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Interesting Ingredients

Ah, my blog seems to have become a brewing blog. Not because I’ve relented in my writing, really, or because I’ve decided to give up on writing about Korea. Mostly just because the stuff I have to say about Korea, and about writing, tends to be less interesting than the stuff I have to say about brewing. Still, I’m thinking about putting all the brewing stuff in a single tab or something, so that those who aren’t interested can leave it out.


Anyway, it’s autumn here in Korea, as it is across the Northern Hemisphere, and that means there’s an abundance of interesting ingredients kicking around — especially at the open markets and the department stores. (Not so much at the standard grocery stores, where the only seasonal  changes one tends to see at the big holidays prompting big gift-food displays — usually of the same stuff as one usually sees in those shops, but in nicer wrapping.)

Anyway, I’ve picked up more than a couple of such interesting ingredients, and have plans for more, and I thought I’d mention them here, as well as what I have planned for them, as I take a break on the way to the gym.

  1. Chestnut Honey. I’m talking 100% chestnut honey. I have three 600ml bottles of the stuff, waiting to be used for a 100% chesnut honey mead. I haven’t quite decided whether it will be dry or sweet, though sweet would probably be a wiser decision at this point. While I haven’t tasted it yet, the mead made with it is supposed to be strongly aromatic, flavorful, and dark. I’m excited.
  2. Raw Chestnuts: Okay, you can get these most of the time, but chestnut harvest has them all over the place now. As a little reading online showed, chestnuts can be used to make gluten-free beer, but I’m going to experiment first with them as an adjunct… in what? Well, in a Chestnut Brown Ale, of course. Miss Jiwaku has been after me to brew up another English Northern Brown Ale, so it’s time… but this time, I’m making it with a portion of the malt replaced by roasted (or boiled) chestnuts.
  3. Omija: If you don’t live in Korea, you won’t recognize that word, but unfortunately I don’t know if there is an English name for these berries. the scientific name for them is Schisandra chinensis, though, and Wikipedia will tell you all about them. When I was talking with my students about fruiting the Saison we brewed a few weeks ago, one of them brought up the  idea of putting omija into the beer. I suggested we try a one-gallon batch, so that if it came out too bitter, the whole 5 gallons wouldn’t be ruined. (I may suggest we get a couple of hongshi for a second fruited gallon. See below for more on hongshi.) I got some extra and will freeze it, for a short while, until we know how the Omija-ed Saison comes out. If it’s good, I’ll have enough left over to the last gallon of my best Saison yet, along with some Brett L I should be getting soon from a friend.
  4. Jujubes: Known as daechu in Korea these fruit are all over the place. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them, but I bought a bag of them the other day. I’ve tasted them dried — indeed, I’ve had a tea made out of them before. But I’ve never had them fresh, so I’m going to give them a taste and decide on a use for them after that. I may add them to a mead, instead of to a beer.
  5. Blue Corn. There is a special on blue corn at the Hyundai Dept. Store in my neighborhood, and ears of blue corn are five for 3,500 won, which is not bad by Korean standards. I figured it was time to give chicha jora a try. While it’s not a Korean ingredient, or a particularly Korean beer style — chicha jora is a Latin American beer often made from corn and sugar — I figured I’d mention it in case anyone in Korea is interested in blue corn or in making chicha jora at home. But as for me… I need to figure out how to sprout the corn, so that it is malted and will convert a little more effectively.
  6. Hongshi. There are two kinds of persimmons in Korea: the ones that stay hard, and the ones that go mushy. The ones that stay hard are more fun to eat, in my opinion — they have a satisfying crunch to them — but the ones that go soft (which are called hongshi) seem to be better for fruiting a beer. (Weirdly, Wikipedia says tht the hongshi are shaped like acorns, but the ones I’ve bought and used were shaped like flattened tomatoes… hmmm.) Anyway, you can freeze them, and then cut them in half with a sanitized knife and scoop out the insides (with a sanitized spoon) into a fermenter, onto which beer can be racked. When I made a hongshi wheat beer last year, I found they had no seeds, which was another bonus. Of course, the hongshi wheat beer I made ended up being a bit unusual: it sat on the fruit a long, long time (I’m talking about months here) so the fruit flavor was pretty weak and it had picked up just a touch of sourness, and just a touch of vinous driness, maybe from tannins from the skins. It was a bit like a very young gueuze or something, though without any funk. This fall, I think I’ll make an Abbey Weizen again, but instead of fruiting a gallon or two, I’m going to get enough hongshi to fruit a whole keg of the stuff — assuming I can get the beer off the fruit after a couple of weeks, I think I’ll get a result like the one I’m after, so it seems worth a try. (And if it ends up being young-gueuze-like, I can’t complain, either.) I think 4 gallons of beer plus a gallon of hongshi mush in a mesh bag will be about right. After racking the beer off the fruit, I’ll probably boil the mush down and add sugar to see if I can make some kind of persimmon-beer jam or something.
  7. Bokbunja. This is another Korea-specific fruit, the Korean raspberry, and Wikipedia has the skinny on them here — including the surprising fact that most of the “bokbunja-ju” liquor in Korea is made with Western raspberries. (Damn, that explains a few things right there.) Well, it’s not so surprising, actually; these are some really strong, really overpowering berries. I am not making anything new with bokbunja berries for a while now, because in fact I find them a bit tannic as well. I may try something with them again sometime, I’ll be very cautious when it comes to amounts. 2 kilograms in the primary of a five-gallon mead was way, way too much, for example, and I have a feeling that the wheat beer I spiked with bokbunja berries a year ago (and is now souring with wild Korean yeast, some Brett C., and who knows what else) will probably taste halfway like a bokbunja wine, what with my having put a whole kilogram into a gallon of wheat beer. But while I have no new projects coming up with bokbunja, they’re a prime candidate for experimentation… just, use a light touch with these buggers. They’re powerful stuff. Note, you might prefer adding the raw juice to adding the fruit — I’m guessing the skins have a fair amount of bitterness that can seep into your brew.

That’s it for the neat ingredients I’ve got on hand, and plan to use… at least, the Korean ones. There are a few unusual Western ingredients I’m planning to use, as well — a small container of maple syrup comes to mind, as well as some blue agave nectar — but they don’t really fit this post.

If you’re a brewer — in Korea or elsewhere — what are some of the unusual ingredients you’ve used in your fermentations? Share… I’d love to hear!

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