Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fermented Traditional Mexican Ponche

During the festivities of Christmas in Mexico, when you are invited into the family homes you'll soon be offered a sweet fruit punch that is traditionally made for this season. The proportions of ingredients that create the flavors of this warm (yes, it's served warm off the stove top) concoction are as individual as the family that prepares it but all have in common the fruit available at this time of year along with piloncillo (sugar) and spices. This tart and sweet drink is served to family members, guests and traveling strangers that may stop by the house during one of the neighborhood Christmas posadas.

Preparation begins by bringing water to a boil in a large olla and then introducing all of the ingredients one by one for as long as it takes to adjust the flavors to the cook's taste as the boil continues.

As I was curious about this drink and I just happen to know a Mexican family I asked them if they would share the process of making punche'. Liz, a friend and a Mexican with some experience making ponche' offered to help me out with this project. Of course I had ulterior motives. That's right, I can't imagine a delicious beverage not being improved with a little fermentation and so I was on a quest to take the traditional and morph it into the slightly non-traditional with the introduction of Belgian ale yeast. Liz was game and so our mission began.

Here's the fruit we used to prepare what I'm calling the 'Lizmark' (dare I say "Sinking of the Lizmark"?) ponche'. Keep in mind that you can add pretty much any fruit you want and there are several that we didn't include in our recipe.

We started with I would guess to be about 12 liters of water and brought it to a boil. I'm guessing 12 liters because Liz doesn't measure anything. It seemed that intuition was more her guide. While the water was heating, she assigned me the task of preparing the fruit by cutting it into bite sized chunks. This included a dozen guavas, several yellow/green apples (not granny smith), a few mango's and a handful of pitted prunes. I tossed all these in as the water began to boil along with two dark colored piloncillo. Piloncillo is a raw sugar that is compacted into the shape of a cone about 5" tall and comes in light brown and dark brown. I then peeled about twenty tamarindo and threw them in without pitting or cutting them up and then I added a fistful of jamica (what gringos would refer to as dried hibiscus flower). Finally I added five or six long cinnamon sticks and let the whole thing boil vigorously. 
naked tamarindo

Liz tasted my effort and suggested I add more jamica and a few more tamarindo to the mix. Because we did this in July we were not able to use any tejocotes which are only ripe and available during the winter. The tejocote fruit are small speckled things about the size of a blemished golfball that grow on a scraggy, spindled shrub-like tree that appears to scream "I'm going to survive in this harsh environment no matter what!" They are a required ingredient for the real traditionalists imparting another dimension of tartness to the ponche'. The first person to eat one of these scary looking things was a brave sole indeed. Some say it has a pear/apple flavor. Personally I don't think they're necessary since the punche' has enough other acidic ingredients in it. My guess is that the importance of including tejocotes comes from a 'waste-not, want-not' attitude and is more nostalgia than anything else. Plus, what else are you going to do with this weird, unattractive fruit?

The other missing ingredients in our version are pieces of raw sugar cane and maybe some raisins but who's counting?
After Liz was satisfied with the flavor we achieved I turned off the heat and we sat back with a cold Victoria and watched the pot cool. Then we got tired of watching the pot so I took it back to the brewery and transferred the entire content into a sanitized fermentor. I left it to chill naturally over night and returned in the morning and pitched the Belgian yeast. If I recall correctly it was a jar of salvage Whitelabs WLP500. I figured that the phenolic qualities that this yeast brings to the equation would be a good match with all of the fruity tartness of the punch.

cinnamon and prune
I left it to ferment for a week (for those interested, it went from and o.g. of 1.055 down to 1.008 % or about 6% abv.) and then racked it into a 2 liter plastic bottle and forced carbonated. When I transfer the punch out of the fermentor I did this gently as I wanted to leave behind the large quantity of fruit pulp and debris that had settled to the bottom. I set the fairly clear and fully carbonated ponche' in the coolness of the kegerator to age for a bit.

finished product on ice

One month later, I brought our new baby home wrapped in swaddling ice packs to share with Liz, Antonio and their staff at The Beer Company. This carbonated, alcoholic version of the traditional ponche' was a hit. Everyone liked it including me as I enjoyed mine poured over ice. A very nice balance of tart fruit, spice and a sweet but dry finish. I don't care too much for the traditional ponche' because of the high level of cloying sweetness but after fermenting out some of the sugar this drink is quite satisfying.

My plan is to make a larger batch of this again, but at the brewery come this Winter and have it available on one of the taps at The Beer Company. If you're down here for X-mas stop by for a glass. Salud!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dos Por Uno Cerveza

I brewed the Dos Aves barley wine and just like the high gravity Russian imperial stout this barley wine required enough grain to completely fill my keggle mash tun. Once mashed in I had about half an inch of space at the top to run my sparge water. I have found that the more grain I pack into my mash the lower my efficiency comes in after a 45 minute sparge. In the case of this particular barley wine my efficiency was somewhere near 73% which is about 10 to 15% less than my average strength beers like my pale ale and dry stout. At the end of the sparge I was still drawing enough sugar from the grain to warrant salvaging some for a small beer.
So, while the wort for my barley wine was coming to a boil I heated up some additional sparge water and rinsed another 4 gallons of wort from the grain. Believe it or not I ended up with a gravity reading of 1.035 from this effort and knew I had the potential for some additional beer.

I set this aside while I finished brewing the barley wine as per normal and got it chilled and in the fermentor.

I then set to work on my small brown ale. I wanted the gravity to be a bit bigger so I add some cane sugar to the boil and add some hops sparingly hoping for a mild bitterness. I chilled and left it up to a packet of dry US-05 yeast to ferment.

After fermentation was complete I tasted the beer and found it to be slightly astringent (from the extra sparging I suppose) and lacking in the malt character that I was looking for and since I had come this far with it I figured I'd double down on my effort and decided to see what would happen if I added some local fruit. My thinking was to possibly temper the astringency and additionally create some added dimensions to the beer. In this case I guessed that 3 over ripe papayas and a mango would do the job.

I washed and sanitized the fruit first and then my hands because after peeling and scooping out the fruit I used my bare hands to squish the fruit into a lumpy puree. The odds of my contaminating this beer were high but since I also enjoy a good sour beer I wasn't afraid and some deep part of me actually smiled at the idea of a sour, brown, tropical fruit beer. I poured the fruit directly onto the fermented beer and covered with a lid and airlock. I stepped back and rubbed my hands together in anticipation.

Brown ale with fruit
The following day the fruit pulp had risen to the top of the fermentor along with some foamy krausen as the fruit fermented actively and gave off a large fruity aroma with the rising co2. After about a week and a half the fruit was starting to fall from the surface and I racked to a clean keg and force carbonated. I placed this keg in the kegerator to let it rest for a few days before bottling.

The final results? A mild brown ale with easy drinkability. The papaya aroma come through with the dark fruitiness of the crystal malts but is only slightly detectable in the flavor which is predominantly stone fruit and caramel. The astringency is mostly gone and the bitterness is just a bit higher than I would like but not offensive.

This low alcohol (session brown?) will be a great beer for quaffing on the roof top as the lazy days of summer wind down. If you are here in San Miguel, come by for a pint and give me some honest feed back on this secondary beer you might even get a taste of my traditional Mexican ponche that I fermented for an untraditional alcohol kick. Cheers!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dos Aves In This Mag.

Finally, we're somebody. The current issue of 'This' magazine is out and they've featured some information on the craft beer movement in Mexico and included a mention of Cerveceria Dos Aves in the effort. This could be it, this could be the 15 minutes of fame that Dos Aves has been looking for, or maybe our 15 minutes will come later and this is just and indicator that it's on its way. In any case the brief article includes Dos Aves as one of the up and comers in the craft beer scene here.

Quoted next to pictures of the big boys of craft beer Tempus and Josefa I was excited to read:

"The passion for craft beer at Dos Aves took its owner and master beer maker Mark Taylor to establish the Beer School in San Miguel de Allende. This beer-making firm is another great promise for the national market."

Are we becoming mainstream? Maybe not quite yet but this is definately a sign that we're moving in the right direction. I could go so far as to say that Cerveceria Dos Aves is the number one locally brewed craft beer in San Miguel de allende based on our sales, and I will.

Yes our competition is scarce here but even so, our beer is by far superior in every way. Case in point, a recent side by side comparison of Dos Aves pale ale with a popular national brand and another brewed in near by Queretero and the panel of non-biased tasters concluded that 'hands down' Dos Aves was by far a much better product.

If you're near San Miguel and you want to have a great craft beer experience, order Dos Aves, you won't be dissapointed. In fact, I would suggest that you compare our beers with any other locally brewed beer and if you find theirs better, I'll pay for it. That's how confident I am in Dos Aves. And, if you want to learn to brew great beer, email me, I'd love to show you how it's done.

To read the full article from This magazine go Here.


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