Monday, October 4, 2010

Interesting Brewing Ingredients: Spanish Cedar

The Reinheitsgebot, the ancient German Purity Law set down in 1516, limited the components used in making beer to water, barley, and hops.  Note, that yeast was not listed because the fermenting process was not fully understood until later.  However, brewers the world over have long used many other sources of fermentables and flavor.  This Lug Wrench series seeks to explore some of the stranger and more innovative ingredients used by ancient and modern brewers.

Spanish cedar is a fragrant wood known for its termite and rot-resistant qualities.  It has long been used in the cigar industry for packaging and storage in the form of cigar boxes and humidors.  Spanish cedar, which is actually a form of mahogany, contains resin and oil that provide its aromatic qualities.  These components become soluble in the presence of alcohol and are not harmful to humans.  Thus, it was only a matter of time before someone tried to brew with the wood.

Cigar City Brewing is a craft brewery located in Tampa, Florida.  The brewery was founded in 2008 by Tampa-native Joey Redner and has a mission to expose people to Tampa's history through its beer offerings.  Tampa was at one time the world's largest producer of cigars.  As such, it comes as no surprise that Cigar City began experimenting with brewing using cedar after being exposed to the concept by a local homebrewer.  The resulting beers, called the Humidor Series, feature a variety of beer styles and the IPA version won a gold medal at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival.

Wayne Wambles, Cigar City's Head Brewer, offered advice to homebrewers who wanted to work with Spanish Cedar in an interview on the Brewing Network's Sunday Session.  The most important thing was to make sure you use actual Spanish cedar; do not use normal cedar wood or the results were very unpleasant.  Wayne suggested buying Spanish cedar spirals (they used ones from The Barrel Mill) and using 12 to 15 inches of the wood in a 5-gallon batch.  He advised adding the wood in secondary and leaving it in contact with the beer for two weeks, at refrigeration temperatures.  Cigar City has experienced flavors ranging from rye and spice with lower Spanish cedar infusion rates to white grapefruit, sandalwood, nutmeg, and clove with larger wood additions.

I decided to try my hand at brewing the recipe Cigar City provided on the show.  The base beer was a American IPA that had 63 IBUs and used Columbus, Amarillo, Ahtanum, Centennial, Cascade and Simcoe hops.  Instead of wood spirals, I used 18 grams of Spanish cedar lighting sticks that my local homebrewing store had available.  I added the sticks with the dry hops and left them on the beer for eight days at room temperature.  The final beer has a wonderful cedar aroma that compliments the hoppy nose quite well, but does not have any real discernible Spanish cedar flavor.  When I next attempt to brew this recipe, I will definitely use more Spanish cedar to try and increase its flavor contribution.

I would encourage our readers to give this new ingredient a try.  If you do, please post a comment on how the resulting beer turned out.



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