I recently experimented with two additions to beer that are unusual in Australia. I brewed a split batch of very low-hopped, neutral pale ale and then infused one batch with dried juniper berries and the other with dried goji berries.
1040 OG, 1010 FG. 4.1% bottle ABV. US05. Melbourne water.
Fermented at 18°C from:
96% :: American Ale Malt
4% :: Melanoiden Malt
60m single infusion mash at 70°C with calcium chloride added.
30m boil with 3 IBU of Horizon hops added at 0m.
I fermented the entire batch in one pot, reaching my FG quickly. I then bottled several litres so that I had a base to compare the berry ales with before transferring the remaining beer into two separate buckets. One contained 50g of dried juniper berries, the other 50g of dried goji berries. Each received five litres of the base beer. Both appeared to display signs of minimal fermentation as they sat at 18°C for another week. A fortnight later I bottled the beers.
I took growlers of the juniper, goji and base beers along to the August meeting of the local home brew club. This meeting was themed “Garden Ales”, with members being given the remit to bring along beers they had brewed using something from their garden. I cheated obviously. In fact not too many people were confident enough or had the inclination to bring strictly garden-derived beers. One visitor brought a smoked fig beer, there was a beer fermented from the yeast of a dead moth, a wild yeast cider and a chilli baltic porter. But mostly people brought the standard mix of IPAs, ESBs, milds etc.
I was fortunate enough to have eight people taste my berry beers. The base beer was clean and malty with a smidgen of banana aroma. Incredibly you could still taste the hops fairly distinctively beneath the malt blanket. I was expecting the barest of touches given my calculations of three IBUs. Tasters guessed wheat in the grist, due to the head retention and lacing characteristics. Melanoiden for the slam dunk.
The juniper berry beer displayed slight tartness and a subtle fruitiness. Its aroma was distinctively juniper. People compared it favourably to sahti, although my beer was very different to most sahti as I traditionally understand it, being half the ABV and a pale EBC. In fact both of the berry beers derived absolutely zero colour from the berry additions. All three beers looked identical.
The goji beer had a most distinctive aroma, best described as a kind of “vacuum”. All the malt appeared to disappear on the nose, replaced by a vaguely medicinal, slightly phenolic, but quite unique combination of aromas. The goji beer displayed no tartness and kept a full malt mouthfeel and flavour. Some tasters noted that the berry added some liquorice flavour. As you can tell, no notes were taken during these tastings unfortunately – but I remember thinking the goji would go well with darker malts.
It was a pleasure to have so many tasters giving the beers a go. It was also heartening to produce beers with no obvious major defects or problems and conduct a three-way experiment with them. Although I’ve had trouble translating my memories (the meeting was several days ago now) into text on this page, I feel like I’ve got a good taste profile locked in my mind of the two additions, and will definitely brew with them again down the track.
If anyone wants to try either of the berry I recommend using my method of adding the berries in a secondary fermentation as opposed to boiling them. Their impact was delicate yet transformative.