Mate Brew Day

Filling the fermenterIf you read last week’s post, you know that at the end of it I had committed to a mate brew with only a vague idea of what I intended to do. Meanwhile, two pounds of Brazilian mate were on their way, courtesy of Giancarlo Vigil, owner of The Maté Exchange in Durango, Colorado. I hadn’t found much help on the internet for brewing beer with the South American tea and my husband Hugo, who brewed for 23 years at Coors, could only offer general suggestions to get us started.

The following Friday evening at a meet-up at Bottoms Up, our local homebrew supply store, I asked half a dozen homebrewers for advice. One, Huy Vu, had brewed with tea. We talked a bit and followed up with a 15-minute phone call. “It’s more than just the bitterness,” he advised. “Tea dries out your beer, so you need to add in some sweetness.” I asked if he meant upping the grain bill to allow for more fermentable sugars to be extracted during the mash. “That or I like to use honey.” By the time we hung up, we had a deal. I’d leave a half pound of mate with Duane, owner of Bottoms Up Homebrew Supply, for Huy to pick up and use in a brew.

Homebrewer Huy Vu

Homebrewer Huy Vu

Next, I emailed Woods Cervecería, a small brewery in San Francisco that makes a mate-infused IPA. Several days later, Hugo and I drove up for San Francisco Beer Week and a visit to Woods. After sampling Mateveza and four other house beers, we had a good conversation with bartender and part-time brewer Pablo Soriano who reported that Woods adds the mate during the mash. They had initially used one kilo (2.2 pounds) per 20-gallon brew, later dialing it back to a half that. In a follow-up email, Pablo added, “It’s enough to get a subtle grassy, earthy flavor.  Add a little more, and you definitely can distinguish the addition of mate.”

Pablo Soriano at Woods Cerveceria

Pablo Soriano at Woods Cervecería

Back home from Beer Week, I emailed Denny Conn, co-author of Experimental Homebrewing. “Wow, tough question,” he replied. “I think I’d start with the advice you have and put it in the mash.  A bag sounds like a good idea.  As to style, I don’t really know what it tastes like so I’m just guessing here.  I’d start with a blond ale so that the mate will really come through.  I’d use kind of neutral hops like Hallertauer or Magnum and likely keep the IBUs below 30…maybe 25ish.

Two weeks after SF Beer Week, I drove north again, this time to Santa Rosa and Brew Your Own’s 2-day Boot Camp. I asked presenter Sean Paxton’s advice. An executive chef who has worked decades with beer and food, Paxton was familiar with mate. “It could work well in a pale ale, a stout, even a saison,” he said, regarding styles. “Try putting four to eight ounces in a hop sack at the end of the boil. You should get more of the floral aspect that way.”

I was starting to hear some commonalities in the responses and getting some solid ideas as to how to modify a blond ale recipe I’d found. Then, at the evening reception when a friend asked me to take a photo of him and Brad Smith, aka the BeerSmith (famous among homebrewers for his recipes, software applications, podcasts and book), I tossed the question to him. Smith answered off the top of his head. “I think you’ll want to use a low-attentuation yeast. Maybe some caramel or Munich malts for non-fermentable sugars. I’d say add the mate at the end of the boil. Maybe aim for a German-style gravity.” No surprise this guy has a Ph.D.

By the time I got home, Huy, the homebrewer, had emailed a blond ale recipe he’d modified to include the mate and honey. After getting Hugo’s take on it, a quick trip to Bottoms Up for ingredients and some input from owner Duane, I came home with the goods—North-American 2-row (2 oL) and crystal (15 oL) malts, Willamette hops and Wyeast’s 1056 American Ale yeast, no honey.

Brew day! Post mash, mate particles on top of spent grains

Brew day! Post mash, mate particles on top of spent grains

Opting for a conservative approach, I added three ounces of mate in the mash of what turned out to be a four-gallon batch, proportionally a little less than Woods uses. The fermentation was strong and long, with some bubbling for nearly two weeks. By bottling time two days ago, Hugo was on a business trip, so homebrewing neighbor John Cook came over and shared in two exciting moments.

First, the recipe called for a final gravity reading of 1.011. Ours came in at 1.010! Then came sampling the uncarbonated beer. The aroma didn’t overwhelm us with mate, a good sign. There was definitely something in the taste unlike anything we’d ever had in a beer—and between us, we’ve tasted hundreds of beers. John thought the yeastiness came through well. I picked up a slight sort of fruitiness. Most importantly, we both liked what we were tasting. In the light, we thought we were seeing the effect of the green-hued mate on this light golden beer.

The almost perfect final gravity reading

The almost perfect final gravity reading

The bottom line for me: We’re feeling pretty darn good about this brew. All indications are that we’ll have a solid beer in a few weeks once it’s carbonated.

The bottom line for you: Tempted to try your hand at brewing with mate? Click here for the Brew Your Own Blondinebier recipe that Huy found. While he’s been busy brewing for two upcoming event, he suggested five ounces of mate in a five-gallon mash and one more after the boil, then a pound of honey during cool down when the wort reach 100o. If you want still more mate flavor, steep one ounce in a cup of water and add it before kegging (or bottling).

A final note about The Maté Exchange:  Giancarlo Vigil reports that plans are underway to rebrand as La Cima this summer.

Is there or isn't there? (A green mate effect)

Is there or isn’t there? (A green mate effect)

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