Brew at the Zoo: Living Desert Gets Signature Craft Beer, Shares Unique Brewing Recipe

The Living Desert is hosting a "Brew at the Zoo" event on May 4. If you can't wait until then to try some home-brewed beer-- try out this special recipe they've provided.

The following was submitted for publication by The Living Desert:

Beer lovers will soon have a new craft beer to enjoy when The Living Desert introduces its own ale at Brew at the Zoo on Saturday, May 4.

Their signature beer, named The Living Desert Big Cat Brew, was created by the Coachella Valley Brewing Company especially for The Living Desert.

A portion of the proceeds from sales of The Living Desert Big Cat Brew will benefit the park and will be available year round at the park’s café and grill and through the brewery itself.  The beer was inspired by native sage plants found throughout the gardens.  White sage, a California native sage, will be one of the special ingredients in The Living Desert Zoo Brew.

The recipe was dreamed up by The Living Desert Curator of Plants, Kirk Anderson and Coachella Valley Brewing Company Brew Master, Chris Anderson.

“We were inspired by the big cats to create a bolder beer with a bite”, remarked Chris Anderson. “We considered a variety of plants for the brew but ultimately selected sage as the center note for our signature ale,” noted Kirk Anderson. “People are always interested in practical uses for plants. Hopefully beer making will ignite an interest in modern day ethnobotany.”

In celebration of the park’s new brew and the upcoming Brew at the Zoo, The Living Desert offers “Top Ten Reasons to Drink Beer for Conservation at The Living Desert”:

  1. Humans have been drinking beer since the 5th millennium BC, why stop now? 
  2. The Budweiser Clydesdales weigh up to 2,300 pounds and stand nearly 6 feet at the shoulder. But our cheetahs can out run them at 65 mph.
  3. In a study on intoxicated ants, it was noticed that the insects that had too much to drink were picked up by nest mates and carried home. Don’t worry, we offer designated driver tickets for your nest mates.
  4. The better to hear Mexican wolves howling at my next tesguino party. Tesguino is a corn beer made by the Tarahumara Indians of the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico.  Tesquino parties are infamous in the mountainous back country of western Mexico.
  5. You too can hope to maintain a full bladder like a desert tortoise storing water for a dry spell.  But beware; if you pick me up I might pee on you.
  6. This is your big chance to digest fermented grain – just like our ruminant friends.
  7. Get your fix of magnesium, selenium, and folate with a beer.
  8. The Living Desert zoo’s water conservation education efforts mean more water to brew beer with.
  9. A chance to toast to The Living Desert’s active conservation efforts, such as its involvement with the Channel Islands and the Island Fox, which continues to be a valuable resource for state and federal agencies!
  10. Support The Living Desert animals that show us the wonder of wildlife everyday!

* Drink and drive and you might end as food for condors.

Make Your Own Beer With Agave 

Although The Living Desert Big Cat Brew recipe is under wraps, here is a recipe craft beer enthusiasts can try making at home. This recipe features fresh agave nectar, easily found at any grocery store and was developed by Chris Anderson of the Coachella Valley Brewing Co.

Craft Beer Recipe –The Living Desert Zoo Brew (Home Brew)

  • Serves: Yields (5) gallons after fermentation
  • Preparation: Active time: 4 hours, Total time: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Ingredients: 
    • (9) pounds Pilsner malt extract
    • (1) pound light agave nectar
    • (1) pound Carapils malt, crushed
    • (2) ounces Hallertau hops - 60 minutes
    • (6) gallons of filtered water, split in half
    • (2) liter starter of liquid Belgian ale yeast (Whitelabs WLP500 or Wyeast 1214)
  • Special equipment:
    • (2) glass carboys
    • (1) five gallon carboy or bucket
    • (1) six gallon carboy or bucket in addition to the basic home brew equipment setup


  1. If possible, place three gallons in the refrigerator to cool in a sanitized container.
  2. Tie the Carapils malt in a large mesh grain bag or hop bag. Place the bag in three gallons of water in a five gallon pot and immerse the grain in 170° water.
  3. Make sure the mesh bag isn’t sitting directly on the bottom of the pot. Remove the grain bag after it has steeped for one hour.
  4. Bring wort to a vigorous boil. As water is heating, slowly add 2 pounds of Pilsner liquid malt extract, stirring constantly until completely dissolved. When the boil begins, add 2 ounces Hallertau hops in a mesh bag.
  5. After 45 minutes of boiling has passed, add remaining 7 pounds of Pilsner liquid malt extract and 1 pound of Light Agave Nectar, stirring constantly until completely dissolved.
  6. After total of 60 minutes of boil, remove from heat. Warning: After wort cools below 180°F everything that touches it should be sanitary, and exposure to open air should be limited as much as possible.
  7. Cool wort by placing pot in ice bath until it is below 85°F. Transfer to sanitized fermentor (either a carboy or a fermentation bucket). Top off to make 5 gallons using refrigerated water.
  8. Use a sanitized auto-siphon racking cane to remove enough wort to take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. Make a note of this number, since you will be using it to calculate the actual alcohol content when it's done fermenting. The reading should be around 1.075.
  9. Carefully pour yeast into cooled wort (it should be below 70°F), and agitate vigorously. Cover fermentor with a sanitized stopper and airlock. Ferment in dark place, keeping ambient temperature consistent, preferably between 68 and 70°F.
  10. After primary fermentation is complete (take at least two consistent gravity readings), transfer to a secondary carboy for conditioning as discussed here and store it as cool as possible.
  11. Bottle after another four to six weeks using enough priming sugar for a high level of carbonation at the rate of 1.5 ounces per gallon. Allow for an additional two weeks to condition and carbonate.

This recipe is designed for the beginning brewer, and is about the same level of difficulty as a partial mash Pale Ale recipe. The specialty malt used for steeping is Carapils Malt. The extract should be a Pilsner Malt Based Extract, and you will also need Light Agave Nectar.

Use a Chimay-style yeast for this recipe, either Whitelabs WLP500 or Wyeast 1214, since it produces some really strong fruit and spice aromas and a distinct sweet Belgian finish.  

This recipe also turns out great with the more subdued flavors of the Trappist strain of Westmalle yeast, which is Wyeast 3787 or Whitelabs WLP 530. Whichever Belgian yeast you choose, you will need to make a two liter starter 24-48 hours in advance.  

If you don't have the time or equipment to make a starter, use two packages of yeast to ensure proper fermentation. It is not recommended to use any type of dry yeast substitute for Belgian styles of beer.  For purposes of conditioning and clarifying, you will need an additional five gallon glass carboy to transfer the beer into after primary fermentation is complete.  This step adds a couple weeks to the brewing process, but it allows the complex flavors of the Belgian yeast to fully develop and produces a better looking and tasting homebrew.

As always, the first step to success is proper sanitation. Mix up at least three gallons of sanitizing solution in your sanitizing bucket (either Iodophor or Star San), and sanitize every utensil that comes in contact with the wort after the boil is complete. Before you transfer your wort to the fermentation vessel, pour the sanitizer into the vessel and swirl the sanitizer around so it touches every surface, then pour it back into the sanitizing bucket. There is no need to rinse the sanitizer or foam off of anything you use—there will be no residual flavor and the residue will help to keep everything clean.


Brew at the Zoo is presented by Integrated Wealth Management. Tickets are available online, www.LivingDesert.org or by calling 760-346-5694.


About The Living Desert:

The Living Desert is an AZA-accredited zoo and gardens that is dedicated to conservation and education. It is a family-friendly place to explore nature and create meaningful experiences for guests that are remembered for a lifetime. For more information: (760) 346-5694 or visit www.LivingDesert.org. The Living Desert is located at: 47900 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert, CA 92260.


About the Coachella Valley Brewing Company

The Coachella Valley Brewing Company is the only craft brewery in the Coachella Valley. They pride themselves on using the freshest ingredients that the Valley has to offer. The Coachella Valley Brewing Company is liquid perfection.  For more information: (760) 625-8192 or www.facebook.com/pages/Coachella-Valley-Brewing-Co/432901963394552.

The Coachella Valley Brewing Company is located at 30-640 Gunther St., Thousand Palms, CA 92276.


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