The abyssal zone is the second deepest layer in the ocean (or, the deepest, if you don’t count the Marianas trench). No light from the sun can ever pierce its depths, which are typically inhabited by bizarre creatures who’s life has only known darkness. Sulfur geysers and giant squids call this level of the ocean home. Welcome to the Abyssopelgic.
As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the whole “tromp l’oeil” idea of brewing beers that look one way and taste another. While I’ve gone in one direction of making light colored beers that taste dark, I’ve never really worked in the other direction of making beers that look dark, but taste light (well, barring the black IPA, but I just didn’t want that to be too roasty).
Working at a gastropub that serves some more experimental type dishes, one of the cooler ingredients that I’ve seen used in the kitchen probably has to be squid ink. It’s incredibly popular in traditional Italian cooking, and has become popular in other countries as well, such as Japanese cuisine. While it has a decidedly brackish and fishy flavor like caviar, it’s primary use is for it coloring. Typically used in pastas and sauces, it adds a crazy black color when it’s added.
One of the other super black foods that has been gaining some more exposure is also coconut ash. Also known as its more utilitarian name of “activated charcoal”, coconut ash is literally the husks and shells of spent coconuts that don’t make their way into fun and flavorful products that is essentially cremated at high temperatures and then ground into a fine powder. You might recognize it from such media-friendly exposes like Buzzfeed’s article about Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream in NYC, who is credited with popularizing the ingredient for its short-lived trendiness. It also has a whole bunch of less scientifically validated uses, such as being able to help whiten your teeth and detoxify your body. At least it will make your ice cream black, for sure.
Before I even attempted to crest the hill of making sour beers, I always told myself that I wanted to do a black gose with squid ink. Slowly but surely, all the other ideas I had for goses got eaten away by mainstream (read: real) breweries, like margarita/lime goses aged on tequila oak chips. However, to my knowledge, no one else has attempted the squid ink aspect, yet. The time had officially come.
Batch Size: 6 gallons
Mash Temp: 152 F for 60 min.
Boil Time: 30 min.
Batch Efficiency: 72%
Original Gravity: 1.038 // 9.5 P
Final Gravity: 1.010 // 2.6 P
Estimated ABV: 3.7%
IBUs: 0 IBU
Color: 39.2 EBC // 19.9 SRM
- 4# Red Wheat Malt | 47%
- 3# Floor-malted Pilsner | 35%
- 1# Torrified Wheat | 12%
- .25# Carafa II Special (dehusked) | 3%
- .25# Midnight Wheat | 3%
- No hops | 0 IBU
- Bootleg Biology Sour Weapon L, Fermented @ 90F for 3 days
- Safale US-04, fermented @ 70F
Spices and Stuff
- 3 oz. Food-Grade Organic Coconut Ash @ sparge
- 90g Cuttlefish Ink @ 15 min.
- .5 oz. Baileen Flake Sea Salt @ 10 min.
- .75 oz. Crushed Corriander Seed @ 10 min.
- 1 Tab WhirlFloc @ 15 min.
- 3 mL 88% Lactic Acid
- 1 tsp CaCl
Before I even put the kettle on the burner, I needed to do some experimentation to understand my ingredients better. It’s a practice that I would highly encourage other brewers to do, as it’s absolutely crucial before getting balls deep into the mania of playing around with the spice cabinet or cleaning out the aisles of your local bodega or Asian market. In fact, it’s even a process that many professional brewers use, as Sam & Tim from Dogfish Head talk about in their video of producing 2011’s Urkontinent (specifically @2:45). Making teas or trying out different methods of processing certain ingredients for use in brewing is not only beneficial for figuring out the impact a spice or ingredient will (potentially) have on the finished beer, but I also think it’s fun to experiement and learn more about how different things taste in different contexts and how changing the way you might typically approach them can change how you perceive them. Case in point, the squid ink and the coconut ash.
While I was somewhat familar with each ingredient, I wasn’t that knowledgeable. Chef took me back in the kitchen and let me taste the squid ink directly, instead of already mixed into the rest of the dish, and it was incredibly similar to sturgeon caviar. Also, licking it directly off a small spoon, my tongue was temporarily died black. A good laugh was had in the walk-in.}
On the other hand, I’ve never had any dealings with coconut ash aside from seeing the articles and thinking “Wow, that’s cool, but I’m not driving 4+ hours to New York City and then waiting in line for another hour or two to try some black vanilla ice cream”.
The easiest solution: buy some and play around. So, much like in the video I linked above, I made my own little “teas” with the ingredients, which actually led to some pretty surprising discoveries. The first of which was that, even with as little as a 1/4 tsp in 4 oz. of water, the saltiness of the squid ink (well, cuttlefish ink) was significantly decreased. It was still slightly brackish and had that “sea flavor”, but it was more akin to a light seafood stock. It was also pitch black, so a light seafood stock that was also Dethklok levels of metal.
On the other hand, the ash provided an interesting contrast. I followed the same process of heating up some water in my tea kettle to ~180F (proper tea temp), and added 1/4 tsp to the glass before pouring water over top. Unlike the ink, which dissolved readily, the powdered charcoal was definitely not as soluble. Even after getting it to mix in, the ash settled to the bottom of the glass. However, I also had the great idea to pass it through a coffee filter to see if it had any effect on the water itself. Turns out, it provides a nice grey-black hue to the water and only added a slightly mineral flavor. I’d call that another mild success. From there, I was ready to move into the brewday.
The nice thing about doing all the goses and Berliner weisses is that they are significantly easy by comparison to almost everything else that I end up brewing. 8.5# of grain for a mash means only heating up 3 gallons of water. I added in the water adjustments and managed to come in perfectly on temp. After holding for 15 minutes, I checked the pH, which also stuck the landing for a nice 5.32. At this point, all I could do was to wait patiently and see how everything was going to play out.
Now, similar to how the black IPA I had recently brewed came out nice and dark, I knew that I was going to be well off with using the powerhouse combo of Midnight Wheat and Carafa II Special for getting the color I wanted. However, I was also working with a significantly lower grist, so I’d have to go sparingly to not get overly roasty tones. Once again, I managed to be more lucky than talented, as the first runnings were a super dark chocolate in color with minimal roastiness to it. I was actually a little surprised at just how dark it was, because the calculated 20 SRM wasn’t quite that dark, even though it was going to get cut with the second runnings after sparging. I collected a good 2.5 gallons of wort from the first round.
Next up, batch sparge, with a twist. 5.5 gallons of 175F degree water got poured into the cooler, but before I did that, I measured out 3 oz. of the coconut ash and threw it on top of the grain bed. Now, what I should have done was mix it into the grains. What I did do was just pour the water right over top of it. The ensuing reaction was that the very light and powdery charcoal dust was blown completely all over everything below my waste, in some sort of reverse Scarface scene where the cocaine is actually just Vantablack powder. A good majority of the dust did stay in the mash tun and, after stirring everything back up before allowing the grainbed to rest, it was decidedly blacker than it was before. Post time to reform, I vorlaufed to get everything mingled in nicely, as well as to use the grainbed as its own filter to pull out the charcoal granules too. Similar to how the small scale experiment worked, I got some significantly colored second runnings, almost a dark grey in color. I got roughly 4 more gallons into the kettle, ending up with ~6.5-7 gallons for the half hour boil.
At this point, the boil was more to sanitize the wort and integrate any other ingredients that I needed for the batch. I decided to go against hopping on this batch, especially since I was also using a new bacteria for souring. Last release, I had opted to scoop up the Sour Weapon double LP set from Bootleg Biology, which allowed me to grab the Sour Weapon L, the Lactobacillus blend that they offer. Unlike Pediococcus, Lacto is much less tolerant of hops and IBUs, generally having a threshold of 5-10 IBU, tops. As is also per the BJCP guidelines, I passed on even adding a late addition of hops to the beer, just to be cautious.
At 15, the WhirlFloc went in and the immersion chiller followed, no big deal. It was also time to start hustling. I started to slowly add in the squid (cuttlefish) ink, about a spoonful of a time, which was about 15g intervals. Slowly, the beer continued to get even darker and the saline scents started to kick up. But even after trying the wort, it wasn’t actually salty, let alone getting that slight mineral flavor a gose is supposed to have. Emergency measures taken, I ran up and grabbed the flaked sea salt out of the cabinet. Unlike last time, however, I had measurements that were decided more reasonable, i.e. I didn’t flip how the values should have been for the spice additions. So, at 10, I added in 1/2 oz. of sea salt and dropped in the bag containing 3/4 oz. freshly crushed corriander seeds (also, it was actually corriander this time, not cumin). From then, it was just letting the boil finish out.
I chilled the wort down to 70F before pulling out the chiller and preparing to rack over. Now, something that I had forgotten to mention previously was that, before milling the grains for this batch, I adjusted the crush setting for the rollers on my mill using the ol’ credit card trick. Since it was a finer crush, I expected a slightly higher efficiency on the batch. Checking the gravity on the batch, it came it at 1.036 (1.038, adjusted), which was lower than I had estimated. That was before it was realized that we had collected 6 gallons of wort, not the 5.5 that was planned. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I had picked up an extra 4% efficiency on the mash compared to what I usually got. I was pretty happy with that outcome.
I also took the time to do another new step for this batch: I pre-acidified the wort before pitching the bacteria. I didn’t take any measurement on how much exactly I used, but it was the last end of the bottle I had, so I managed to barely squeak my pH down to 4.5, which is the upper end of what’s recommended for the process (which is said to help with the fermentation process and head retention of the finished beer).
I pitched in the packet of Sour Weapon L, attached the heat wrap, and dropped in the sanitized thermal probe for the InkBird, setting it at 90F, letting the wort heat back up and get funkified with the sour magic for a few days. Of course, after the 3 days I typically allow for the wort to sour before adding the proper ale yeast to the brew, Pennsylvania was engulfed in one of our ever-so-lovely heatwaves. The temperature inside the carboy was hovering about 72-73F, which is slightly higher than I would have preferred, but without setting up a cold water bath, we weren’t going to get much lower with the ambient temp and a lack of control (note: it actually did, the ale yeast fermented at about 70-71F, which I’m cool with). 2 packs of US-04 were rehydrated and pitched into the batch when it was sufficiently cooled and allowed to ferment out.
After 10 days, I had my dad check for a gravity reading, that measured 1.008 (adjusted), which was slightly higher than I expected, but acceptable for the style. The real kicker was that, when I asked how it tasted, his reply was “cherry-ish”. I didn’t quite understand what he meant until bottling day.
After making a simple syrup priming solution consisting of 5.5 oz. (3/4 cup) table sugar, aiming for ~2.7/vol CO2, I racked out the 6 gallons of beer from the fermenter. I was slightly taken aback by how light and clear it was, looking at it through the autosiphon, almost more of an Oud Bruin in color than the stout/porter I had imagined it would be. The craziest part, by far, was the smell. Opening the fermenter, I was just completely assailed by waves and waves of black cherry. That’s almost all I could smell, with just a hint of some wheat to it. The final gravity reading also came in at the same 1.010 (1.008, adjusted), which meant that I had ended up with ~ 3.7% ABV, decidedly in the traditional range of what a gose/BW is supposed to be.
After the arduous process of capping and labeling each bottle, it was back to the ol’ waiting game.
While the initial appearences were slightly shocking, by which I mean that I thought it was “light” for what I had imagined it would be, pouring it into a glass with enough volume that it becomes somewhat more akin to the inky black (harr) that I was imagining. Granted, I kinda thought this would be the case, since it looked black in the carboy, but you never know. When pouring it into a glass, it kicks up a slightly of white, faintly khaki colored head that lasts and laces down the glass.
The smells, after bottle conditioning, is much more reminiscent of a proper gose, with the light notes of wheat and lactic tang, some mineral tones, and the cherry sneaks in on the back of the bouquet as well. I take it in stride that, well, it smells like a gose, for the most part.
The taste is pretty much what I wanted, even comparing it to the last gose that I made. Having actually gotten my measurements right this time, there’s a very fine salinity and a nice balance of the barley and wheat, despite the beer being quite dry, even though it finished “high” be numerical standards. But the black cherry… got dayum. It’s much more prevalent when the beer is warmer, but even at the cooler temps, it hits at the back and lingers. I’m pleased as punch that it’s there, I just can’t say what exactly caused it. Between the new lacto pitch, the roasted grains, the squid ink, and the coconut ash, there’s enough moving parts that I can’t exactly pin down what caused it if I wanted to pursue that in a later beer. Also, the squid ink really doesn’t contribute much of the “briny” quality that I was banking on, so if I had to use it again, I’m guessing that I’d need to bump that up significantly.
The mouthfeel is very light and supple, with a dry finish. The lactic tartness almost leaves a bit of a tingle, that weird dryness in the mouth, but not like the nasty filmy feeling like what a banana would leave. It’s surprising, because it’s tart, but not enamel-peelingly tart. It’s got a real nice mid-level carbonation, which is good, because I was shooting for something like a kolsch level of carb – above a pilsner, but below a saison. Suffice it to say, I think I got it.
To me, this was a great success. Even then, a lot of the people at homebrew club were really interested with it as well. It would have been nice if the squid ink had translated a little more flavor into it, I feel, but for being one of the wonky science-y experiments that I like to do, I’m tickled pink about this one. I definitely think I’m going to actually switch over to using the Sour Weapon L for further endeavors, also. It does give a very nice flavor, which is similar, but different to the SW Pedio that I’ve been using.