So a couple weeks ago, as I detailed in my previous blog entry, I brewed a tripel. Last weekend, I brewed a quad . . . of sorts. OK, in reality, it was a clone of Four Loko. Yes, the sweet, obnoxiously artificially flavored “malternative” beverage that also contained caffeine, taurine and guanine until it got banned and the company changed the formula.
A great question at this point might be, why the hell would you do such a thing? It’s a long story, but it starts -- where many very, very bad ideas (bacon Randall anyone?) start -- at a ZEALOTS meeting. (The Austin ZEALOTS are my local homebrew club.)
I was talking with a couple fellow ZEALOTS, Dave Ebel and Joe White, and we were wondering if it would be possible to make something like that at home, hypothetically. After discussing it awhile and realizing the technical challenges it would entail, we decided to actually give it a shot. It was a little like seeing a mountain -- we wanted to try it because of the technical challenge. So, in short, making a Four Loko clone became our Everest . . . or, as a friend of mine put it, our horizontal Everest.
A great question at THIS point might be, what technical challenges are you talking about? Well, there are basically two, the first being to produce a very highly fermentable wort. For this, we decided on a grain bill of (basically) all 2-row pale malt and a fairly long step mash, plus a lot of refined sugar (which is 100% fermentable). The second challenge would be fermenting this high-gravity, low-nutrient wort. Our solution there was to make a very big yeast starter and add sufficient yeast nutrients.
We kicked around a few recipe ideas, Dave got the caffeine, taurine and guanine from the internet, and we were off to the races.
For 15 gallons of the unflavored base beer, we ended up with a grain bill of a whole lot of 2-row pale malt, 1 lb. (0.45 kg) of acidulated malt and 30% sugar -- enough to give an original gravity of 1.100 on my system. With a little luck in producing a highly fermentable wort, that should work out to about 12% alcohol by volume (ABV).
We did a step mash with a 45-minute rest at 140 °F, then ramped the temperature up to 150 °F for another 30 minutes. The ramping itself took about 15 minutes. After briefly recirculating, we ran all the wort off and started the boil.
We only boiled for 20 minutes, because we weren’t adding hops. So, we figured we only needed enough time to coagulate the hot break and then about 15 minutes to let the Irish moss work (plus boil off just a little volume). The sugar went in for the last 15 minutes and then we chilled the wort.
Upon chilling, we found out that we hit our numbers (or were within “spitting distance,” at least) and everything looked good. The color was a little deeper than we expected, but we were also looking into a large volume of wort after sunset.
Dave had made two large yeast starters using White Labs San Diego Super Yeast and we pitched a healthy amount of yeast to our fermenters. Dave took a bucket home and I’m fermenting Joe’s and my wort at my house. The fermentation was going strong the next morning and continued to chug away vigorously about 4 days, then slowed down substantially. In a couple days, I’ll take a gravity reading, but I think -- based on the amount of yeast we pitched -- that primary fermentation may be finished.
So, in a few weeks, we’ll need to decide what flavors to make and how to flavor and back sweeten the brew, but for now we feel like we’ve made it to the second base camp on our horizontal Everest. I’ll post an update when we go for the peak.
I'm going to brew again some time in the coming week (and it will be a "real" beer), but it's fun to try something different every now and then. (Ask me about my idea to try to make a beer from malted beans some time.)