Apocalypse Now: A Beer for the End of the World

BYOB by | Nov 2011 | Issue #58

Illustration by Ellen Crenshaw

You know times are tough around the country when we seem to be facing one crisis of apocalyptic proportions after another. What is it about recessions, depressions and uncertainty that cause us to fret about “dogs and cats living together—mass hysteria!” I don’t know—I’m not a psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, or a priest. But what I do know is that the History Channel is stacked with programs telling me that I have about a year before Mayan-predicted chaos kills us all or the Earth changes to a higher vibratory state, forever altering life on this planet.

Having survived multiple raptures and other messages of the end times, I have less than a scintilla of real worry. After all, talk to the torchbearers of the Mayan culture and they’ll happily tell you about the new calendar cycle that begins after the old one. To them, December 21st, 2012, is no different than our end-of-the-year rush to swap in a new beer-of-the-day calendar.

You guys know me, though. I’ll take any opportunity to create a new beer. So the world is ending? I can’t think of a better reason to chuck back a glass or two or 10 of something delicious and weird. What happened to last month’s “simplicity” theme, you ask? Well, I’m both mercurial and a big believer in moderation.

Time to break down our inspiration—the Mayan culture and the destruction of my favorite planet. First thing’s first: We’ve got to go big. I’m not spending my precious few hours sipping on a small beer. While I love ’em, session beers are reserved for times of moderation, not bacchanals of abandonment. So, let’s play the numbers game and commemorate the plethora of 12’s in 12/21/2012 with a 12-percent monster.

The Mayans were known for bloody ritual sacrifices and their obsidian knives, but I want to avoid thoughts of blood and death while putting the beer down. Out with the red and the black, and in with my favorite thing—food. Turns out the Mayans shared an obsession with us: chocolate. They discovered chocolate-making technology through the Olmecs and improved upon it. Thanks to the ruthless rapacity of the Spanish Conquistadors, chocolate made its way to Europe, and the rest is history. The Mayans weren’t chomping on Cadbury bars; they drank their chocolate in a bitter, foamy liquid. Sound familiar?

They took cacao pods, fermented the goopy seeds and dried them in the sun before roasting and grinding them into a rough paste. The paste was combined with maize, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, and chili peppers, and finally, water. The resulting thick, gritty, spicy liquid was beaten, poured, churned and frothed aggressively before being consumed in great quantities.

Because my apocalypse beer is going to have a lot of flavor with bitterness from the cacao and heat from the chiles, I want a solid foundation. To play with the chocolate theme, we’re going brown. Think big American Brown Ale. For yeast, I’m following Mike Myer’s rule, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!” and using Edinburgh yeast for its ability to go big without going weird. The additions of cacao nibs, chiles, other spices, and possible tequila-aged oak cubes are sufficiently strange. Note the use of cinnamon extract (for heat) and cinnamon tea (for earthiness) to provide additional complexity.

Fair warning: This is still a project in progress! I’ve made the starter beer (for the yeast cake). Changes may occur, but I know one thing. Thanks to this beer, it’s the end of the world, and I feel fine!

For 5.5 gallons at 1.112, 52 IBU, 21 SRM, 12% ABV, 120-minute boil

Malt / Sugar / Grain
9.5 lb. domestic two-row
9.5 lb. Maris Otter pale malt
1.0 lb. Scottish Crystal 60L
1.0 lb. flaked maize
0.5 lb. pale chocolate malt
2.0 oz Carafa II dehusked chocolate malt
0.5 lb. honey (added at the end of boil for the dark raw avocado honey I’m using)

Mash at 152°F for 60 minutes.

1.0 oz Magnum (pellets) | 14% AA | 60 minutes

WLP028 Edinburgh Yeast

Weird Stuff (unless noted, added during secondary)
– cinnamon extract (2 cracked cinnamon sticks in vodka for minimum 2 weeks)
– cinnamon tea (2 cracked cinnamon sticks boiled for 10 minutes and steeped for a day)
– vanilla extract (homemade, 3 chopped vanilla beans in vodka for 4 weeks)
– 6–8 oz of cracked cacao nibs (soak for 2 weeks in the beer)
– 3 dried New Mexico chiles (soaked in vodka) – use dried chipotles or chile de árbol for more whomp
– 2 oz tequila-aged French oak cubes (soaked for a minimum of a month)