Return of the Son of Nuclear Yeti Raw Barley Ale

A tasty scientific experiment!
  • Grain bill:  Pearl Barley, Koji Rice
  • Hops:  Magnum, Mt. Hood whole cone
  • Yeast:  Wyeast Belgian Abbey Style Ale 1214
  • Secret Ingredients:  Belgian Blanc Candi Syrup


Origin Story:

Henry and I share a love of cooking and he’s enjoyed following (and participating in) my brewing adventures from afar.  We had a lot of conversations about the Crash Blossom koji adventure; in particular, he wanted to find out how far we could push this concept.  And he was coming home for Thanksgiving, so we had the opportunity to plan a brew day together.

Crash Blossom leveraged two alternative pathways to saccharification of grain starches:  the traditional beer pathway, where alpha- and beta-amylase on the surface of malted barley does the heavy lifting; and the traditional sake pathway, where this task falls to the aspergillus mold.  What would a barley-based beverage be like if it relied entirely on the aspergillus pathway?

Bob's Red Mill Pearl Barley

Today’s grain bill

This would mean skipping the malting step, which creates the enzymes on which the mash depends.  So an unusual brand found its way into the grain bill:  out with the Briess, Weyerman, and Dingeman; in with the Bob’s Red Mill Pearl Barley.  For the aspergillus I decided to use an equal measure Koji rice, as I had for Crash Blossom (more on this later).

This created a couple of complications. 

The first complication:  the initial step was to create a barley-based amazake—a solution with steamed barley and koji rice held at 100 degrees for a day to spur the saccharification. 

But even moreso than with the prior experiment, I had absolutely no idea how much sugar would be released in this process.  I’d like to say that I read up on the literature to get a value; or I engaged in a series of controlled experiments to find a set of replicable results.  But let’s be honest:  I just winged it.

Henry squeezing a bag of mash

I promise you we washed our hands

As I expected from the prior experiment, the koji process seemed to disintegrate the grain much more than the standard mash process, and it was difficult to separate the wort from the mash.  We engaged in a lot of vigorous squeezing of the mash through cheesecloth to separate retrieve the wort, but wound up with a spectacularly milky solution.  We bittered with a little Magnum and flavored with whole cone Mt Hood hops that I picked up from my homebrew club.

The second complication: the other valuable modification malting makes to barley is to darken the color and deepen the flavor it lends to the wort.  You get none of this with pearl barley—it’s pale and bland.  Henry and I debated a couple of ways to add color. 

Caramelized wort

Got some good color on this caramelized wort

Ultimately, I went with a method suggested by a brewing book I’ve been reading:  boiling down small portions of the wort.  Like any sugar solution, wort can be boiled down to a caramel, at which point it takes on color and flavor.  This is very similar to the Maillard reaction malt experiences during the kilning process—you’re just doing it at the end of the process, rather than the beginning. 

I caramelized three batches of wort along the way—I didn’t get as much color as I thought I would, but there was a notable darkening.  I also gave the entire batch an extra-long boil—we lost a lot of liquid along the way and got to a very high starting gravity, 1.077.

Showing the difference between wort before filtration and after

Vast difference between before and after clarity

As fermentation commenced, the haze settled, suggesting that it was in fact the result of solids in the beer rather than a permanent haze. I filtered the beer through a spider when I transferred it to secondary fermentation—losing even more of the liquid to the copious trub—and again during bottling.  Considering its starting point, the beer wound up astonishingly clean and clear; but I only got about 30 bottles out of it, vs. my normal 48.

Post-fermentation, the ABV reached about 8.7%—this beer’s a big one.  And the final verdict on taste?  Everyone who’s tasted it (Henry, his roommates, me) agrees:  this is basically sake.  It’s a good sake, with an unidentifiable citrus note, some sweetness which I’ll attribute to the caramelization efforts, and a nice effervescence from the carbonation.  But it sure doesn’t taste like a beer. 

One final point of discussion:  there’s an awful lot of rice in this beer, so that could be contributing to the sake flavor.  It seems likely that at some point we’ll push the envelope and grow the aspergillus directly on raw barley, generating the appropriate enzymes without any rice at all.  But this is a pain in the ass, so don’t hold your breath, y’know?

I kickstarted my brewing journey in 2020 with Nuclear Yeti Belgian Dubbel, named in honor of Henry; it seemed fitting to make Henry’s brainchild the sequel to that brew, so hence the name.  Aidan Yetman-Michaelson returned to our label art roster to chart the Yeti’s further atomic adventures.

Music Pairing:

We’ve paid tribute to Sun Ra before with Outer Spaceways Double IPA, which I’d love to brew again if only Skagit Valley were continuing to grow obsidian malt.  But alas, at least we have our memories.  Please review my writeup over there for an introduction to the world of Herman Blount.

The first Sun Ra album I welcomed to my collection was the Evidence Records compilation The Singles, a compilation of all the 45s Ra put out on his Saturn label.  Alongside the characteristic oddly harmonized big band charts and expressionistic freakouts, it features some strange doo-wop and the inimitable vocal stylings of Yochannan.

What it doesn’t feature is what is undoubtedly Ra’s smash monster hit, “Nuclear War”.  Way to bury the lead, Sonny.

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