Bitter Melon (Karela) Experiment

Just put together an experiment today. I bought a few bitter melons yesterday at an Asian food store near Los Pozos thinking they were a kind of cucumber and thought they looked mighty cool:


Paired with a sweet sauce in a stir fry, they were great, but when I was first prepping them I bit in and was surprised by the overwhelming bitterness. So…I wondered if there might be application in brewing. 

The most specific mention of it and its effects I could find was this amalgamation creatively thrown together by a homebrewer in Dubai, but I’d really like to try and find something that can work as a bittering substitute in the (unlikely) event I run out of hops. So, I diced one of the leftover melons and harvested 56 g of de-pithed and seeded flesh, covered it in vodka and stuck it in the fridge. I’ll test it over the next couple days to see what comes out.

Also, I’ve started my first sour mash starter in preparation for tomorrow’s brewday! Following standard sour mash procedures, I took one liter of leftover wort, heated it up to around 48 C, added a handful of grains and have let it sit outside in the mash tun with warm water to keep it insulated. The first day there was no tangible difference, but the second day yielded a nice tartness. Today I’ll check again and potentially stop the souring, but I’ll probably let it go all the way until it’s time to blend it with the last runnings of tomorrow’s Belgian Golden Strong mash and hopefully get something in the vein of a Berliner Weisse. We shall see.

  1. GarrethD said:

    Hi! So did you get anywhere with your bitter melon experiment? I love karela as a vegetable (I’m in India, and it’s quite common here), and ever since I started brewing two years ago, I’ve been curious about how it would work in a beer. Initially of course I didn’t think I was ready to experiment, but now I’m more confident. I’m just wondering about quantities, whether to boil like I would hops or to steep in alcohol, whether to use it in addition to hops or as a full substitute, and what grain bill it would go well with. Experimenting is fun of course, but I figure there’s no point making mistakes that someone else has already made. The MacGyver stout recipe is the only other mention I’ve found of homebrewing with bitter melon, so I’m quite curious to know how your experiment turned out.
    p.s. I just read your most recent post, and I hope things are going well for you in San Diego. All the best to you there!

    • Alas, this is one experiment that was forgotten in the back of the fridge. I had intended to taste test it daily for the first week and then in larger increments. Anyway, I did give it a try a month after it started, and it was bracingly bitter. So, obviously it has some potential to add bitterness. However, it might not work as a direct 1:1 hop substitute for any beer you intend to age, just because hops do have certain preservative properties that help keep down bacteria. But if you have stellar sanitation, why not? Go for it!

      If you do go on with it, I’d love to hear how it turns out.

      Thanks for the wishes!

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