Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rosemary Porter / Serrano Chili Porter - Tasting Notes

Black Lodge Rosemary Porter

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Porter
Brewed: 3.3.2013
ABV: 6.8%

I recently posted the recipe and tasting notes for a rye porter, which was the second iteration of a pretty basic porter recipe I'll be tweaking from time to time. Going into that batch, I knew the timing meant I would end up drinking a heavy-ish porter well into summer. Figuring that I wouldn't really want 4+ gallons of "just" porter sitting in my beer room while excessive humidity raged outside, I decided to knock out a couple experiments with one batch — a 3-in-1 porter. When bottling the plain porter, I stole two gallons and split that up between two one-gallon jugs. One of the gallon jugs received a small, 1-inch sprig of fresh rosemary, while the second jug got two dried Serrano chili peppers.

The thought of dumping raw ingredients into fermented beer makes me super nervous, but the rosemary was at least fairly easy to sanitize: I put the small sprig on a plate and sprayed both sides with Star San. I did the same thing with the peppers, figuring that not much was likely to take hold in a 6.8% ABV beer, anyhow. In retrospect, I feel like this was still taking too much of a gamble. Next time, I would take a simple extra step like roasting the peppers at low heat for a while first.

Rosemary Porter: 
Appearance: Black with slight brown at edges. Like the original version, there's a decent head at pour but that quickly fades, leaving a very still beer.
Smell: Woody rosemary, bitter dark chocolate, roasted malts, toffee. The rosemary has a nice piney aroma to it, which makes me think this would also play well in a more heavily hopped beer.
Taste: Dark chocolate, spicy, herbal rosemary, pine, dry roasted malts, cherry, sweet toffee.
Mouthfeel: Nothing really different from the original. Silky, smooth, low carbonation. Could use more creaminess and more head retention.

I am the kind of person that, when someone sets a plate of food in front of me that I didn't cook myself, immediately starts dumping spices all over everything. It is my steadfast belief that there are few dishes that cannot be improved by a thick layer of rosemary and/or Sriracha sauce. Rosemary being one of the greatest herbs on the planet, I always wondered why I've never seen a beer brewed with rosemary. I mean, every other spice on the planet is featured in at least one Dogfish Head brew, right? Yet even in homebrewing circles, rosemary just doesn't seem to be a common adjunct. From those few that I've seen try it, I've heard repeated warnings of its potency. Even more so than most spices, a little goes a long way. Nonetheless, I can report that rosemary is not on the level of spruce, where even a ridiculously tiny amount can overpower a big, robust beer. Start small, love rosemary, and you should get something interesting.

Being that this was only a one-gallon side-project, I wanted to play it ultra-conservative with my rosemary addition so I didn't end up with a beer fit only for cooking. After infusing the beer with a one-inch sprig of fresh rosemary, I tasted every six or seven days, and ended up bottling both side-projects after 2.5 weeks. Any more rosemary, or any more contact time, and I imagine this beer would be utterly dominated by the herb. As it is, the rosemary character is still quite potent, competing handily with the roasted malts, but I enjoy it for what it is, maybe just as much as the original base porter. An even bigger beer — an imperial stout, maybe with a little bit of smoke character — could make for a really interesting combo.

Serrano Chili Porter:
Appearance: Black with slight brown at edges. Extremely minimal head from the start, leaving a very still beer.
Smell: Bitter dark chocolate with a hint of spice, roasted malts, toffee. The peppers are lurking in there, but don't quite leap out at you yet. 
Taste: Dark chocolate, spice, dry roasted malts, cherry, slow steady burn that tickles down the throat after a few moments, then lingers. There's some fruitiness and a bit of odd, earthy flavor that I don't get from the other two versions.
Mouthfeel: Nothing really different from the other two. The most under-carbonated of the three.

Not much explanation needed here, right? I've always felt that chili beers were best dark and heavy, so the heat and chili flavor could work with the heavy roasted malt base, rather than just totally dominating a lighter beer.  The trick, once again, is one of timing. Two Serrano chilis went into this for two and a half weeks before I bottled it. I don't know if that was the perfect pepper/beer/time-ratio, but I like the level the heat is at. With the silky chocolatey flavor upfront, there's not much hint of the chili until it's going down your throat — and then the tickling sensation begins. Like chocolate milk that burns! It's subtle enough that a few people have remarked that they didn't even notice it at first, but if you keep drinking, it definitely builds up. This would be even better with an amped up chocolate character — adding cocoa nibs, in other words — but I didn't want to get too crazy with a little one gallon experiment.

I should note that upon opening the first bottle, I got a whiff of something that momentarily set off my paranoia of a wild yeast infection (concerns run high with a batch like this, where you're shoving half-sanitized vegetables into a beer to soak for weeks). However, it was far into the background, and I couldn't pick any trace of the suspicious character out after a minute, so it might have just been some weird veggie funk that hadn't quite integrated with the beer yet. (I'm half assuming that most bacteria would wilt in the face of chili pepper burn). While none of the three version of my porter are perfect, this one definitely has a few odd notes that make it the weakest of the three, for me. I've had some really interesting chocolate chili stouts, but it's clearly not the easiest style, what with so many variables, timing issues and proportions to nail.

Once again, the recipe for the base porter can be found here.


  1. I'm pretty sure DFH put rosemary into Saison du Buff, although I've never had any of the three iterations of it. I used what amounted to an ounce of fresh rosemary in a hoppy porter or roasty CDA or whatever it was. Pretty good beer on its own, but just fantastic with food.

    1. Oh, you're right. Good call!

      Your beer sounds good, I was thinking rosemary should pair well with piney hops since it's already kind of piney on its own. Gotta try that sometime.

  2. Revenge of the Herbs Rosemary CDA (2.5 Gal)
    8 2-row
    .25 Honey Malt
    .33 Amber 35L (2-row in 350F oven for 30 min)
    .25 Black Patent
    Mash at 152F
    .66 Millenium FWH
    .33 CTZ FWH
    1 CTZ, 1 Nugget FO
    3g fresh Rosemary, 1 tsp dried Sage at FO
    1.5 CTZ, 8g Rosemary Dry-hop*
    74IBU 27SRM
    *Steeped 8g rosemary in hot water, then added water and rosemary.

    1. Looks like a solid recipe. How long did you leave the rosemary in contact with the beer?

  3. The flameout adds--hops and herbs alike--were steeped post-boil in a paint strainer bag, then removed. I didn't time it, but it's usually in the ballpark of 30 minutes. The dryhop was 7-10 days, although I'm sure that half that would have sufficed. If I brewed it again, I'd dial back the roast a little. I only used black patent because I didn't have carafa or midnight wheat, although I'd venture BP is better for this beer than tasteless food coloring.


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