With out a doubt one of the coolest things about homebrewing revolves around brewing something outside of the box and then having a commercial brewer formulate a similar beer, allowing you to compare your moment of insane madness to something that you can actually purchase off the liquor store shelf.
Back in the day (yes, I’m old enough to have a back in the day) when I was an avid homebrewer I collaborated with two other guys who worked in the same building that I did. We brewed together, gave each other criticism when it was warranted and drank the shit out of each others beer when it was not. We popped into the local homebrew club on occasion, went to beer festivals together and spent many hours bouncing ideas off of each other concerning which beers we were going to brew next.
I wish I could tell you that I was the adventurous one in the trio, but no. I was perfectly content brewing low alcohol English beers like bitters, milds and stouts. My buddy Rob jumped into the hobby and immediately fell in love with hops, experimenting with different varieties as he brewed beers that were more in line with American pale ales and IPAs. And then there was Jon, AKA Kal. Oh yeah, and then there was Kal.
Kal was gifted with that rare (if not scary) combination of creativity, energy and ADD that would allow him to deduce that it was a good idea to paint his house traffic cone orange, and have it halfway finished in the small amount of time it would take you or I to realize that, no, it probably wasn’t the best idea we’d ever had, especially where our neighbors were concerned. But while in some areas like home decor this would be considered a detriment, in the arena of homebrewing it was plus, for the most part.
Today’s tight rope walking brewers would have loved Kal. Anything he read or heard of – on ANY level – was immediately translated into “what can I do with that?” He planted a large plot of wild millet simply on someone’s comment that millet was an ingredient in some styles of beer where wheat was not necessarily the bumper crop that it is here in America.
Another of Kal’s personality traits was to take all the interests in his life and weave them together in any way possible, and Kal, well he was a boater and a crabber even more so than a homebrewer. Few people would shrug off the obvious combination that is crabs and beer, and of course a large part of what makes crabs so tasty is the spice; whether it be Old Bay, Zataran’s or Wye Seasoning, that us crab lovers use to morph a bushel of nasty, bottom scavengers into a picnic table full of steaming, summer goodness.
So of course, at some point when his brain probably should have been doing something more beneficial, he came up with the idea that if beer and crabs are a quintessential pairing in the culinary world, then why can’t the beer share in some of the spice delivery as well? And as always, before rational thought and common sense could be brought into the picture, Kal had 5 gallons of crab spiced beer fermenting away.
Maybe. I don’t remember where he actually introduced the spice in the brewing process, but the end result was Kal’s Old Imperial Crabby. Now I’m also not sure where the “Imperial” came from. We didn’t have all this “Imperial this” and “Imperial that”, back then that we do today, although I will say that Kal brewed very few things less than 6%ABV, considering low ABV beers well, girly.
So there was Kal, happily telling people of his new zymurgilogical creation, keeping us updated as to its progress and when we would all be able to sample his latest conception that most assuredly would change the face of homebrewing as we knew it. A beer with crab spice, served with crabs. Stories would be written. And songs would be sung. Except.
Kal in his usual rush to quickly jump on what he thought was an amazing idea, used commercial crab seasoning in his brew, totally overlooking the fact that commercial crab seasoning has a boat load of salt in it. I’ll give you a minute to process that.
It was a fine summer day with Kal and I heading out on a local river hoping to catch at least a enough crabs to warrant firing up a propane cooker. As usual (and not smartly) we were trading homebrews from our boat coolers and discussed our creations. After a bit, as we were finishing up baiting the last of the cages, he gave me a sly smile and pulled out a bottle from an up till now unopened cooler that had been sitting off to the side, and handed it to me. “Old Imperial Crabby,” he said with all the pride he could muster as if handing me his first born child to hold. “Tell me what you think.”
Have you processed that boat load of salt yet? Yeah, well it didn’t take my mouth long to process it. To this day Kal still takes pride that he brewed the only beer he’s ever seen me spit out. I would try to describe it, but I really don’t think I have too. You all get the picture. Big crab seasoning flavor, saltier than the dead sea, undrinkable. We’re all on the same page, right? Although in its defense, it did turn out to be a nice ingredient in the pot of crabs we steamed later that day.
So the other day when State Line Liquors posted up a picture showing a case stack of Flying Dog’s Dead Rise, a Summer ale brewed with Old Bay, I of course thought of that fateful morning when I salt rinsed my mouth, and of course, absolutely HAD to try it.
Did the guys at Flying Dog manage to avoid the error that Kal so horribly made with Old Imperial Crabby? I’m pretty sure that they did, but let’s taste anyway.
THEM: The grain bill for Dead Rise is built on Acidulated, rye and malted white wheat; and balanced with northern brewer (hello!), CTZ (Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus) and cascade hops. The folks at Flying Dog worked with the folks at Old Bay for six months to get the recipe and balance where they wanted it. The beer clocks in at 25IBUs and is fermented with a German ale yeast to 5.6%ABV.
From the website, “The name Dead Rise comes from deadrise boats, which are commercial fishing and crabbing vessels designed and built specifically to navigate the unique waterways of the Chesapeake Bay. The bottom near the bow is a V-shape to cut through the often-choppy Bay. Then, it flattens out closer to the stern, making it more navigable in shallow water.”
And, “Proceeds from Dead Rise will benefit True Blue, a restaurant certification and consumer awareness program that promotes sustainably harvested Maryland Blue Crab and rewards restaurants that serve Maryland crabmeat.” Beer and a good cause, you know I’m all about that. But wait? Acidulated?
Acidulated malt is a variety of malted barley that contains ~1-2% lactic acid which is traditionally used to adjust the pH of the mash. It’s usually used in small amounts, typically 10% or less of the grain bill. You can find it commonly used in Berliner weisse and German Gose.
ME: Dead Rise pours a cloudy straw color with a very nice, fluffy white head. The head actually looks pretty nice, but sadly doesn’t stay around long until it dissipates into into a ring of bubbles circling the glass, but the carbonation continues vigorously long after the beer is poured. The nose definitely brings back memories of standing over a pot of steaming crabs – heaven to an Eastern Shore descendent like myself. But that’s not all, dancing about in that spice you’ll find slight hint of citrus (lemons) as well.
I brace myself and sip. Yeah, of course these guys wouldn’t make the same mistake Kal made. The flavor is happily saltless, with flavors reminiscent of crab seasoning (pepper, paprika, etc) as well as more citrus and the ever so slight inkling of malt. The finish has a nice peppery bite to it, along with a cheek bite. This isn’t a big beer, which you’d expect from a Summer thirst quencher, instead what we have here is a beer you could drink all day, if you’re the type of person that passes up regular chips on the ACME shelf for the Old Bay flavored ones in the silver bag.
Would it go good with crabs, or a low country boil? I’m not sure how it could not. Some might think the spiced beer might be overly redundant, but I don’t think so. I bought a six-pack wondering if I was going to be able to drink the whole thing and had no problem polishing it off over the weekend. Heck, even Tracey liked it.
So what ever happened to our trio of happy brewers? Well, after some time our building was shut down and we were scattered across our company and for different reasons, we all eventually dropped out of homebrewing; Rob just because he didn’t have anyone to bounce things off of anymore, Kal because he feel in love with the idea of making herbal wines instead, and me, well I’m the sad cliche “had kids.” Last time I talked to both of them they sadly admitted that their homebrew days were long behind them.
Me however, I’m not ready to accept that I’ve brewed my last batch of beer just yet. But that’s another post.
Time for another beer.