King cake is a staple of the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration. The pastry-like cake is sugary-sweet with dominant flavors of cinnamon and sugar, and its story reaches beyond that of Mardi Gras.
The king cake is shrouded in religious history, originally made in association with the Christian festival of Epiphany. Nowadays, a small plastic baby Jesus is placed in the cake and who ever finds the figurine in their slice of king cake is charged with throwing next year’s king cake party. You can learn more about the story behind king cake on MardiGrasNewOrleans.com, but now it’s time to figure out how to get the sweet flavors of king cake into your homebrew!
King Cake-Flavored Beer
Believe it or not, king cake-flavored beer is not really a thing–yet. We tracked down homebrewer Sonny Guidry who has been experimenting with a king cake homebrew recipe, but still dialing it in. Louisiana-based Mudbug Brewery recently came out with what appears to be the first commercial king cake beer. But, if you simplify king cake to its main flavor components and characteristics you can brew a beer that will do the Mardi Gras tradition justice.
King cake is typically sweet accentuated by some spice and citrus notes. A tasty king cake beer can include brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and lemon zest. You can already taste it in your homebrew, can’t you?
Before throwing this and that into your recipe, start by determining the base style that will showcase the traits of king cake. Do you want something strong or sessionable? Dark or light? It is really up to the brewer, but think of grain and hop bills that won’t clash with the assertive king cake flavors.
Form my own recipe, I decided to go with a milk stout with reserved burnt quality and hop character. While dark, chocolatey notes aren’t entirely “king cake-y,” the bold malt backbone can hold its own against the powerful cinnamon and nutmeg character while some lemon zest adds an unsuspecting but welcomed citrus note that offers balance. The lactose paired with a very small addition of vanilla extract can conjure up some of the king cake’s icing character. Bottle condition with brown sugar, and you’ve got yourself a flavorful king cake beer ready for a Mardi Gras session.
Of course, you can take it one step further like Sonny Guidry of the appropriately named homebrewery, Fleur De Lis Brewing. Guidry’s base style implements some darker roasted malts adding some malt sweetness, a reserved hop profile and…an entire king cake! That’s right. They add a king cake to the boil (correction: Guidry’s recipe calls for the king cake to be added during the mash) to make a truly authentic Mardi Gras beer. It’s messy, but the result is truly a king cake beer.
So there you have it; the tools you need to brew the perfect king cake beer for your next Mardi Gras celebration.
Share your recipe ideas in the comments below!