Carobou: Now in Bloom!

07 December 2015

Carobou: Now in Bloom!

Carobou; our English-style Barleywine brewed with Carob is back- in a big way! 

This beer was first brewed four years ago for sharing with friends, family, and fellow homebrewers over the holiday season. That first batch was in back in 2011, and it was my entry into the SOB advent calendar. Check out this awesome photo of that brew by Patrick Hirlehey, another participant in that calendar:

 Photo by Patrick Hirlehey


The idea of a homebrew club advent calendar is simple- and brilliant: somewhere between 12 (days of Christmas), 24 (bottles in a case) or 31 (days in December) homebrewers sign up to brew and bottle an advent batch of beer. They bottle enough for every participant, and sometime in advance of December they get together to do a swap! Everybody gets one bottle from each brewer and keeps one of their own bottles to create a complete set. Each bottle is assigned a day, and everybody goes though them together: each participant gets to enjoy a super-unique advent calendar of beer! They also get to share feedback and thoughts with each other as a group, as the days progress towards Christmas. Carobou was my entry into the 2011 SOB advent calendar, and it also took first place in that years All About Ales Comp in Spice/Herb/Vegetable beers! 

In 2012 I re-brewed it to be served at Black Oak's annual Holiday Party. I made it at Black Oak on a little homebrew system as part of their "Rubber Boot Camp" series of how-to brewing sessions, open to the public. At that time I wrote:

"I think that many brewers instincts would be to pair the Carob with Chocolate malts, but I think that would be a disservice to the Carob. It would cover the Carob up, dominate it, and place it in a flavour competition it simply cannot win. Carob, if you are not aware, is a lovely but much maligned spice. I think because it is often presented as a Chocolate Substitute. Carob may have a character that is somewhat reminiscent of chocolate, but it is no substitute. Nothing is! Carob has its own thing going on anyway, it’s different. It’s interesting! It’s good. Don’t ruin it by forcing me to think of it as a cruel and crude approximation of Chocolate. ANYWAY, this big beer is made with 100% Canadian 2-Row barley- which allows the subtle Carob character and colour to come through."

I pretty much stand by that, or at least the most important part: Carob is not Chocolate. And I think that the idea that "Carob is a good chocolate substitute" is ruining Carob. It's so unfair. Carob has a lot to offer, but it's always being put into situations where its only job is to be JUST LIKE CHOCOLATE. Situations where it inevitably falls short, and then gets told that it's crummy. It's as if Albert Einstein had a big brother who was great at hockey, Wayne Einstein, and whenever Wayne was too expensive to use or whatever, well-meaning hippies were like: "Try Albert, he's just as good!" and poor Albert just gets thrown in and then told how crummy he is at being Wayne... All. The. Time. People completely miss out on what is amazing and brilliant about Albert because they can only conceive of him as a lousy Wayne impersonator.

There simply is no substitute for Chocolate. But the same could be said of Carob, yes?

The result: everyone seems to hate Carob, when really, all they hate is how poorly Carob mimics Chocolate. (For one, Carob has none of the mood-altering mojo of Chocolate)

But Carob, when taken on its own merit, can be understood as a very interesting and unique ingredient, one certainly not worthy of universal derision. 

And that is how we try to use it here- Carob for Carob's sake. We use only pale malts, to let the Carob shine. The grist bill is entirely pale 2-row barley, except for a small addition of malted Spelt, which is an ancient grain in the wheat family that I find adds a mild, nutty earthiness, as well as enhances the mouthfeel. 

We just Spelt it was the right thing to do. 


All of the malt created a massive mash. We REALLY hit the maximum amount here, I think.

Red and green Mash Forks! HOW FESTIVE. 


But, we made a mistake (again): we had left the valve running to the kettle OPEN during the mash in. By the time we had crammed all of that malt into the mash tun, we had something like 200 liters already run off into the kettle! (How embarrassing!) We left that volume of wort in the kettle during the mash, where it could be kept warm, then ran it off into buckets and returned it to the mash tun as our first volume of sparging liquid. In this way, we we didn't lose any of that sweet, sweet sugar.

We call this technique: "Oops! Alright, how many buckets do we have hanging around?"
Judging by the number of 20L buckets, it was about 250 liters that we ran off before noticing. Haha, man. I swear that we are professional brewers, honest.


We added the Carob as a powder, right into the kettle, before the beginning of the boil. We used 10 kilograms of Carob for this 400 liter batch, so our addition was 25 grams of Carob per liter! That is what we brewers call a "non-trivial addition", my friends.

A ten kilo bag of Carob powder! Look at the full sight glass in the background! (Photo by Nate Ferguson.)
Look at the sass I am receiving from off camera! (Sass not pictured)
Adding the Carob: we brought the kettle up to a big whirlpool to minimize any lumpin' and clumpin'!
After the boil: Lots of trub and Carob left over...  and then...
Holy Night!! When dumping the trub and Carob, we temporarily transformed the brewery into a scene from "Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory"!
The floor looked like liquid chocolate had covered it! 
Look at those chocolaty footprints!  Daangggg.
The fermentation was very vigorous, and went quite well. Once it was finished, the beer was filtered. The above photo is "before"...
...and this is after! Photos courtesy of Curtis Bentley, the head brewer at Niagara, who described the filtration as: "...the worst I've ever seen." ...but generously described the beer as "worth it"!


With the beer ready, it was time to revisit the old design- which featured a Carob pod hanging unattractively above two (hopefully, public domain) images of a beer and a Caribou:

In the following year, the Carob pod was replaced with a date-stamp!


Once again, we started designing a relief print. The first attempt went pretty well, with the exception of the antlers, which clearly gave me some trouble. You know when you're painting text on poster, but you misjudge the space, and by the end you're really squeezing those last few letters in?  That's how I felt about these antlers on my first attempt:

I drew this while my son was napping.
Nap-Time: "When parents get things done."
I waited for another Nap-Time™ on another day to take another shot at it. The break must have done me some good, because my antlers came out MUCH better.
I then carved the design...
...and printed the results!


My old art teachers would have been happy about how I really "used the canvas" on this design, filling all of the available space and creating some interesting negative spaces. But after all of that fuss on those majestic antlers, they had to be cut from the final image! 

They just cluttered things up too much


We kegged the beer only a few days ago, ending up with 360 liters- or a dozen thirty liter kegs.

We've already brought one of those kegs to Project Brew, the mini beer festival staged by the most recent graduating class from the Brewmaster program at Niagara College (This particular group was special to me, as I had them as students! Congrats, Cheers, and Good Luck everyone!) and the beer was quite well received there!

We plan to put aside at least one more keg for cellaring, which leaves us with only about 10 kegs to share with our friends. Look for them to go on tap shortly! 

Look what I found currently hiding in the cellar: two bottles from 2012! I think we'll pop one open this holiday season.

This new 2015 Carobou is young (rather young indeed, for a barleywine) but it isn't hot; it is remarkably refined for its age, with a powerful, wonderful aroma of dried, dark (bordering on tropical) fruits, and a decadent body as well as a rich flavour, marked by an sweetly earthy, spicy character. The Carob's chocolaty notes are more woodsy than what you might expect from Cacao nibs, more like chocolate covered truffles than milk chocolate. The Carob character is complementary with the base style, enhancing and rounding out the luscious maltiness and boozy, brandy-like complexity you would expect in a big barleywine. It's a rather different- but very special brew. We hope you like it as much as we do around our home.  Happy Holidays!

Cheers! Here's to 2016,

-The Garden Brewers

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