Asian elephant Sujatha chooses among several malted barleys for a signature beer, to be named Big Ear Beer, for the Santa Barbara Zoo’s upcoming Zoo Brew fundraiser on June 2.

The Brewhouse always brews a special beer to celebrate Zoo Brew, the annual beer festival held at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Recipe formulation is an important part of this process, and to aid in development of the 2012 commemorative brew, we enlisted some real heavyweights: the zoo’s Sujatha and Little Mac, a pair of pachyderms who got to lend a trunk to The Brewhouse’s brewmasters, myself and Casey Smith, to select ingredients for what will become Big Ear Beer.

First, the elephants were presented with a selection of malted grains, the key ingredient in any beer. Here we had a split decision.

Sujatha went straight for the California Select, a pale malted barley which forms the basis for many beers. After devouring the pale malt she moved on to the wheat malt. While Little Mac hung back, Sujatha turned her attention to the dark roasted malt. She seemed more interested in the banana leaf that the grain was presented on, and when she sampled the malt she was not impressed. She picked it up with her trunk, put it in her mouth, and then spit it out. She also was not very fond of the crystal malt.

The Brewhouse’s Pete Johnson gets a “two trunk salute” from elephants Sujatha and Little Mac. The pachyderms selected the ingredients that Johnson will use to brew "Big Ear Beer."

Little Mac finally got her turn at the grains, and she seemed more accepting of the dark malts. She eagerly ate all the dark malt, including the mouthful that Sujatha spit out.

Next, the elephants were hand-fed small amounts of various flavorings that can be added to beer. Here they were more in agreement.

Both beasts were very fond of oatmeal, chocolate, licorice, and vanilla, while neither would even taste the citrus peels they were offered. They differed somewhat when it came to coffee beans, with Sujatha rejecting them, while Little Mac seemed to enjoy the java.

After witnessing this, the brewers and keepers consulted and formed the basic recipe. The malt used will be mostly California Select pale malt with a small amount of wheat malt. We also decided to honor Little Mac’s selection of the dark roasted malt, and we will include all four flavorings that both elephants enjoyed.

We also decided to make it a strong beer, as befits a brew selected by elephants.


Big Ear Beer will be served at Zoo Brew, a June 2 fundraiser for the Santa Barbara Zoo. Click for tickets.


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