This beer recipe was found inside a book of an unused library and scribbled on a yellowing piece of paper. It is the type of recipe that a barkeep might have whipped up once or twice a month at the back of a wild west saloon. For lack of a better name it will be called “Lee’s Choc Beer”.
The term ‘Choc beer’ has roots in the coal town of Krebs, Oklahoma, the Choctaw Indian territory and an Italian immigrant named Pietro Piegari. The term eventually became associated with any home brewed beer and especially homebrew with white powdery sediment in the bottom of a bottle. This recipe is intended for a small batch but can easily be doubled. [ 2 cups barley malt, 5 cups sugar, ¼ t nutrient, 1/8 t citric acid, a shake of salt, 2 ½ gallons water, 1 pint beer yeast starter ]. A yeast starter is simply dry or compressed yeast that has been activated in lukewarm molasses water or sugar water. If the yeast is any good then bubbles will appear in a few minutes, thereby – ‘proving’ the yeast. By covering the starter with a rag so that oxygen can reach the yeast, the number of yeasts should double in 2 or 3 hours. Hops can be added by boiling 1 ounce with a portion of the water in a saucepan, and straining it before adding the tea back to the cooler water. In addition to adding an astringent (bitter) flavor component to counterbalance the sweetness of malt, hops acts like a disinfectant that discourages bacterial growth – but not yeast growth.
When bottling home brewed ale the beverage is capped while the yeast is still alive but has almost run out of ferment-able sugars. In choc beer the un-racked ferment is stirred up to ensure that live yeast are transferred to each bottle. This agitation however will cause sediments to form in each bottle. Often a little dash of powdered malt or priming sugar is dropped into the bottle before it is capped or corked. In this secondary fermentation the yeast consumes this priming sugar, CO2 pressure is built up within the bottle and the gas produced will exist in a dissolved state. Unsuccessful secondary fermentation results in a flat beer. The art is in producing just enough pressure, without causing the bottle to explode or blow its cap. When the beer has been aged a few weeks and chilled for serving, the sediments are left behind in the bottle when the clear beer is gently poured into a glass.
A WWII veterans Raisin Jack recipe: [1 gallon can white grapes, 1 gallon can raisins, 1 gallon can fruit cocktail, 1 gallon fresh water]. Place all of the ingredients in a 5-gallon Government Issue water can. Lash the can down good in a place where it receives good hot direct sunlight. After 3 days of heat and sloshing about by the sea waves, it should be ready. * Canned fruit is usually packed syrup and is boiled; therefore it should be considered yeast free. This recipe mentions no yeast nor is it strictly necessary as wild yeast spores are everywhere, even on a ship in the ocean. Although some fermentation would eventually occur due to the contribution of airborne yeast or bacteria exposure, some baker’s yeast from the ship’s galley would definitely be needed to get this concoction to produce alcohol in such a short time. Just speculation, but the distillation of this mash might be more palatable than the mash itself.
Note: enzymes at work
Fermenting sugar water or grape juice is straight forward. Fermenting wheat water, cornmeal water or potato water however is not so simple. Potatoes and grains like barley, corn, rye and wheat are high in starches. While commercial distillers are able to make spirits from these every day, many novices attempting to do the same thing are met with frustration. These novices often fail to undertake the initial “mashing” process (an unnecessary step with simple monosaccharides). Starting a grain or vegetable fermentation without using the proper enzymes, leads to a failed fermentation and unsatisfactory ethanol yield. Yeast works on simple sugars but by itself will not break down starches. Starches (complex sugars) are catalyzed or broken down with diastatic enzymes (like amylase, diataze, diazyme and glucoamylase).
Mashing is a process using graduated heat, which allows enzymes to break down starches into simpler sugars. These diastatic enzymes will only do their work at certain temperatures. When crafting beer the mashing process can consist of several levels where the temperature of the mash is elevated and left to rest there for a time interval. In typical beer the diastatic enzyme comes from germinated (or malted) barley. For rye, corn or barley whiskey mashes, old-timers traditionally germinated or turned to malt about 20% of the overall grain bill. Incidentally, 6-row malted barley is higher in enzymes than 2-row barley and light colored barley malt powder is higher in enzymes than dark colored because the latter was cooked harder. Wheat malt is even higher in enzymes than barley malt. In some instances the enzymes of a particular grain malt will successfully break down starches within a mash composed of dissimilar grain.
Potato wine or vodka experiment:
* Many sourdough bread starters begin with potatoes. The bulk of the potato pulp in such a ‘starter’ is crushed and boiled (like mashed potatoes) to better expose and disseminate the starches. A small portion (10% – 15% perhaps) of the total potato pulp is not cooked however because this contains the native yeast or fungus with accompanying enzymes that will later perform the leavening in sourdough bread.
While most available potato wine recipes call for sugar, the bulk of alcohol from such fermentation actually comes from table sugar and not from the carbohydrate rich potatoes. If attempting to make potato Vodka just from potatoes one would be well advised to use supplemental diastatic enzyme, and to use a mashing process (heat and time period) beneficial for the enzymes to break down the starches. Pectic enzyme should be added as well to break down the longer chained polysaccharides (pectin is another polysaccharide or starch found in plant cell walls). Old, soft, perhaps budding potatoes should be selected – not young fresh ones.
For a potato wine or vodka mash the majority (not all) of potatoes should be chopped, boiled and then masticated (mashed) – skins and all. Water is added back to the pulp to form a consistency of wet soup which should then be boiled to gelatin-ize the pulp. The temperature should be reduced to 150° F or lower before the diastatic enzymes from raw potatoes (or supplements) are added; any higher temperature might kill these enzymes.
* Brew-store purchased diastatic enzyme powder or liquid can be used as the source of supplemental enzymes. Savvy brewers have also discovered that the dietary product named “Beano” contains useful enzymes. Beano contains invertase and alpha-galactosidase – which is useful to break down polysaccharides and oligosaccharides before these get to the large intestines where intestinal flora ferments them to cause gas and flatulence. The fungus mold Aspergillus oryzae used in Sake and obtainable in Oriental supermarkets can also probably be used to cleave potato starches into smaller monosaccharides.
After stirring this hypothetical potato soup occasionally for a couple of hours at about 150° F, the mashing process should continue by removing the heat and letting the concoction rest, at least overnight. Perhaps a longer mashing interval of 48 hours would achieve a more thorough starch breakdown. Most native potato yeast or fungus cells (which make different enzymes to create ethanol) will be killed at temperatures above 122°F. Yeast can be introduced when the temperature falls to 100 – 105° F. As usual the mash is stirred vigorously at this time of inoculation and is left exposed to air for at least 24 hours, because oxygen is needed for yeast reproduction. Believe it or not potatoes are slightly acidic, ranging between pH 6.1 – pH 5.0. Ideally the brewer seeks the acidity of an average grape, therefore the potato mash pH should probably be amended down to pH 4.6 or less with citric acid or grape tannin. Yeast nutrient or un-sulfured molasses would likewise benefit the fermentation. Long primary fermentation periods for potato wines are not unusual.
Another instance where novice distillers might run into trouble is where recipes call for cornmeal as an ingredient. Without diastatic enzymes or decent instructions or without appreciation for the mashing, resting and sparging processes the novice might just cook his improperly processed and unstrained mash. In such an event he is likely to end up with little ethanol yield and a cooker filled with thick gelatinous corn pudding, heavily burned at the bottom. The ethanol extracted will likely host fusel oils. The strong burnt tasting flavor elements however might be very desirable to mix with blander spirits. What the novice should do with cornmeal instead is similar to what a brewmeister does with crushed barley grain. First water and crushed grain are boiled for a couple of hours to get the starches to release from the corn (which is more stubborn or has more cellulose than barley). Dry cornmeal absorbs many times its own volume of water so in order to reach this temperature the mash must be very fluid and stirred constantly to prevent its scorching on the bottom of the pot. After the concoction has to cooled to about 145 deg F then diastatic enzyme or malt are mixed in and left to rest for another 2-3 hours. If brewers malt is used then the ratio of malt to grain should be about 1 to 4 per weight of cornmeal. During this period which allows enzymes to break down complicated sugars, the temperature (145 deg F) needs to be maintained (insulating the container might help). After this resting interval the liquid wort could be lautered (strained or filtered from the grain solids) and sparged (rinsed with boiling hot water to extract some more remaining sugar) just like barley solids are extracted from beer. Some may prefer however to let the solids remain through the fermentation. Yeast can be pitched at any temperature between 50 and 90 degrees F.