Saturday, May 25, 2013

Strong Maple Mild

Springtime in New England brings the odd site of metal buckets hanging from the trunks of maple trees and the slow drip of maple sap falling from iron spiles. Of course, this maple sap is destined for local sugar shacks where it will be boiled ruthlessly until it it transformed into maple syrup. Most of this is done on family farms or larger commercial operations. A friend of mine, however, decided to try this at home this year, tapping the trees in his front yard and boiling down the sap on his propane grill. Back at the end of March, his trees were producing so much sap, he couldn't keep up, so he asked if I wanted some to brew with. Any regular reader of this blog knows how much I like to incorporate local ingredients into my brewing - whether it's cranberries, pumpkins, or wild yeast - so I jumped at the chance of using maple sap. I told my friend that I would need approximately six gallons of sap to replace the water I would normally use for the 3.5-3.75 gallon batches I brew. Not a problem - the sap is flowing like crazy.

While he collected the sap, I put together a recipe and headed out to my LHBS to purchase the ingredients. I had decided to brew an English Mild - I figured something like this would have the best chance of allowing any possible maple flavor from the sap to come through (though I am fully aware that there isn't much maple flavor in the raw sap - it's just too dilute). Unfortunately, shortly after picking up the ingredients, the sap stopped flowing and my friend was only able to collect 3.5 gallons for me. I figured my choices were to either supplement water for the other 2.5 gallons...or just brew a smaller batch. I really didn't want to dilute the sap with water, so I opted to go with a smaller batch size. However, since the grains were already milled together, a smaller batch meant that I was now looking at a much higher starting gravity than originally intended. So, instead of a "regular" Mild, I brewed a Strong Mild - not quite the oxymoron you might think.

It took me a while to get to this beer, so I kept the sap frozen to avoid it spoiling. I used a few cups of sap instead of water to make a yeast starter - I figured that this would allow the yeast to acclimate to the sap and it would let me keep this beer 100% undiluted sap-based. The sap itself had a specific gravity of 1.006. Even though the sap looked, smelled, and pretty much tasted just like water (perhaps a tad sweet if you really looked for it), when it was boiled for the starter and even just heated for the mash it became obvious that it was not the same as water - it darkened slightly and had a noticeable maple syrup aroma. In the end I don't know if any flavor or aroma contribution from the sap will be identifiable in the beer, but I am certain that the sap will add some complexity. Since I didn't want to dilute this beer with any water, I only used the first runnings from the mash. I went with English hops - Bramling Cross, which I really like for its combination of fruity and earthy flavors. Not sure if it was the sap or the use of brown malt or the combination of the two, but this was one of the best smelling mashes and boils I've ever had. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how this one turns out - though given it will probably end up around 8% ABV, it might need to age a little bit before it comes into its own.

Spile Driver
Brewed on 5/19/13

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 2.25 gal
Estimated Color: 19.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 42.8 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 62.00 %
OG: 1.078
FG: 1.017
ABV: 8.0%

5 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter - 81.6%
8.0 oz Brown Malt - 8.2%
8.0 oz Crystal Malt (77°L; Crisp) - 8.2%
2.0 oz Acidulated malt - 2.0% (for mash pH)

~3.5 gallons of maple sap (SG = 1.006...I figure the amount of sugar from the sap would be the equivalent of ~5oz of sucrose)

9 g Bramling Cross [7.00 %] - 60.0 min
9 g Bramling Cross [7.00 %] - 30.0 min
9 g Bramling Cross [7.00 %] - 10.0 min

English Ale (White Labs #WLP002)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 150°F, No Sparge


Brian said...

This sounds like a great experiment. I'm curious to find out if any maple flavor comes through.

Jim Lemire said...

Bottled this today...FG = 1.017...just about 8% ABV...even warm and flat it tasted amazing. I couldn't really pick out any distinctly maple flavors, but I'll do a more "formal" tasting once it is carbed up and conditioned.

Jim Lemire said...

Tasted one the other day - it was really good if I do say so myself. I don't have any formal notes - that will wait for another time but this beer is delicious. Might not need nearly as much time to condition/age...though it will be interesting to see where this goes over the next few months.

Dank brewer said...

Good stuff. I tried to do this again this year, but missed the maple sap harvest. Did you have issues with head retention? I remember that was a problem with my first attempt at this. Other then that, it had a nice "woody" character to it.

Jim Lemire said...

Sorry for the delayed reply, but I had to wait to drink another one to answer you question...and with only a handful of bottles, I'm trying to spread them out a bit. Anyway, yes, the head does not last well at all on this beer - though this particular brew is also over 8% ABV, so that could be part of it. At some point I'll post some tasting notes, though "woodsy" is definitely a good descriptor.

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