun King Brewing Co
Tell me what you think
So, that is my latest experiment in brewing. Have you ever used popcorn and/or jalapeños as ingredients in beer? What unusual ingredients have you used? What are some recipe experiments you would like to try?