Monday, August 13, 2018

Homegrown Sour Beer: Cherry, Raspberry, Blackberry, and Mulberry

I've brewed a surprising number of beers with ingredients grown on our .1 acres of Washington, DC. Including hops, cherries, juniper, ground ivy, mulberries... and recently fermented acorns! Rather than showcase a single ingredient though, I wanted to brew an estate beer with five ingredients grown and harvested on our land!

Aged homegrown Cascade hops in the boil.

The extent of the influence of aged hops on sour beer is still a bit underestimated. While the generally stated goal is preventing rapid souring by Lactobacillus in a traditionally fermented lambic, what they add to the flavor and what particular characteristics of the hops best serve this isn't widely studied. There are a few studies that oxidation can boost certain fruity aromatics. Which has lead Scott to threaten to use old hops on the hot-side for a NEIPA... he promised to do a test batch before brewing a 10 bbl batch on the new Sapwood Cellars brewhouse.

I thought it would be fun to brew with aged Cascades from the bines in my backyard, especially because fresh they didn't have a huge aroma. They'd been sitting open in my basement since they were dried a few years before. 

Flour slurry pouring in.

I don't have the space or effort to grow or malt grain, so I took the easy way out and brewed with wheat malt extract (a blend of 65% wheat malt 35% barley). I'd had good results from extract lambics previously, but this time in addition to maltodextrin I added wheat flour slurry to the boil. Mixing the flour with cold water prevents it from clumping when it touches the boiling wort. A turbid mash pulls starch from the unmalted wheat into the boil, which eventually feeds the various microbes in the late-stages of fermentation. The microbes must have enjoyed it as the resulting beers are completely clear.

All of the frozen berries (cherries, blackberries, raspberries, and mulberries.

Fruit was provided by our four berry trees/bushes. Sour cherry, blackberry, raspberry, and mulberry. To keep things easy I added roughly equal amount of each (other than the raspberries). I briefly froze most of the fruit, but I added the raspberries a small handful at a time as they ripen slower than the rest. I only had enough of each for one gallon of beer, as most of the rest of the fruit was spoken for. The leftover beer went onto local plums!

Video Review



Backyard Berries

Smell – Cherry and raspberry lead, not surprising as they are more distinct than the blackberry and mulberry. There is an underlining wine-iness that likely comes from the rest of the fruit. The base beer behind the fruit doesn't make itself known other than a subtle maltiness.

Appearance – Clear garnet on the first pour, a little haze when I emptied the bottle into the glass. Alright head retention thanks to the wheat.

Taste – Reminds of the nose with raspberry up front and cherry jam into the finish. Not as bright and fresh as it once was, but still reasonably fresh. The malt and hops don’t add a huge amount of character, but they support the fruit. The Wyeast lambic blend similarly stays mostly out of the way, adding edge complexity without trying to fight through the fruit.

Mouthfeel – Not a thick beer given the relatively low OG, and all of the simple sugars from the fruit. Solid carbonation, CBC-1 did a good job despite the acidity.

Drinkability & Notes – The combination of four berries works surprisingly well to my palate. They play together without becoming generic fruitiness. The base beer is unremarkable, but that’s fine in a beer where the fruit is the star.

Changes for Next Time – Would be nice to brew more than a gallon, but otherwise my only real changes would be to go all-grain.

The finished mixed-berry sour beer.

Plum-Bus

The rest of the batch went onto a two varieties of local plums. I've brewed with plums before in a dubbel. I wasn't sure about plums in a pale beer, but after trying spectacular examples from Tilquin and Casey I was convinced!

Smell – Clear it isn’t a kettle-soured fruit-bomb, lots of lemon pith and mineral along with the moderate fruit contribution. Plums aren’t nearly as aromatic as the more common sour beer fruits, but they add a depth without covering up the base beer.

Appearance – Beer is more rusty-gold than purple. Clear despite the flour. Thin white head, but this bottle appears less carbonated than the last few I’ve opened.

Plum sour beer.

Taste – Tangy plum skin, apricot, and lemon. Beautiful blend of fruit and beer. Wyeast Lambic Blend with dreg-augmentation again does a really nice job. Strong lactic acid without any vinegar or nail polish. Finish is moderate funk, hay, and overripe stone fruit.

Mouthfeel – Light, but not thin. Carbonation is too low, maybe the cap-job on this one wasn’t perfect.

Drinkability & Notes – Delicious. The plum could be a little juicier and fresher, but it works well. Sad I didn’t leave any of this half unfruited for comparison.

Changes for Next Time – I’d like to keep experimenting with other plum varieties in beer. Glad the pale base worked out well. Despite “plum” being a common descriptor for darker Belgians, actual plums don’t shine with all of that malt.

Defrosting plums in a 3 gallon Better Bottle.

Recipe

Batch Size: 10.00 gal
SRM: 5.5
IBU: 5.3
OG: 1.046
FG: 1.006/1.006
ABV: 5.25%
Final pH: 3.45/3.45
Boil Time: 90 mins

Fermentables
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92.3% - 9 lbs Breiss Bavarian Wheat DME
5.1% - .5 lbs Maltodextrin Powder
2.6% - .25 lbs King Arthur All Purpose Flour

Hops
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2.50 oz - Homegrown Cascade: Aged 3-4 Years (Whole, ~1.00% AA) @ 90 min

Yeast
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Wyeast Belgian Lambic Blend
or
Omega OYL-218 - All The Bretts
Omega OYL-057 - HotHead Ale

Notes
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Brewed 1/15/17

Hops were homegrown and aged open over several years.

Fermented and aged in 6 gallon BetterBottle without transfering. Added some various dregs over the course of fermentation.

7/21/17 Filled a 1 gallon jug with the Wyeast half onto 6 oz each homegrown sour cherries, blackberries, and mulberries (plus maybe an ounce of raspberries - maybe 4 oz total over a couple months). The remainder went onto 3 lbs of methly plums.

8/24/17 Added an additional 1.75 lbs of Castleton plums to the plum portion

12/14/17 Bottled the 2.75 gallons of the plum with 61 g of table sugar and rehydrated CBC-1. Bottled the .8 gallons of backyard fruit with 21 g of table sugar and CBC-1.

All the fruit growing in my backyard!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Brewery Clubs: Both Sides

The first beer club I joined was Lost Abbey’s Patron Sinners in 2008. It was a relatively novel idea at the time, essentially a CSA for beer. It was the easiest way for me to get bottles I’d heard such wonderful things about. Clearly the concept has caught on. For breweries it is an easy win, money months before the beer is ready. For consumers it can be a win, access to limited beers without the need to wake-up early or wait in line.

It’s an easier ask if the beers offered already have a good reputation. Signing up for Lost Abbey's club meant an opportunity to try "whales" like Cuvee de Tomme for the first time. It also gave me access to their microbes… those Red Poppy dregs colonized our first wine barrel for the group Flanders Red.

For Sapwood Cellars, Scott and I are in a bit of a unique situation. Many more of you have read about our homebrew-exploits, listened to us talk brewing, and brewed recipes based on ours than have actually tasted anything we’ve personally brewed (although you may have tasted something I collaborated or consulted on). Although I've been surprised how many people who signed-up mentioned tasting our test batches at festivals as a deciding factor!

Sapwood-Modern Time Collaboration - The Fruitening!

With the barrel program we have planned there is a bunch on money required now: barrels, racks, microbes, equipment, and wort-production. All for beers that we won’t be able to sell until 2019 or even 2020. If you choose to join, your money will go directly to allowing us to get more beer into barrels in the next few months. That will in turn provide a greater variety of stock available for blending, fruiting, and dry hopping. Our goal is to extend our homebrewing roots as long as we can, producing weird and wonderful beers… and dumping beers that aren’t up to our standards!

I completely understand if you don't want to spend $200-500 to buy beers that we haven't brewed or even named yet. I don't want anyone angering a spouse, or blowing their annual beer budget. Most of our beers will be readily available at the taproom, and I'd guess that there will be extra club slots available for 2020. Honestly I see the Wood club as good for someone who lives a less-than convenient trip to the brewery and can only visit a few times a year (but wants to know they can go home with a variety of sour bottles). The Sap club is good for someone local who plans to be a regular and loves fresh hoppy stuff.

We take the trust that people are putting in us seriously. We'll do our best to make sure that not only do you get beer, but it is the best possible beer we can create. That said, there is certainly a chance timelines will be slower than we expect and I'd rather have the final allocation of great beer in early 2020 than rushed bottles with carbonation issues in late 2019.

If you'd rather an experience over beer, today we launched opportunities to join me for a web chat about our sour beers, blending session, commercial brew day, and homebrewing. Most of these are permanently gone once the stock hits zero. There are also a couple slots for a group or anyone who has recently won the lottery to have us design a sour beer or hoppy batch to your tastes, we'll likely do a few of those each year. We still have plenty of merch available as well (shirts, glasses, and inscribed copies of American Sour Beers) for people who can't make it to the brewery!


We should be able to finally brew our first 10 bbl batch in the next few weeks. The last major piece of equipment to arrive is our glycol chiller, scheduled for next Wednesday. All of the piping is run for it already and the concrete pad it will sit on is curing. Other than that, a gas-meter upgrade and a tweak to the usage listed on a 1979 site development plan are the only things between us and opening!

Our first batch is going to be a kitchen-sink brew using the leftover ingredients from the brewery that was previously in the space. It was crushed 18-months ago… we’ll be giving away the wort to anyone interested! Of course, club members will get first dibs... but I'm guessing there will be second and third dibs at least!

I'm shocked at how amazing the response has already been. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has helped give us a little extra cash buffer, the beer (and our sleep) will be the better for it! We started with 50 memberships for our Founders Club... and they are all gone! Still plenty of the two individual clubs available for the time being, and we'll leave them up until the 2018 (unless they sell-out first).

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Sap Club 2018-2019

Sap Club Membership entitles you to $1/off each full pour or growler at our tasting room with a sweet membership card. It also allows you to purchase growler fills of any fresh hoppy beers, even the special kegs and weird experiments that no one else can bring home - in your club exclusive 1 L growler. Includes admission for two to our annual holiday party (December 2018) and pre-release access to canned IPAs (when that finally happen). This inaugural “year” of the club will run from opening through the end of 2019. First-year members will have right of first refusal for membership in the club's next year.

Wood Club 2019

The Wood club is for sour and funky folks. Membership grants you two .5L bottles of each of our first eight barrel-aged sour/funky bottle releases. This will include at least two releases exclusive to club members - using fruits and other ingredients too rare or costly for large batches. We won’t have a set release schedule as the beers will tell us when they are ready, but we'll allow semi-annual pickups. Plus $2 off and priority access to pre-purchase limited sour beers before the unwashed masses! You’ll also receive a Sapwood decanting basket. 2019 members will have right of first refusal for membership in the club's next year.

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In news closer to the blog, Mad Fermentationist T-shirts are available again, this time print-on-demand style. I've also got posters of the updated Brewery Connections graphic... which will feature prominently in the Sapwood Cellars bathroom decor!