Can you Brew it?
Most homebrewers normally start brewing or get into brewing because they want to be able reproduce/ clone a favorite beer. One of the beers I've always enjoyed is Dog Fish Head Palo Santo Marron. Palo Santo Marron is essentially an Imperial Brown aged on Palo Santo Wood. Palo Santo comes from Paraguay and is known to have healing powers. Dogfish Head constructed the largest wooden fermentation tank made completely out of Palo Santo to produce this beer. The wood gives some incredible interesting flavors that makes it a very unique beer and as a homebrewer it really sparked my interested in how they made it.
Typically I've found a majority of breweries and professional brewers are more than happy to answer questions about their beer, ingredients, and process. I attempted several times to contact DogFish Head about Palo Santo but only response I received was that they do not reveal ingredients and secrets of their beers. I found that surprising but luckily their founder, Sam Calagione, loves to talk to anyone with a camera and a microphone and has given plenty of interviews about Palo Santo. With a simple Google search I was able to put together a majority of the ingredients this beer uses from several of Sam's interviews.
First of all, if you are not using brewing software I can't recommend it enough. Brewing software makes it easy to formulate a recipe like this. I personally use brewersfriend.com . To formulate my recipe I did some reverse engineering by starting with the only facts DogFish Head had on their website, 12% ABV and 50IBU's. I knew I needed a big malt base to reach that ABV. A tip I learned when doing really big beers is to sub out some base malt with dry malt extract from your grain bill. On my homebrew system if I go over 20lbs of grain my efficiency goes way down. The DME will help you reach your gravity easier. I also prefer the malt flavor it gives the finished wort. Decided to go with 42% 2-row malt and 30% light dried malt extract as my base. One video revealed wheat malt was used in the beer. I went with 15% wheat malt as an educated guess. Palo Santo Marron is a dark brown beer so I know I needed some dark malts. In the videos I found I can clearly see a bag of pale chocolate and crystal 80 being used. I added some de-bittered black patent to add color and rounded up the rest with some chocolate malt. The one thing I didn't use that DogFish Head does is sucanat. I decide to use dark brown sugar instead mainly because I had plenty on hand and sucanat isn't cheap. I've used sucanat before and I honestly don't find a big difference since most of it is fermentable.
According to the message boards, Palo Santo uses 3 different types of hops: Warrior, Palisade, and Glacier. Warrior hops is one of my favorite varieties. Its a very diverse hop that can be used for bittering and/or aroma. I also know warrior hops is used in some of their other beers. Warrior has the highest alpha acid rating so decided it needed to be the bittering hop to get a majority of the IBU's. Palisade and glacier were two hops that I had not used. When giving them the smell test I decided that glacier had the better aroma and would be my late addition for aroma. Used the palisade hops to reach the 50 IBU's I was looking for.
The message boards claims DogFish Head uses a Scottish yeast for this beer. Couldn't find anything in the interviews to support this claim but it makes sense. Scottish yeast ferments very clean and neutral so it lets the malt flavors shine. It also has a high alcohol tolerance. My yeast calculator showed two fresh smack packs of Wyeast 1728 would be enough yeast cells. I should of made a 2L starter but was short on time for this brew session.
My Brew day was pretty typical. I use the batch sparging method. Heated my strike water to 165 to mash in at 152. Mashed for 60 minutes. Collected the first runnings then did an infusion at 185 to sparge out at 168. Once my wort came to a boil I did hop additions of 60, 15, and 5 minutes. Cooled the wort to 67 with an immersion chiller. Aerated with an aquarium pump and oxygen stone for about 5 minutes and pitch my yeast. This was the highest gravity beer I had ever made and the wort was one of the best things I've tasted. Wonderful chocolate, caramel, malt flavors. This beer was the first one with my new conical which doesn't fit in my temp chamber so I moved the conical to the corner of my basement where the temp consistently sits around 68. I pretty much forgot about it for 8 weeks.
Where to find Palo Santo wood? Surprisingly a simple Google search revealed plenty of places sell it. Palo Santo wood is sold mainly as an incense in new age shops for its healing powers. To be honest they all looked the same had the same descriptions. I just chose the one that had free shipping with Amazon Prime. Now some people have told me that the wood that you can buy online is not the same that is used at DogFish Head. I couldn't find any evidence of that actually being true. Only facts I could find is that there are two species of Palo Santo one from Paraguay and one in central America. All the wood that is sold all mentioned being from Paraguay. When the wood arrived it definitely had the aroma and essence of Palo Santo Marron.
At 8 weeks the base beer was wonderful and I really had to think hard about trying to add the Palo Santo wood. Mainly I had no idea how much to use and truly didn't know if the wood I was using was even the right kind. I've seen a couple of people try to brew this beer and all have stated don't use too much wood. I decided to use 1 oz which I cut up in several pieces and gave it a small toast with a lighter. I added to a carboy and transferred the beer on top of the wood. I basically forgot about for another 3 months.
Nanobrew Fest was quickly approaching and I was working on the beers I would have for the fest. I always try to bring my A game and bring interesting and unique beers people will want to try. That's when I remember that my Palo Santo project was collecting dust in the basement. Gave it a taste. Damn this thing is intense, boozy and complex. Transferred to a corny keg and carbed it up for the fest. Decide the beer was too good to give it all away so I filled 2 growlers to serve at the fest to see what people's reaction was. It was pretty big hit and people really seem to enjoy it. I've taken it to some of my beer nerd friends and some bjcp judges to get evaluated and its gotten really high marks from everyone that has tried it. Everyone assumes that I must of added some spices to this beer because of the complex flavor. Its all about the wood for the beer, its truly unique.
Now is it a clone?? Its definitely in the ball park and has the essence of Palo Santo Marron. I think mine might be a little too intense on the wood compared to the real thing but I was so happy how this one turned out and felt I did a pretty good job at attempting it. I will say I still have some of this beer and it keeps getting better with age. I actually prefer it over the real thing. With clones recipes its not really important to make the exact beer its just the joy of making a beer just as good as DogFish Head.
Next, Can you Brew it? Boulevard Brewing's Bourbon Barrel Quad.
If you have an idea for a Can You Brew It? Let me know and we will make it happen.
Until next time
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