In Thursday's post, I mused about how Northwest brewing might evolve. There are a number of experiments a brewer might conduct, by my fancy was captured by the concept of local ingredients. Cutting to the chase (avoiding discussion of my thought process on how to work blackberries and oysters into the mash), I started pondering the wood-aged beers. Sally wondered if fir might contribute color, and then I thought of cedar.
Our most famous native variety is the Western red cedar (thuja plicata) which is, in fact, a false cypress, not a true cedar. This is the tree that produces the resinous, water-repelling wood that's used for shake shingles. It has been used for centuries by native people to make everything from homes and canoes to art. Its greatest claim to fame is its aromatics, which derive from thujaplicin, and contributes the classic cedar scent.
Pondering that aroma, and how hops are often described as "piney" or "woody," I wondered: what would happen if you aged beer in a cedar cask? Has anyone done it? A search revealed a partial match--the Japanese brewery Hitachino Nest (Kiuchi) ages a strong pale ale in sugi casks.
Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) is a Japanese "cedar" with similar aromatic qualities to ours--it's in the cypress family--and is used to age taruzake, a variant of sake. It is very clearly affected by the aging; in addition to the traditional hoppy flavor (it's a British-style ale), there's an additional resinous, incense-like quality. It even seemed to thin out the body, too, but this may have been my imagination.
(I loved that the brewery had chosen a traditional local method for the beer. Now, if they'd experiment and come up with a more sake-like recipe, we'd really be cookin'.)
But the sugi is not the thuja plicata. Our cedar is robust and its oils apparently so potent as to resist infection. Would it overpower a beer? Make it undrinkable? The thesis is definitely testable, and I think that's my next step. Off to Woodcrafters to get a board for experimentation....
Anyone have any experience with this either as encouragement or warning?