It’s entirely probable that I’ve become a wee bit too obsessed with this hobby. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary by taking a little weekend trip to Mendocino, where we stayed at the wonderful MacCallum House. The cost of breakfast was included in the room, so we ate at their Grey Whale Cafe every morning. Unlike most hotels, where the fare is rather paltry or seems like it was put together in a rush, the Grey Whale serves nothing but high quality gourmet meals using local, mostly organic, produce and meats. It was an incredible way to start each day. When we had dinner there, I ate venison for the first time in my life. Bambi’s mother tasted far better than I expected.
Every meal somehow involved huckleberries. I can only assume the chef got an amazing deal on a batch somewhere and was dying to find ways to use them. If they weren’t part of a syrah reduction sauce for the venison or grilled into buckwheat pancakes, they were served on the side as part of the fruit garnish.
While in Mendocino, I got the bug in my head to make a beer based on our trip. I purchased some local wildflower honey (bees know what’s good in an area better than anyone else), cherry fruit preserves from a local church craft fair and some candied ginger. I had planned on taking these three items and turning them into my Mendocino Weekend Ale, but as I began formulating the recipe in my head, I decided that these ingredients really didn’t do the weekend justice. After all, the huckleberries were what stood out most food-wise to us and they quickly became an inside joke.
On the way home from Mendocino, we stopped off at one of my favorite breweries, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, where they were still serving one of my new favotire beers, Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema. It’s a standard light ale, but with a strong amount of vanilla which makes it taste incredibly creamy. It was the perfect capper to a great weekend.
When I finally sat down at ProMash to come up with my recipe, I took all of these things into consideration. I would still use the honey for its local flavor (it wound up being the only ingredient to actually come from Mendocino) and add a couple of vanilla beans to the secondary in homage to the Summer Solstice. Instead of the cherry preserves, however, I decided to try and get some huckleberries. I looked for hucklberries – fresh or frozen – at all of my local markets, including Whole Foods and Trader Joes, all to no avail. A quick Google search showed that a company called Oregon Coast Jams was selling a 1-gallon tub of Huckleberries through Amazon – to the tune of $40.00. After hemming and hawing, I decided it was worth it and placed the order, which with express shipping (required since they were frozen) came out to around $70. This was no cheap brew.
One gallon of huckleberries is roughly seven pounds or so. I decided to use six pounds for the brew so that I could use the remaining pound in some other food recipes. I based my recipe on an American pale ale and added the two pounds of honey at flameout. After the primary fermentation settled, I cooked the six pounds of huckleberries in about a quart of water or so to both pasteurize them as well as bring out the flavors a bit. I put both my huckleberries and two cut, scraped vanilla beans into my secondary and racked my beer under it. The huckleberries added no points to the gravity, so the fermentation did not restart.
After about five days, I racked the beer into a keg and force carbonated. The berries lent a gorgeous reddish/purple color to the beer. The taste is excellent – a very strong berry flavor with just a hint of vanilla. The foamy head tastes like berry cream. The hop character is a bit more assertive than I’d have liked – I wish I had pulled back a bit on the IBUs for this one. Still, it’s very drinkable and very enjoyable. My wife the non-beer drinker has not yet had the opportunity to sample it, but I’m willing to bet this is one brew of mine I’ll be able to get her to drink. At roughly 5% ABV, this should age reasonably well, provided I can keep enough of it around.
Mendocino Weekend Ale
6lbs. Ultralight LME
1 lb. Crystal Malt 10L
0.5 lb. Cara-Pils Dextrine Malt
1.5 lb. Wildflower Honey
1 oz. Cascade Hops (60 min.)
1 oz. Cascade Hops (30 min.)
1 oz. Amarillo Gold (2 min.)
2 Vanilla Beans, split and scraped (Add to secondary)
6 lbs. Frozen Huckleberries (prepared as mentioned above; Add to secondary)
White Labs WLP001 California Ale Yeast