Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How do you capture autism in a bottle?

Should I brew a beer in honor my autistic son Brandon by brewing a beer with noticeable defects and strange tastes?   Most people would say of course not, but this is not as contrived a dilemma as it might seem.

Consider that we have to take Brandon's picture a bunch of times to finally get one where he isn't flapping his hands, looking away from the camera, or scrunching up his face in an earnest attempt to smile.  But aren't all those other pictures we delete or otherwise hide part of Brandon's true character?   I've learned that loving my son means loving the autism, so there's a part of me that doesn't want hide his autistic traits, but celebrate them, as weird and unnatural as they might be.
Brandon with one of his favorite Lego models he built.

 So how to capture this in a beer someone might actually want to drink?

Brandon devours his Saturday morning pancakes that incorporate cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup in the recipe, so I decided to incorporate these flavors into a beer.  I thought these flavors would go well with the light nutty and roasted character of a good Brown Ale, so I took the Dad's Brown Ale 1-gallon recipe from the Brooklyn Brew Shop's Beer Making Book, and added cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup and called it Brandon's Brown Ale.

The recipe:

Brandon's Brown Ale

1.6 pounds Maris Otter Malt
0.1 pounds Caramel 40 Malt
0.1 pounds Caramel 80 Malt
0.1 pounds Chocolate Malt
 0.1 ounce Challenger Hops (60 minutes into the boil)
0.15 ounces  Fuggles Hops (0.1 ounces at 40 minutes, 0.05 ounces at 55 minutes)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 40 minutes into the boil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 55 minutes into the boil
3/4 cup maple syrup at end of boil

English Ale Yeast

The grains were mashed with 2 quarts of water, were sparged with an additional 1 gallon of water, and then the resulting wort was boiled for 60 minutes

As for the taste, well it is different.  Cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup work great together in pancakes, but some flavors just don't work well together in a beer, and this one's a little different.    The maple syrup and vanilla extract gave it a woody character while the cinnamon imparted a savory, aromatic dimension, but the beer seemed to lack the malty character one associates with a Brown Ale.  Next time, I think the maple syrup will be added to the fermenter after the boil to give the brew a more mellow maple flavor and I might use a little less of it to let the malt shine through.  Using a fresh vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks would probably improve upon the flavor as well as the spice character seemed a little muddled.

But those problems aside, the beer had a smooth, slighly creamy character and the spices gave the Brown Ale an unusual dimension that was a little surprising and unconventional, but is easily enjoyed.  I think that captures Brandon pretty well.
A more candid shot of Brandon building the Lego model.   In an unposed shot
when he doesn't realize we're taking his picture, he is more natural.

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