Sadly, the old tale about carrots helping you to see better at night is just that. They only help your vision if you’re low in Vitamin A—which does help maintain good vision and which carrots can provide in bushels. About 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of carrot can provide all the Vitamin A you need for a day. So, how much of that can we squeeze into a beer?
One brewery known for using carrots is the foraging Scratch in Ava, Illinois. There, cofounders Marika Josephson and Aaron Kleidon like to find and brew with wild carrots. For their carrot-ginger saison, they add about two pounds of roasted carrots per five gallons (or one kilogram per 20 liters) after primary fermentation. They’ve also been known to add carrots to the boil—either early for a mild bitterness, or later (say, at 20 minutes remaining) for more flavor.
For more possibilities, we look to what must be one of the world’s most carrot-packed beers: Carrot Cake J.R.E.A.M., from Burley Oak Brewing in Berlin, Maryland.
Burley Oak first brewed Carrot Cake J.R.E.A.M. for its annual Sour Fest in 2018. Adam Davis, Burley Oak’s head brewer and chief operating officer, says the event has grown from 14 different sour beers in 2016 to 30 of them in 2019. (They took a year off for the pandemic.)
Having to produce that kind of variety was the genesis of Carrot Cake J.R.E.A.M. “It really pushes us as brewers to come up with all these wacky ideas,” Davis says. Many of those ideas fit in with their J.R.E.A.M. series—it stands for “Juice Rules Everything Around Me” (ask the Wu-Tang Clan).
To back up a bit: Burley Oak has a special focus on sour beers. That all started with Sour Trip—a kettle-sour inspired by Berliner weisse. (They’re based in Berlin, so they had to, right?) “That base recipe has become the foundation for a lot of what we’ve done over the past decade,” Davis says. “Dry-hopped Sour Trip is called Sorry Chicky. Jelly Not Jam is a non-lactose fruited variant, and J.R.E.A.M. is the fruited lactose variant.”
The J.R.E.A.M. series offers more treats than the dessert table at a church potluck. Banana Bread, Berry Cherry, Blackberry Cobbler, Blueberry Strawberry, and Apricot Raspberry are just a handful of the more popular variations over the past few years. They also come in different strengths: They usually check in at 4.8 percent ABV, while there are Double versions at about 7 percent or even Triples at 9 percent.
“Who doesn’t love a good carrot cake?” Davis says. “The ‘cake’ descriptor, in our made-up nomenclature, means we’ve added cinnamon, vanilla beans, and dark brown sugar to replicate that dessert carrot-cake flavor profile. We’ve maintained some other variants, like pie, cobbler, crumble, cheesecake, French toast, lemon bar, etcetera. It’s become our in-house way of identifying the spice profile in addition to the fruits, which are a little more obvious. It makes things a lot easier on our end because when we see the name on the brew sheets, we know exactly what ingredients need to go into the batch—it’s become our second language.”
About those carrots: “We’re using fresh carrot juice,” Davis says. “We’ve not experimented with any sort of raw carrot or peeled carrot. My assumption and reason for going that route was that I don’t think we’d get any flavor or color unless it was juiced.”
Burley Oak has an oversized 15-barrel brewhouse, which Davis says is really closer to 20 barrels. That “allows us to really push the limits on how much our fermentation tanks can hold, so we can maximize our yields,” he says. They add the fruit toward the end of fermentation. Davis says he prefers not to get specific on how much fruit goes into a specific recipe, but it’s anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds (about 450 to 900 kilos) per 30 barrels of beer (35 hectoliters). Scaled down, that’s roughly 5.4 to 10.8 pounds of fruit for a five-gallon (19-liter) batch.
In the case of Carrot Cake J.R.E.A.M., “we just substituted a veggie for the fruit,” Davis says. “It’s just as healthy, but in a different way.”
His best advice for brewers who want to brew with carrots or carrot juice: “Go nuts with it! We benefit from a tremendous amount of ADHD around here, so we’re always trying to brew something new and exciting. Plus, as brewers, it would be really boring to be slaves to production demands of the same beers over and over. ... Every day around here is something new, and the most consistent thing we brew is three fruited kettle sours every month.”
While carrot beers won’t necessarily improve your eyesight, they can be a sight to behold—the vivid orange body and orange head are showstoppers. Just be cognizant of the earthiness that carrots bring to a beer, and consider the juice-bar trick of leaning in with other orange fruits.