I love sharing my passion for beer, and I’ve been given a number of fun opportunities to do so. Over the past six years I’ve been invited to lecture on the history and science of brewing to the University of Northern Colorado’s Fungi and Algae course. This isn’t because I’m particularly qualified to speak on the subject, but because the professor happens to be my father (pictured above on brew day). The presentation is coupled with a brewing demonstration in which the class and I design a recipe and brew it. When we finally get to enjoy the collaborative beer with the class, the Mycology professor invariably sautés up some fresh mushrooms for pairing. After a couple years of this, it was inevitable that we joined the likes of Tröegs Brewery, Cincinnati’s Blank Slate Brewing Company, and Equinox Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado, with the crazy idea of throwing those mushrooms into the brew kettle as well as the skillet.
We approached our good friends at Wiley Roots Brewing Company (Greeley, Colorado) about this idea. Kyle Carbaugh, the brewer/owner of Wiley Roots, was more than excited to give it a shot. We quickly settled on a California Common for the base style for this experiment. The rustic, woodsy hops flavors and moderate malt complexity seemed like a perfect match to highlight the deep earthy richness found in most mushrooms.
To determine the best mushroom for the base style, we tested three different varieties: oysters, morels, and porcini. We made separate infusions, using about 3 grams of dried ground mushrooms steeped in 1 cup of boiling water. We then dosed 4 ml of the infusion into the Platonic ideal of a California Common: Anchor Steam Beer. The oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) imparted a subtle earthy richness but were a little too restrained. The morels (Morchella esculenta) came off almost smoky and spicy. They would have been fun to use, but none of us wanted to cash in our retirement to pay for the pounds of dried morels we would need. The porcini (Boletus edulis, colloquially called boletes) were the perfect complement to the beer, lending a healthy amount of rich, earthy brightness that paired perfectly with the Anchor Steam. It smelled and tasted as if we were walking through a deciduous forest just after a light rain.
Mushroom cultivators have yet to domesticate boletes, so we’re dependent on intrepid mushroom hunters for the harvest. We were able to secure two sources of porcini. Through an online wholesaler, we found several pounds of dried powdered Italian porcini. We were also given a generous amount of whole dried porcini from Hilary Burgess, a mushroom hunter from the Aspen, Colorado, area. She foraged these boletes somewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley (I know better than to ask a seasoned forager about location specifics). With the mushroom variety secured, we designed a California Common recipe that stayed pretty well within the lines, although a bit higher gravity than normal.
Porcini Common Recipe
We brewed a 25-gallon (94.6-liter) batch on Wiley Roots’ pilot system. We’ve converted it to a 5-gallon (19 l) batch here.
9 lb (4.08 kg) U.S. 2-row (73.7%)
1 lb (454 g) U.K. light crystal (8.4%)
1 lb (454 g) U.K. Munich malt (8.4%)
1 lb (454 g) Belgian biscuit malt (8.4%)
2.4 oz (68 g) U.K. chocolate malt (1.1%)
HOPS AND ADDITIONS SCHEDULE
0.7 oz (20 g) Northern Brewer [8% AA] at 60 minutes
0.7 oz (20 g) Northern Brewer [8% AA] at 30 minutes
3 oz (85 g) powdered Italian porcini at 10 minutes (see below)
0.7 oz (20 g) Northern Brewer [8% AA] at flame out
5 oz (142 g) powdered Italian porcini in secondary for 7 days (see below)
3 oz (85 g) whole dried Colorado porcini in secondary for 3 days (see below)
WLP810 San Francisco Lager
Single-infusion mash at 149°F (65°C) for 60 minutes. Boil for 60 minutes following the hops and additions schedule. With 10 minutes left in the boil, we added 3 ounces (85 g) of the powdered Italian porcini directly to the boil kettle. Immediately after we added the porcini powder, the hoppy sweetness of the wort steam was transformed into a rich stew-like aroma.
We fermented the beer at 64°F (18°C) using WLP810 San Francisco Lager yeast.
After two weeks in primary, the beer hit a terminal gravity of 1.018, and we tasted it to plan the next steps. Surprisingly, the porcini aroma that was so dominant on brew day had significantly dropped off. There was a prominent umami flavor, but all of those volatile aromatics seemed to have been blown off during the fermentation. To try to recapture that unique flavor and aroma, we added 5 ounces (142 g) of powdered Italian porcinis for 7 days and 3 ounces (85 g) of whole dried Colorado porcinis for 3 days before crash cooling and racking into kegs.
When the beer was finally ready to serve, the porcini aromatics still seemed to be missing. There was a pleasant caramel and toasted malt aroma and subtle earthiness, but it was hard to distinguish the porcini from the Northern Brewer hops. The porcini were very prominent in the flavor and mouthfeel, but it all surrounded that umami richness previously detected. The beer reminded us of a sweet barley stew, with all of the meatiness and earthiness one would expect. What took the beer to the next level was garnishing the glasses with a sliver of dried Colorado porcini. Just a little bit of rehydrated bolete completely opened up the beer, bringing out the distinct porcini aroma we sought.
Next Time . . .
Overall, the beer was a success, but we learned more than we could have imagined. As we plan this year’s mushroom collaboration beer, we have a new appreciation for how to use the mushroom. In dealing with the fungus on brew day, we know we should treat it as an ingredient that will add body and richness, clearly imparting the mystical fifth taste: umami. This isn’t surprising, given the high amount of free amino acids and MSG-like precursors found in mushrooms. That high concentration of free amino acids and the complex sugars found in mushrooms offer an enticing feedstock for more promiscuous fermenters, such as Brettanomyces.
The “dry-shrooming” probably contributed something, but we think the aroma is so delicate that it makes more sense to leave it to just before serving, either through conditioning in a firkin or a Randall treatment. These two serving options could also open up the use of fresh local mushrooms. Overall, this has been the perfect collaboration among academia, business, and a beer nerd.
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