Oct. 3, 2013 at 9:50 AM ET
If you’re like me and lack the patience and precision to brew your own beer (or at least to do it well), that doesn’t mean you can't mess around with the flavor of your brews, thanks to Randall Jr., a neat vessel created by Dogfish Head that lets you add interesting ingredients into a beer and see what happens.
Randall Jr. gets its name from the larger, more complex beer infusion contraption that Dogfish Head has dubbed “Randall the Enamel Animal,” which is used in brewpubs around the world to infuse beer with extra flavor, usually additional hops.
Randall Jr. boasts a simpler design for home use. It looks like a clear travel mug, but one with a double-decker lid. There’s a wire mesh that screws on top of the clear plastic cup, straining whatever is poured out of it, and a green cap that screws on top of the mesh, sealing the contents for freshness.
Simply place the ingredients you wish to infuse into your beer - be they hot peppers, fruit, herbs or candy - and then fill the chamber with beer, screw on the lid, and place it in the fridge for 20 minutes.
When your timer goes off, you screw off the top of the lid assembly, leaving the wire strainer on top of the vessel, and pour Randall Jr.'s contents into your glass without the added ingredients following along.
You’re left with a glassful of flavor-infused beer, which might be lacking in carbonation – the beer tends to foam up when it meets the ingredients in Randall Jr.’s 16-ounce cup – but certainly isn’t lacking in flavor.
I played around with Randall Jr., trying to see what interesting new flavors I could create. Here are four that turned out to be winners:
Ramstein Blonde Wheat Beer with organic baby watermelon
I’m a fan of 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon, so I figured I’d try to make my own version at home by adding a handful of diced baby organic watermelon to a Ramstein Blonde. The result was a beer with a touch of watermelon jolly rancher on the nose, and a nice blossom of watermelon flavor tucked in between the Ramstein’s sweet German malts and the small brace of bitter hops on the back end of the flavor. It definitely boosted the refreshment value of this beer.
Ballast Point IPA with habaneros and fruit
Next up was a Ballast Point IPA with half a diced peach and three razor thin slices of habanero pepper. I was hoping to add some sweetness to the front of the beer with the peach and a little heat on the backend courtesy of the peppers. It turned out that three pepper slices were two and a half too many - there was a moment of the Sculpin's crisp malt backbone and then fire. Lots of fire.
I tried again with one half of a razor thin habanero slice and a handful of diced mango. This made things more balanced, with the mango adding a nice dollop of tropical lushness to the beer’s citrusy hop note and the pepper playing deep in the background and building with every sip.
Victory Storm King Stout with vanilla and espresso bean
I chopped up half a vanilla bean, a soft and sticky sensual pleasure to handle, and added it to the Randall Jr. along with half a handful of espresso beans. The vanilla added a rich thread of earthy sweetness to the Storm King, and the espresso beans provided a new dimension of bitterness to this already dark and hoppy tour de force. The first sip was a little rough, with a crushing bitterness at the end of the flavor, but my palate adjusted, and subsequent sips saw the espressos beans pulling the coffee notes out of the Storm King, with the vanilla lending a willow of sweetness to the exchange, making for quite a nuanced and satisfying sip of beer.
New Holland The Poet Oatmeal Stout with peanut butter cup candies
I had picked up some fancy organic chocolate to add to New Holland’s The Poet oatmeal stout, but when it came time to drop the candy into Randall Jr., I impulsively grabbed a couple of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups instead, which I diced into small squares. The result was the Poet’s normal roasted and chocolaty-sweet flavor, buttressed by a very mild and pleasant peanut butter note in the middle of the flavor spectrum. This one could have used more than the recommended 20 minutes to infuse its flavor into the beer, but the combination showed a lot of promise.
Overall, I’d say I had more winners than losers, and it was a ton of fun unleashing my creativity and seeing what flavors I could create.
Every time I put Randall Jr. in the fridge and set my 20-minute timer, I got a thrill like I haven’t experienced since I was a kid putting my Shrinky Dinks in the toaster oven. I couldn’t wait to see what I’d get when the timer dinged.
I’m already dreaming up my next round of experiments – I think Randall Jr. and I are going to be very good friends.