I hang out a lot with friends, including the farmers who produce our veggies, on the days we get our vegetables delivered via the CSA. Ironically, it’s the day of the week I eat the worst. Instead of diving into the amazing veggies we get, we’re often at a local bar eating an amazing french dip made with a croissant and the best fries or sitting in somebody’s backyard eating bbq’d whatever. Brats often. Sometimes veggies. It’s a good night of friendship where the conversation comes easy and everyone feels relaxed.
A few Tuesdays ago, some of these friends began making a home brew of beer. It was fascinating to watch the process happen before me in the backyard. The mixing of ingredients. The timing of the cooking. The balance of two kinds of hops. By the time the sun was setting, the mixture was ready to go into a container and yeast was to be added the next day.
By the time we got back a week later, the yeast had done some magic and it was ready to go into the next step. We decided that it might be fun to experiment with some of the leftover near-beer that didn’t fit into the container. I took home a jar of it with the idea that I might try to make caramels with it. I had a recipe I made last fall for apple cider caramels where you reduce about 2 cups of cider into a concentrate of about 1/3 cup. I assumed the same could be done with the beer and then it could be made into caramels using the same recipe.
This was the recipe I adapted (it’s super delicious if you want to make it “as is” with cider): http://blondiescakes.blogspot.com/2010/12/apple-cider-caramels.html
I put the jar into my fridge to settle (assuming the yeast “stuff” would settle at the bottom and I’d be left with clear “beer” at the top). I also got busy, so I just left it there a bit longer than I might have intended.
My friend worried it might be moldy. I was asked if I had opened it, but I said I had decided not to open it until I was ready to use it in the hopes it would keep itself pressurized and hopefully fend off mold.
On the day I was ready to try, I took it out of the refrigerator with some trepidation. To my delight, it looked great – a clear beer at the top, a creamy yeast/sediment layer at the very bottom, and a reassuring “exhalation” of pressure when I opened the jar. I measured out 2 cups into a saucepan and discarded the remnants in the jar. I put it to boil and then simmer on the stove for about 20 minutes. At that time, I measured it and I had just over 1/3 cup so I stopped and let it cool for a bit. The normally reddish beer had become a deeper brown, but it smelled great (not burnt). I figured we were going to be fine.
I set to make the caramels. One step of it is to put the reduced liquid into a bowl with the heavy cream and the spices. With apple cider, the spices made sense: cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. I poured the beer concentrate and heavy cream into a bowl and without thinking, added the spices. Thankfully I didn’t stir them in because as I was heating the sugar/cream mixture, it began to dawn on me that for a beer caramel, the point was to taste the beer, not mask it with spices that elicit thoughts of autumn and thanksgiving. I did my best to scrape all of the spices off of the top of the cream mixture. A little bit did get in, but nothing like it would have been if my mind had not awakened when it did. It would have been tasty, but the essence of beer would have been lost.
First, you bring the sugar, heavy cream, and some water to boil and heat it until it gets about 235 degrees. At that point you add in the beer/cream mixture and bring the mixture back to a boil and up to 245 degrees. At that point, you take it off the heat, stir in the butter, and then put into a buttered pan (I oiled parchment paper to make sure it’d come out easily).
Once cut, they are easily wrapped in waxed paper. If it’s not something you want to eat right away, refrigerate them so they’ll keep longer.
A successful kitchen experiment!!