Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rhubarb Berliner Weisse Tasting

The color appeared much more vibrant in the bottling bucket, than it does in the glass.Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten rhubarb… in something other than strawberry-rhubarb pie. It is one of the few vegetables that manages to thrive in sweet applications (as opposed to the many savory fruits - e.g., tomato, and chile peppers). Rhubarb stalks have a fruity flavor, acidity, but not much sweetness.

Rhubarb contains oxalic acid, the same compound in sorrel, which is added to BlueJacket’s Sidewalk Saison. Oxalic acid can cause health problems in large doses, but it is concentrated in the rhubarb leaves, with malic acid (also found in apples and grapes) the predominant acid in the stalks. Malic acid is often converted to lactic acid by both malolactic bacteria, which are sometimes used in wine fermentations, and by the lactic acid bacteria commonly found in mixed-fermentation sour beers. Lactic acid tastes "softer" than malic, whose sharp flavor I associate with SweeTarts candy.

When I bought a few pounds of rhubarb this past spring, I was planning to add it to last years' Dark (Red) Saison V, but after tasting how acidic it was already, I added membrillo (quince paste) instead. This Berliner weisse hadn't soured as much as I wanted after a year, so I decided it was a good opportunity to use the rhubarb I had cleaned, vacuum-packed, and stored in the freezer. Like most things beer, I wasn't the first to brew a sour beer with rhubarb. The two most popular are probably Cantillon’s annual-experimental Zwanze (both 2008 and 2012), and New Glarus Strawberry Rhubarb, the former dry and sour, the later sweet and tart. I wasn't even the first homebrewer, what with Ryan Brew's Rhubarb Berliner Weisse.

Rhubarb Berliner

Appearance – “Wine-cooler" pink as a friend described it recently (the photo doesn't do it justice). Not quite clear, but pretty close. The bright-white head unsurprisingly fizzes away within a minute of pouring. The second pour, containing the dregs, actually appears pinker than the first.

The color was a bit less orange and a bit more pink/red to my eye, but the intensity is about right in this photo.Smell – The aroma is clean, lightly doughy, and fruity. Rhubarb is tricky to describe, it isn’t distinct/powerful like cherries, raspberries, or peaches. It certainly shares some subtle similarities to its frequent companion, strawberries, but considerably milder. Luckily despite the similarities in appearance to celery, it has none of its green-vegetal character.

Taste – I added about 1.5 lbs/gal of rhubarb, and while the oxalic/malic acid enhanced the acidity it didn’t make the beer excessively sour. The fruity flavors meld well with the mellow base beer, not obscuring its mild wheaty flavor. The Brett (mostly Trois/Drie) adds a softy farmyard-hay flavor, nothing aggressively funky. The soft red-fruitiness lingers into the finish. Dry, but the fruitiness prevents it from coming across overly so.

Mouthfeel – Light, crisp, and spritzy, as it should be. About the maximum amount of CO2 (3.4 volumes) I’d put in a bottled beer, on opening foam starts to slowly build in the neck.

Drinkability & Notes – Probably not the ideal time of year to drink this light and refreshing, but that isn't stopping me from enjoying it! With the added flavor of the rhubarb I don’t miss the decotion mash I usually perform for  Berliners (this was my first batch with a single-infusion mash). I still need to write up notes on the plain half, we'll see if that holds true.


msflack73 said...

I just wanted to take a second to say thank you for all that you do for homebrewing. People ask me for advice on brewing and this is one of the first places I send them to. Keep up the great work and again a big THANKS for another great post

Unknown said...

I toyed with doing the exact same thing to my berliner, but it was already so sour that I figured the rhubarb would make it flat out unpleasant. I wound up putting it in a belgian blond, but was concerned about how much to add and I underdid it. Left a mediocre beer.

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of kg of last years rhubarb in the freezer, and the desire to brew a Berliner Wiesse! Guess what I'm going to be doing! :D

J. Karanka said...

Rhubarb is great for pies, wine, chutney, jam, jelly, soup, boiled sweets, beer and a few other things!

Unknown said...

Hey Mike, how'd you prep the rhubarb? Did you soak it in water with a Camden tab and toss it in, or just go for it? How long did you let it sit on the beer for? Prepping a Strawberry-Rhubarb Saison. (may have to toss some in my BWeisse as well). Cheers, Dave - sickeststick.com

Unknown said...

PS. Great write up on the Rhubarb. Thank you as always!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I chopped and froze the rhubarb when it was in season. Defrosted and racked the beer on for about 2.5 months. Full details are in the recipe post (down in the notes). No sanitation otherwise, not much can get a hold in a Berliner weisse.

Unknown said...

Hi Mike,
What would you think of adding Rhubarb to secondary with an addition of a sour yeast like Brett Lambicus or Brett Brux in a "clean" beer? Would the sour yeast be able to kick off on the rhubarb?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

A few things, if you want sour, you'll need something in addition to Brett. Brett will make fruity and funky flavors, but not much acidity. Brett will do its thing with or without sugars added. Lactic acid bacteria on the other hand needs carbohydrates. As with fruit, I'd wait until the beer was closer to bottling. Rhubarb fades quickly, so you don't want to waste that waiting for the Brett to stabilize.

In terms of the clean beer, it depends what it is. Hopefully pale and minimally hopped?

Anonymous said...

In Norway, as a kid, we used to peel rhubarb, dip them in sugar, and eat, (raw). It was the sweet/sour «candy» we could get when parents didnt wanna give us money for real candy. Actually, it was kinda cool.
Tomorrow Im making a rhubarb sour ale. That is; the sour ale been on an oak barrel for 3 mnd, Im just moving it over to a PET tank with the rhubarb. 10l. The other 10l (from the barrel) is going on some strawberries, with vanilla added. Strawberry sundae sour ale.

Pete the Man

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Let me know how it turns out!