Foxfire Chestnut Ale

An easy-drinking brown ale with just a hint of chestnut snap!
  • Grain bill:  Stout Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt, Caramel 20, Caramel 40, Caramel 60, Carafa Special III
  • Hops:  Kent Goldings, Hallertau Mittelfruh
  • Yeast:  Wyeast Irish Ale 1084
  • Secret Ingredients:  Roasted Chestnuts


Origin Story:

Among the signals I received into the runup to Intonarumori Italian Pils was the fact that chestnuts in beer are a thing.  Chestnuts apparently have a nutritional profile similar to malted barley, and with the appropriate enzymes added can mash just fine.  As a result, they can also be used to make gluten-free beer—not a major concern here at the Yeastworks, but good to know.

As Christmas approached, this idea came back out of the file for obvious reasons.  I had never actually eaten chestnuts before, so this would be a handy 2-in-1 learning experience. 


Chestnuts roasting on an open sheet pan

In thinking through beer styles, I landed on a red ale as a style that I hadn’t tried yet.  I also felt the nuttiness would be a nice complement to the moderate malt in a red ale.

Sourcing chestnuts in Southern California wasn’t terribly hard but prepping them was a pain.  Scoring the shells, boiling, and roasting them in the oven wasn’t so hard.  Pulling them out of the shells?  While trying to take them out of the inner brown membrane as well?  Interminable.  No one tells you this.

After this fingernail-destroying step and grinding up the chestnuts in the food processor for the mash, brew day went normally.

Foxfire in the light

Foxfire backlit: not quite a red ale

The beer is a really nice easy drinker—you could take in a lot of this in one sitting.  I didn’t get the color I was going for—hold the beer up to the light and you get a lovely coppery color, but it’s darker than I planned.  The chestnut meal was quite light and I can’t imagine that it added color, so the base recipe probably incorporated a tad too much crystal malt.  Notes for next time.

Right before brewing this beer, I started working fulltime again.  My very excited mother-in-law told me how she used to use our Foxfire browser, and from the malaprop was born the moniker. I imagined the red panda travelling through the lonely southwest with a couple of his buddies along for the ride; Feargodstudio from Indonesia brought this vision to life.

And something else no one tells you:  the chestnut as a snack food?  Kinda meh.  Wikipedia notes, that “once cooked, its texture is slightly similar to that of a baked potato, with a delicate, sweet, and nutty flavour.”  I’d rather ferment it.

Music Pairing:

Michael Nesmith at the Troubadour

Michael Nesmith at the Troubador, 22 January 2019

The goal of the Monkees was to turn the counterculture into Gilligan’s Island – the result (eventually) was Head.  I guess the 60s was one of those special moments when trying to capture lightning in a bottle doesn’t end so well for the bottle.

In his unassuming way, Mike Nesmith was the unruliest of the bunch.  He used the Monkees as a Trojan horse to sneak country music into rock, and basically invented a genre of music.  At its finest, his songwriting has an almost baffling emotional sophistication that shatters genre entirely.

I had the privilege of seeing Nesmith perform live once, at the Troubadour, commemorating some anniversary of his album And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’.  Recounting the inspirations of his songs, with only a steel guitar to accompany him, in a club full of people who loved him—the night was magical.

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