Sunday, 23 November 2014

Tonka Bean Pumpkin Ale

Okay, I admit: this beer doesn't have any pumpkin in it, but there are tonka beans! I don't see the point of adding pumpkin to the beer when it contributes so little flavor, fermentable sugars, or mouthfeel. Like many other brewers around me, I have forsaken the pumpkin in favor of the spices which I feel are the real star of the pumpkin ale.

For those not familiar, tonka beans are the seeds from Dipteryx odorata: a tree of the pea family which is native to Central and South America. The seeds look like wrinkled black almonds, and smell something like vanilla beans, which were soaked in almond extract and sprinkled with cinnamon. Sometimes I also pick up a caramelly odour as well. I could sit and sniff the jar of beans for ages without getting bored of all the different scents that can be picked up from these weird looking pods.

So with something so interesting and delicious, why isn't it available everywhere and eaten all the time? Well, the thing is that they're toxic. I mean not really toxic, but if you were to take a bunch of them, extract them, concentrate them a bunch and then take a whole bunch of the extract then you might have a problem with your heart. Yeah, I'm being facetious. In the United States, they're regulated/restricted due to their coumarin content. Coumarin is a common chemical in many plants such as lavender, cinnamon, licorice and grass, and was used for flavoring cream soda at one point in time. The problem is, in large doses coumarin can cause liver damage, heart paralysis and hemorrhage. While that might sound a little off for a food product, the doses at which you eat it are so low as to not pose any sort of risk. Luckily, I live in Canada where it is totally legal to get tonka beans.

For this use, I grated 6 beans for 5 gallons and put them into a bottle with some dark rum and vodka along with the other spices in order to extract the flavors. I then infused it into the bottling bucket before bottling in order to maintain the freshest spice possible.

Here's the recipe:

OG: 1.059
13 IBUs
ABV: 6%

6# 2-row
2# Rye malt
1# Home toasted 2-row
1# Molasses
0.5# Crystal 120
0.5# Crystal 40

1.5 oz Hallertauer - 60 mins

Wyeast Scottish Ale Yeast @ Basement temperature (60*F ambient)

6 Grated tonka beans
1 tbsp Cinnamon
0.5 tbsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Allspice
All soaked in vodka/dark rum for a week before bottling.
Tasting notes:

Appearance: Very clear, deep red in colour. No haze. Thick off-white head that lowers to a half finger width on top.

Aroma: Spices, Cinnamon dominates with an undertone of allspice and ginger. Some malty smell, with the caramel malts coming out like toffee and a hint of dark fruits. A hint of cherry.

Flavor: Cinnamon at first, with toast notes and bread crust following from the toasted malt. A taste of cherry and almond (tonka?) coming in the aftertaste, and a hint of bitterness and what comes off as a touch of smoke (yeast?) There is a lingering caramel aftertaste, but it isn't sticky sweet. Might have been dried out from the molasses to balance out the pound of caramel malt.

Mouthfeel: Chewy body, moderately low carbonation helps to keep the thick body.

Overall: Not bad, I over did the cinnamon unfortunately. I feel like I should have backed off on the other spices to let the tonka bean shine. Next time, I may do a simple grain bill with a dash of caramel malt and a strong dose of tonka. I've got enough beans to do another batch or two. There is a bit of a distracting fruitiness in the flavor that could be from the molasses, the crystal 120 or maybe some esters. 

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