I have a bit of malt left over from my first major brewing project, and I've been playing around with an online calculator to decide what to do with it.
I've also been enjoying a great blog on the subject of brewing unusual beers (and other food subjects), which inspired me to be a bit more adventurous - although there is something to be said about starting with simple recipes and working your way up, I tend to make what sounds interesting, even if that steepens the learning curve.
I have a thing for smoked beers - at least in theory. I have only tried one, on one occasion (the classic Schlenkerla Rauchbier, at my favourite Mancunian bar, Font). It sure was smoky, which isn't something you'd want in every drink, but it was interesting and not unpleasant. The way smoked beers are made is by smoking some of the malt, often over beech - although any wood you use for smoking food could work. You can buy ready-smoked malt, but since this recipe is made from leftovers, I'm going to smoke my own, using some of the many wood chips I bought last year for barbecues and smoking homemade bacon and suchlike.
I also love fruit beers, especially the two classics, kriek (cherry) and framboise (raspberry). I grow both in my garden - last year I got a single cherry and more than seven kilos of raspberries, but I wasn't brewing, so I used them in other things. I veer towards kriek partly because cherries seem much more luxurious, and partly because those I've had tend to be a little more sophisticated than other fruit beers. It happens that I have a bag of cherry wood chips, so I thought - why not combine the two? I came up with:
Triple cherry smoked fruit beer
for 4.5 litres (one demijohn)
grains and sugars
690g Maris Otter
280g English crystal
150g Amber, smoked over cherry wood chips
100g unrefined cane sugar
70g rolled oats
2g Warrior (18.2% AA)
Hefeweizen (an unfiltered German beer, I poured some into a jug, added water and sugar, and let the yeast grow)/Wyeast Ringwood*
toasted cherry wood chips
I'll mash the grains in the same way as for my first beer - namely by putting them into a big pan with water (I set my variable kettle to 80ºC, which comes down to the right range, 60-65ºC when mixed with the cold malt), then put that in the oven at a little under 70ºC for an hour. I'll boil with the hops for just half an hour - to extract the level of bitterness I've calculated, which should be pretty low, as what I've read suggests high hop levels and fruit don't combine well. I'll ferment in a glass demijohn with an airlock, and when it's done, I'll transfer to another demijohn, and add the wood chips. When the cherries are ripe, around midsummer, I'll transfer again, adding the fruit and probably removing the wood, depending on how woody it's become. The beer will sit on the fruit until autumn sometime, then I'll bottle it. The total time will be at least 9 months.
I really hope that I can use homegrown cherries in this - my schedule is based roughly around when they're ready. I can't count on having enough, or even any - as I'll explain below. In any case, that gives it five months or so on the wood chips - although I'll check to make sure it doesn't become unpleasant-tasting. Otherwise, I'll buy some fresh cherries around midsummer, and add those. As for quantities, I have no idea - but probably 20-30g of wood chips, and 0.5-1kg fruit.
What it ends up tasting like is unknown - I've never had anything like this, and it's rather experimental. But I'm using stuff I already have, so it's not costing me anything. If it's good, I'll have created something really exciting. If not - I now know you can blend beers, so maybe it won't have to be poured away.
*The Hefeweizen showed no signs of activity after a few days, so I added a little of my previous batch of beer, which is fermenting with Ringwood. Hopefully it'll take off soon. Update 25/1 - it's taken off now, bubbling contentedly (but not violently).
Update: 3rd February 2012
Fermentation has finished after ten days. The beer has been transferred to a fresh sterilised demijohn, and 35g toasted cherry wood chips will be added. Gravity measured at 1.015, giving a current abv of over 6% (the accuracy of a hydrometer is not really good enough to give fractions of a percent). Almost no sediment was transferred - a clean racking. Tasting of 80ml used for measuring the gravity: thick body, very little carbonation left. Copper-orange, good taste - I've had many worse beers in the pub. But there's no detectable smoke taste.
My cherry trees
I love fruit trees. They are amongst the most ornamental plants, with gorgeous (often scented) blossom announcing spring, summer verdancy and swelling fruits, edible baubles at harvest time, then bright autumn foliage. They don't need to take up much space - either get a dwarfing variety, or prune them into step-overs, cordons, fans, etc.
Even in my tiny garden, I've squeezed two cherry trees (and a quince). The cherries were from Tesco of all places, and bought on a whim - but I've always hankered after an orchard, so it wasn't unprecedented (I also bought a plum, but it didn't survive). I put one against the fence at the back of the garden - a position in full sun year-round, which gets very warm in spring and summer; the other went in on the other side of the terrace, about twenty feet away, and was left freestanding. I pruned the fence tree into a fan shape, which was held in place with canes. Perhaps because it has been constrained, the branches have grown much longer than the other tree - or perhaps it's the position, or variety.
Freshly-planted in spring 2009, the future fan-trained cherry had just three or four flowers - but put on strong growth through the summer.
In the second year, I added a framework of canes to train the branches into a fan shape. Plenty of blossom, but no fruit.
At the start of its third year, the fan shape was well established - it measured around 7 feet tall by 8 feet wide.
There was plenty of blossom in the spring of 2011, but just a single fruit ripened - most dropped, and the rest were probably eaten by birds (this year I'll put up a net).