Craft beer with a Latin flair: An interview with Randy Mosher (Feature for Extra)
This feature originally appeared on the cover of Extra Newspaper.
Brewer Randy Mosher is a partner at the new 5 Rabbit Cerveceria but he has been known in homebrewing and “Beer Nerd” circles for years. Mostly because Mosher wrote and designed the eye-catching and popular home brewing guide “Radical Brewing” and “The Brewer’s Companion.” He recently sat down with Extra to talk about brewing beers with a Latin theme here in Chicago, Aztec Gods and why craft beer has grown so much in the last few years.
Extra: For people not familiar with 5 Rabbits what’s the elevator pitch or short summary of what you’re doing.
RM: We are bringing the fun and excitement of Latin cuisine and culture to the fabulous world of craft beer.
Extra: So what are the 5 Rabbits, does that tie into the Latin theme?
RM: First of all, it is not a quantity its 5 Rabbit singular, and this is based on Aztec mythology. It’s very common for pre-Columbian personal names to have numbers in them. So, the numbers usually refer to some kind of calendrical name (having to do with the birthday) they were really involved with all the cycles of time: The earth and Venus and the moon and everything.
Five in particular is a number that was associated with days that represented a loss of control. What the five are well there are actually five gods of excess of which 5 Rabbit is one. There is 5 Rabbit, 5 Lizard, 5 Vulture, 5 Flower, 5 Grass, and each one of those represents a different type of excess. I suppose you could say they are like the seven deadly sins in Christian mythos.
So the rabbit for example represents excess of pride. The big ears are symbolic that we should listen more for messages from the community and our inner selves theirs a beautiful story behind all of this
Extra: I see you also work in design did you also design all the packaging?
RM: Yes I did
Extra: Did you take Aztec images and other images from the past?
RM: Well, we looked at all of that. You know it’s our goal to not be too fussy about the past. We’ll take inspiration from it but we really intend to be very much a 21st century project, very much a kind of a fusion thing.
Extra: Where else does that Latin influence touch the beer, besides the name? Is there also an influence on the beer itself?
RM: Well, we have three beers. In our portfolio right now although one of them is on vacation for the summer. But the 5 Rabbit is a golden ale that is a beery beer. Really in Latin cultures the most popular beer that’s drunk really the only beer that’s drunk (with a few exceptions) is that yellow beer that has that golden color that was influenced in some way by pilsner. So we felt that it was important for us to have a beer that had that look. But we didn’t want make something timid or do something that we thought would be boring and easy.
The other beer that we have out this summer is the 5 Lizard and this one is a little more obvious in its relationship to Latin culture and cuisine especially. We are calling it a Latin style wit beer. So Wit is that really delicious wheat beer from Belgium that is usually spiced and so we used some coriander with a really crisp character to it and instead of the traditional orange peel we used lime peel. We use about 60 limes per batch of beer.
The beer is very light in alcohol 4.2 % it’s very light very crisp then we spike it with passion fruit pulp during fermentation. It’s very well integrated, and its super super dry. We’re calling it a fruit beer for grown ups.
Extra: In describing these both it seems like there’s this dichotomy between doing a way out there novelty beer and a boring timid beer. How do you keep that balance?
RM: Well that’s the trick. All along for me that has been one of the more interesting things. How do we express the Latin culture in a beer and do it in a way that’s not just a novelty or gimmicky that really creates things of beauty that have depth and drink ability, beer that you can have 2 or 3 pints of and don’t wear out your pallet.
Extra: What do you think is fueling the popularity of craft beer. Do you think we are in a growing trend, is this a fad or the height of something that is always going to be around?
RM: It’s a huge question and no one can totally predict the future. But here’s how I see it. I think this is a kind of hundred-year-long pendulum swing. If you go back to the early 19th century breweries were all local. People knew their brewers they went to church with him or went to the bar with him. They were there in their community. And in the 19th century with the scaling up of all kind of industries we developed a very different relationship with our suppliers and the idea of nationally branded products really took hold.
They served in the USA anyway a way to kind of hold people together in a funny way. If you think of people as coming from Poland and Mexico and Ireland, Germany and every where else they became real Americans through a lot of different ways but one of the things that they did was they shared this real kind of progressive modern industrialized brands like Heinz ketchup, Campbell’s soup, and eventually Budweiser bee things like that. People were really looking for modernness in their product: efficiency and economy and canned beer.
We have this phrase the greatest thing since sliced bread. For them it really was great you didn’t have to slice that old bread and it didn’t go stale as fast. But when you look at what you have to do to make sliced bread you get bread that’s not really all that bread like. Garret Oliver has a great statement “You look at a loaf of wonder bread and it looks like bread and it has a crust it has an interior and its kind of spongy but it’s not bread. It’s a chemical system that is held together in a way that makes it possible to package it, cut it up, put it on the shelf and have it last for two or three weeks. Its very different from what our great grandfathers had for example.
Extra: Being on both sides of brewing as both a home brewer and a pro brewer what do you see as the relationship between growth of home brewing and the growth of craft beer?
RM: They’re two sides of the same coin. The forces that drive people to home brew are the same forces that drive them to take it a little bit further to take it into the commercial realm.
It’s a bit of an obsession to be an honest. For a lot of people it kind of takes over there life and makes them question things. Maybe you take a look at that job as a computer programmer and its not as interesting as it used to be. When you’re a brewer it’s very easy to see what your doing is making people happy
Extra: How many iterations do you go through to get to the finished recipe that you actually bring to market?
RM: for us that really wasn’t a difficult process. My partners are beer enthusiasts but not necessarily super beer knowledgeable. So what I did we sat down at my dining room table and I blended commercial beers and spiked them with different flavorings to try to put them in a glass so we could all taste and discuss. We tried different fruits we tried the chilli ancho that we have in the 5 Vulture. And so in a couple of hours we were able to go through a dozen or more beers and once we got to the point where we had something that we all liked and agreed on then it was up to me to cook up a recipe.
For some it took one or two to get it right. But then we were able to scale up. We are still doing some tinkering but the changes are on the order of 10% more or less. In a range that most consumers aren’t going to notice. But we want the beers to be as good as we possibly can so we see something that could use some improvement were going to do it.
Extra: Is there anything big coming up for 5 Rabbit?
RM: We will be brewing up the 5 Vulture that was previewed and put on vacation for the summer. That’s a 6.4 % dark beer spiked with a small amount of chile ancho which is that really dark leathery smoky chili that you see in a lot of Mexican especially Oaxacan cuisine. We’re calling it a Oaxacan Ale.
We are also working on a beer for Dia de los Muertos, something along the lines of a bent October-fest. We’re not sure its gonna work, but it probably will so that’ll be something to look forward to maybe second week of October.
Extra: It’s appropriate that a Dia de los Muertos beer be shrouded in mystery?
RM: I think that’s appropriate. We are gonna have some fun around it.