The Great Cilantro Beer Experiment

After talking about this idea for a number of years, I’ve finally worked on this crazy idea.  We’ve hypothesized, we’ve designed the experiment, we’ve run it through to completion and now there is some data to parse.  But, let us start at the beginning.

I’m a huge fan of cilantro.  There’s a bright, green flavor in fresh cilantro that I can hardly get enough of.  Salsa and guacamole of course, but also chimichurri, and a large part of my inspiration, phở , these delicious dishes all have that cilantro flavor that I want to harness.  Being a brewer and an engineer, I of course looked out on the Internet to see if someone else had the perfect recipe for making this herbed beer.  If someone else had a silver bullet method of infusing this flavor into an ale, I would have a starting point to experiment with.  As it was, I didn’t find much out there in the Google, and thus had to then back up, with a touch of science and brewing art, what I’d been talking up with my brewing siblings.  It was time to find the best way to infuse cilantro goodness into beer greatness.

METHOD

I did 5 gallon batches in this thing?!
Old Dependable.

This experiment called for a reduction of flavor influences outside of what the malt and cilantro itself can add.  I also wanted to keep the overall process simple and the volume low.  A 2 gallon batch was decided on which would be split into 4 different infusion methods.  No hops would be added and the only fermentables would be 3.3 pounds of Briess Pale LME from Anuway/Anubrew in Rogers.  Since this was a small batch, we were able to crank it out on the old brew pot on the stovetop.

We decided on a cilantro schedule that would provide wide range of methods.  We assumed that the cilantro flavoring and aromatics would be similar to hops in that the longer the ingredients are boiled, the less aroma will be present.  With that assumption, we decided on a schedule as such:

1.25 ounces rough chopped cilantro (including stems) added to the boil at 10 minutes.
1.25 ounces rough chopped cilantro (including stems) and sanitized in 1 cup of 80 proof vodka added at flameout.
1.25 ounces rough chopped cilantro (including stems) and sanitized in 1 cup of 80 proof vodka added at bottling.
1.25 ounces rough chopped cilantro (including stems) soaked in 1 cup of 80 proof vodka for 24 hours to create a tincture, then strained and the liquid added to bottling.

Needs chips
Brewday prep

The LME wort was subjected to a 60 minute boil with breaks to move things about.  It had to be separated into 2 one gallon batches for the boil additions and 1 two gallon batch for the bottling additions.  The additions were separated at 10 minute mark and proceeded individually from there.  After the boil the wort was divided between four 64 ounce growlers for fermentation.  BRY-97 (American West Coast Ale) yeast divided by weight and inoculated each growler.  The brewing operation occurred on 3/5/2017.

Kind of pho ish
10 Minute addition boiling away

It was placed within the most temperature stable area of the house (the brew closet) and promptly forgotten about.  There, it hung out at around 68° until I remembered it.

Vodka and Cilantro, is that mixing hemispheres?
Flameout addition

I was able to continue the experiment on 4/23/2017 during my brew day downtime.  I started the tincture operation on 4/22/2017.  Simply put, this was placing the measured amount of cilantro into a mason jar with a cup of vodka, placing it in the fridge, and shaking it every time I passed by.  When the Green Tea Pale Ale operations commenced the next day, I was able to bottle the cilantro brews and bring the experiment to its conclusion.  All the growlers were split between two 32 ounce blue swing-top bottles.  In the case of the bottling cilantro addition, the chopped herb was split by weight, placed into the bottles and vodka was added for sanitizing.  The beer was racked on top the bottle addition cilantro and the tincture was added to the other un-modified beer growler.  The 10 minute and flame out cilantro additions were able to be directly bottled.  Carbonation drops were used to give it a little fizz, and the bottles were left to set for 2 weeks.  Once they were done in their dark space, a half a day’s chill in the beer fridge brought them to serving temperature.

Obviously, plans at the beginning are different from plans at the end.
Fermentation Vessels

RESULTS

To be honest, I’m underwhelmed.  All this planning, effort and care results in an almost flavor profile.  The cilantro is almost there.  It smells almost green in certain methods.  Some methods are almost drinkable.  Then again, bingeing on this batch wasn’t exactly the plan.

Can't we do anything simple around here?
Future Fermentation Chamber Project

This might have you asking what, exactly, is the plan?  My goal with this is to also develop a good hot pepper beer that can be blended with the cilantro brew to make righteous micheladas.  A “salsa” beer, you might say.  The end goal isn’t necessarily a ale, either.  Mexican Lagers tend to be light enough for this kind of flavor profile to come through, so I intend to move in that direction.  The fermentation chamber is a project that isn’t very far down on the list, so we’ll be lagering soon enough.

So, lets talk about the flavor provided by each infusion method, starting at the top.  Note that input on aroma profile information was provided by AJ.  She’s not a reformed smoker, so her snooter is better than mine.

10 minute boil addition  Little aroma.  Mushy vegetable flavor.  Not unpleasant, but not the brightness of raw cilantro.  Makes me think of Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships description of Morlock chow: “vegetables boiled down to the point of disintegration.”  This has promise in something… but I don’t know what.

Flameout Addition Cut grass aroma.  Faint “green” flavor.  Not bright, but not bad.

Bottle Addition Not much to say.  It didn’t seem to add much to the aroma or flavor profile.  There’s a little something there, but it sure doesn’t scream “drink me with tortilla chips.”

Cilantro Tincure here’s where the aroma is.  But it is weak.  The flavor of cilantro does come in too, but still not to the strength I would like.

Doesn't need chips, really.
Cilantro and beer, fused, infused and abused!

CONCLUSIONS

Meh.

At this point, a brew with combination of tincture addition (at bottling) and a flameout cilantro addition will create something that ALMOST tastes like my goal, but not quite.  I’m forced to wonder if the flavor of the fresh cilantro is so volatile that any dwell time is detrimental to the aromatics and flavor profile.

This is an interesting problem, because it leads us places.  Places that involve design, engineering, fabrication, device commissioning and artistic application of design principles…
What if we Randall this stuff?  A pepper beer, Randalized through cilantro, with a touch of Tajin ?  That certainly sounds drinkable on a hot summer day.

FURTHER WORK

Well, now we have a Chile Beer to brew, Lagering Chamber to design, program and build and a Randallizer to visualize, conceptualize and develop-ualize.  Sounds like a pretty good workload to me.

I do intend to take some samples to the Ozark Zymurgists meeting next month to corroborate my analysis with people who know a little more about beer tasting than I do.

AFTER-ACTION

I don’t think this experiment was a loss in any way.  It taught me a number of things regarding herb beers, infusion methods, tinctures and general experimentation ideas.  Nothing bad came out of this, not even beer.  I want to keep the experimentation rolling, so if you’ve got some wild beer in mind that you want to see, just drop me a line.
justin@mubrew.beer
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