Saturday, September 26, 2009

Xocolatl - The fermented food of the Gods

I recently was able to try another one of Dogfish Head's crazy releases, Theobroma. Like most of their one time releases, it sounds extremely interesting, especially when you hear about what is in the beer. However, like all of the other single releases that I have tried this one failed to deliver. I really think the idea is there, I just don't think that they were able to pull it off.

In my opinion most of the releases are just too over the top and almost all have a certain mead-like quality to them. Considering mead isn't really my one of my favorite drinks, and that the mead-like trait these beers display reminds me of my first mead attempt with cheap honey (it just didn't taste good), you can understand my feelings about their beers. Now I don't want this to be a long diatribe about the quality of Dogfish Head releases (IMO hugely lacking anything but marketing), instead I want to focus on the idea of theobroma.

According to the bottle, Theobroma is based off a forensic analysis of pottery fragments, similar to how they crafted Midas' Touch. The idea sounds pretty cool, but the ingredients sound even more intriguing; cacao, annatto, chili and honey. However uncharacteristically of their beers, none of the flavors really come to the forefront. Usually the problem I have with them is that everything is far too bold, here the flavors are far too subtle, well, except for the honey.

As far as the ingredients list goes, I don't think they really needed to rely on a forensic analysis of pottery fragments (but its great for marketing). In fact in 1631, the first recipe for a chocolate drink was published in book titled "Curioso tratado de la naturaleza y calidad del chocolate" (A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate) - hard to find but an interesting read. The recipe included: cacao beans, chilies, anise, vanilla, cinnamon, almonds, hazelnut, annatto and sugar. Supposedly this recipe was an authentic version of the Aztec drink xocolatl or cacahuatl, but I'm pretty sure that sugar was not something the natives had access to before the arrival of Europeans, and the hazelnut and almond are also suspect. That aside, the recipe actually sounds very good. To me, this sounds like a bitter hot chocolate with a very round flavor thanks to cinnamon, vanilla and annatto.

Now tastes change,we are influenced by the things we have grown up with, and I'm converting this to beer form so somethings had to be tweaked a bit. So when thinking about this recipe, I decided to adjust it a bit to get it to work in a more beer-like form. For one, I think a nice malty backbone could balance the bitterness of the cocoa and the heat of the chilies. To accomplish this I did a very long boil as you would with a wee heavy, and boiled the beer down to a thick syrup before adding water back to it. This darkened the wort, heavily caramelizing it and deepening the malty flavors. The next change surrounded the use of the  nuts. Using nuts in a beer causes head retention problems and will introduce fats into the wort, so I avoided using actual nuts and instead chose to use extracts. (In this recipe I was going for proof of concept so I used commercial extracts, however fat washing your own roasted nuts is a much better alternative) I also decided to skip hops, instead I am relying on the cocoa powder to provide a nice bitterness to balance the beer. I'm hoping these changes will translate into a very tasty "beer"

Xocolatl - The fermented Food of the Gods

Malt Bill
Amt (lbs)Type
1.0White Wheat
0.125Extra Light DME
1 tbspCocoa15min
0.5 tbspCocoa5min
6 gmRoasted Hatch Chile5min
0.5 tbspCocoaKO
1/16 tspCinnamonKO
1/8 tspAnise2ndary
1/8 tspAnnatto2ndary
To TasteVanilla ExtractBottling
To TasteHazelnut ExtractBottling
Yeast - Nottingham
120min Boil1064 OG:1gal75% Eff

Notes: Wort was boiled until it became a very thick sugar syrup and very noticeably darkened. Spices were added whole and uncrushed except for the annatto. Beer will be carbonated to a varied range of CO2 (1.5-3vol). Wort was actually additional runoff from another beer that was brewed
Review 12-19-2009


smokingbottle said...

wow! That is definitely interesting. what was the batch size exactly? And can you guesstimate what volumes you had (before and after) when you boiled the wort to a "syrup." I'd like to see how this one turns out.

Ryan said...

It was 1gal, I guess I forgot to add that to the recipe

wort prior to boiling was ~1.5gal, and after 120min it was probably <0.25gal

It was strange to see wort look like that, Ive done long boils for wee heavys but this looked like I was making hard candy, it was foaming up to the top in a 3gal pot

Dan said...

I used 8oz of Cocoa Powder in my saison and I still think it could use more. However, I way overdid the cinnamon stick addition (4 I think) in secondary which is unfortunately dominating the flavor. Perhaps I'll try some chocolate extract at bottling whenever that happens.

Ryan said...

Give it a shot, 4 sticks does seem like quite a bit, sit on it and see what happens

LeonardC said...

Howdy ryan! I've been intrigued by this blog about Xocolatl. I'm including excerpts of it in a book on home brewing I'm currently writing, showing the history of brewing, among my other experiences in this journey into happy madness called home brewing. I'd like your permission to leave it in my book for more folks to see. although i may have to make a 5 gallon partial mash version of it. would it be OK with you to leave it in? E-Mail me @ Thank you.

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