Wild Ales in the Hudson Valley

Wild Ales in the Hudson Valley

posted in: Beer | 0

Let me start this off with a shameless plug. We are proud to have been chosen by Hudson Valley Magazine for the “Best Sour Beer” in the Hudson Valley for 2015. They picked “Indigenous,” our American Wild Ale that is spontaneously soured and fermented with Seyval Blanc grape skins grown by Whitecliff Vineyards in Gardiner, NY. It’s a beer we are very proud of, and since we just brewed batch #2 of this beautiful baby, it seems like a good time to talk about why we think the Hudson Valley is the perfect place to create this kind of unique and complex beer.

Do you remember that guy from Bear-Flavored Ales who wrote that article about The Brewery at Bacchus? Do you remember how he called us the Most Interesting Brewery in New York That You’ve Never Heard Of? In May of last year, he wrote another great article asking the question Where Are All the New York Wild Ales? He wanted to know why every brewery, it seemed, kept making the same beers. He was asking why there weren’t more farmhouse ales coming along with NYS’s Farm Brewery Act and the explosion of little breweries, like our own here at The Brewery at Bacchus, placed in idyllic, rural environments, like our own here in New Paltz. As beer drinkers, we’ve been asking a lot of the same questions. As brewers, we owe our modest success to creating beers that step outside the traditional brewpub offerings. We brew an IPA (check out why we think ours is still stepping outside the box), but right now we have a table beer, a farmhouse ale, a dry-hopped sour, and a dark sour available, all of which are the result of a mixed culture fermentation, wholly or in part, with our “house sour culture,” which we’ve been developing for over a year and which is a complex blend of yeasts and bacteria taken from all over the place.

While all of our beers have a wild side (we blended 5% of our sour brettanomyces beer into our last IPA to brighten up the hop character), Indigenous is a different animal, but I think it serves as a more extreme example of our brewing philosophy, one that has its roots in mixed-culture fermentation (check out our Kombucha for more on that) and that believes that contamination from “wild yeasts” is a boogieman that has no place in the brewhouse.

To make Indigenous, we drove to Whitecliff Vineyards in Gardiner where they had just finished pressing the juice from a harvest of Seyval Blanc grapes. Outside, backdropped by the wineries eponymous cliff, was a ripe pile of these spent skins soaking in the sun. Allow a moment of sentimentalism here: It was beautiful. We don’t enjoy the same scenery during our brewday, so being out under the vast Hudson Valley sky at the foot of one of the most amazing cliff faces ever, I felt more in touch with la terroir (it’s still the best word for what we mean here) than I ever have in the 150 square foot room that is The Brewery at Bacchus. So, we scooped about 100 pounds of these skins to big plastic bags and drove them 15 minutes to our brewery where we were in the middle of brewing Indigenous’s wort.


 

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A bottle of 2015 Indigenous in 2016 grape skins


120 gallons of boiling, unhopped wort made from pilsner malt and raw wheat was waiting for us as we arrived. We had cleaned and sanitized our mash tun to serve as an open fermenter and we transferred the wort at around 100F onto the freshly scooped skins. We pitched our house sour culture, the resident blend of yeast and bacteria that creates our sour ales, and left it to ferment in the brewery.

We borrow a lot from the world of viniculture and winemaking in the production of Indigenous: we ferment it “on the skins” (see: Maceration) at a higher temperature for tannins and color (think Cabernet-like reds), we rely, at least in part, on the complexity contributed by the yeast and bacteria living on the grape skins (and on the bees that we had to shoo away from the pile), we delicately “punch down” the skins as they float to the top of the fermenter to help extract flavor and minimize oxygen, and we age in oak to allow for flavors to fully develop. We like to think of Indigenous as standing somewhere between traditional Lambic-style beer and wine and we like to think of it as a modern, local way of creating beer that the Senne Valley as been making for a long time.

There’s stories about how Lambic beer, the forefather of any “wild ale,” developed because the Senne Valley was full of cherry orchards. The yeasts that were present on the fruit permeated the air and inoculated the beer these breweries left exposed. Better wines are made this way (see: Natural Wine) as are better ciders (Basque ciders in particular, but also innovative American producers like Millstone). The Hudson Valley hosts a beautiful array of farms, orchards, vineyards, and other “indigenous” sources for the production of these kind of beers.

New York is on the verge of an amazing agricultural revolution: we’re making incredible food made from the produce and meats of local farms, we’re making better and better wine with the grapes of each harvest, we’re distilling more spirits, and pressing more cider. The surge in the popularity in beer and the emergence of more and more smaller breweries comes at a moment when the landscape couldn’t be more fertile. But while new breweries open, they seem to be looking for the same ingredients to make the same beers. So while we’re a little excited that NY is growing more hops, we’re more interested in when the orchards are pressing cider or picking cherries, or when fruit farms are picking raspberries or blueberries, or when the herb farms are picking lemon verbena and fresh rosemary, or, when the vineyards around here are pressing their grapes.

Kombucha as Wild Ale

Kombucha as Wild Ale

posted in: Beer | 1

We’ve been using the words “mixed-culture fermentation” in a lot of the descriptions of our beers: particularly our farmhouse ales and sour beers. We’ve developed a few different house cultures that, when working well together, give our beer the acidity and funkiness that we love. We do this for a few reasons (see what we like about “farmhouse ales” here), but mostly because we believe that the flavors, aromas, textures, etc. of a mixed culture fermentations–that is, a fermentations that employs multiple, unique microorganisms–are much more interesting, and delicious, than those produced by a single yeast strain.

Our never-ending search for more yeast and bacteria cultures, for a more complex and unique mixed-culture, lead us to develop a pretty bad-ass symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, AKA a SCOBY. This is (These are?) the pancake-like, jelly-fish-like, alien lifeforms that float at the top of the mason jar covered in cheesecloth when you make kombucha at home. They also grow to fill the container that they’re in, and ours right now is about as big as a mid-size beach umbrella.

Our first batch is on tap at our restaurant now, and its a low-to-no-alcohol brew made with black tea and hibiscus. For those worried about the legality of alcohol measurements and the taxation thereof, take it up the block. Just kidding: the FDA has (supposedly after something with that girl from the Parent Trap) set the threshold for “non-alcoholic beverages” at 0.5%, and while some kombuchas can get higher than that (especially when blended or refermented with more traditional beer yeasts) ours is hovering right around 0.3%. So at least for this batch, we’ll treat it as a delicious, complex, and healthy alternative to beer. However, as brewers, our interests are not dedicated to the health of your gut or the antioxidative properties of our products. We’re concerned with flavor almost exclusively (although, we do believe that the unpasteurized and unfiltered nature of our beers, especially our lactobacillus-heavy sour beers, contribute something beneficial to your microflora). So what intrigues us about Kombucha, is its similarities to sour beer, particularly to what we like to call “wild ales” or lambic-style beers.

The American Wild Ale is, for us, a beautiful result of biological chaos: we allow our wild ales to sour and ferment spontaneously (with a little coaxing), and develop flavors and aromas based on whatever bacteria or yeast become dominant. And they do: a good wild ale is the result of a very symbiotic relationship between yeast and bacteria: in a sentence, yeast create alcohol and bacteria convert that alcohol to delicious acids and esters.

So if you like sour beer, love the funk of a good farmhouse ale, or want to see just how different and complex yeasts and bacteria can be, our kombucha should be on your list.

 

Further reading:

Brewhouse-Resident Microbiota Are Responsible for Multi-Stage Fermentation of American Coolship Ale: really heavy stuff about yeast, bacteria, and the amazing, miracle world of spontaneous, American Wild Ales.

Kombucha Ale: A New Kind of Funk: Less heavy about how in a few years Kombucha and beer will be talked about in the same sentences.

On Fresh, Juicy IPAs

On Fresh, Juicy IPAs

posted in: Beer | 2

As beer drinkers one of the most exciting shifts we are seeing in the craft beer world is in hoppy beers (I know right, spontaneous wild ales and barrel aged sours are old news). When West Coast IPAs, bless their hearts, came to market they defined the IPA, and the word “hoppy,” in terms of bitterness. We developed global standards to measure the amount of bitterness in beer and started geeking out about how many IBUs we could cram into a single pour. We added hops everywhere: take a look through any How to Brew book and you’ll see the long list of addition times, from the mash, through the boil, into the fermenter. As IPAs became Double IPAs and then Triple IPAs, we ramped up the alcohol and we ramped up the IBUs, and these beers became more and more bitter.

Then we started to see a shift. Brewers started talking about “late additions” and “whirlpooling,” they stopped adding hops into a full boil of beer, and started adding them later and later in the process. Here’s what we believe happens when we do that: hops are filled with a beautiful, ambrosia nectar that contains a bunch of different oils, each responsible for a different flavor and/or aroma. These oils are as delicate as they are delicious, and when we boil hops, we “isomerize” these very volatile compounds and turn them into bitter compounds. You could think of it like tea: if your water is too hot when you steep tea or if you steep too long, you’ll end up with an astringent, bitter cup, without any of the complex fruity, herbal flavors of a good tea.  So instead of isomerizing these hops and transforming their oils (oil compounds like β-Citronellol, which brings the lemon-like citrus found in things like coriander or lemongrass) to bitterness or even completely evaporating them, we steep them at lower temperature to allow the oils to remain in solution as much as possible.

This late-hop program has been what has separated new IPAs (people are starting to call them Northeast IPAs) from the classic West Coast IPA. These new IPAs are full of hop oil, flavor and aroma, and employ a flavorful yeast (one that has fruity, peach, apricot-like flavors) instead of a “clean” yeast that doesn’t impart its own character. Together, we get something more like hop juice. A cloudy, chewy, resinous beverage that is packed with the most beautiful parts of hops, full of flavors the range from citrus through pine, and at its best into mango, pineapple, and all sorts of tropical fruits. These remain unfiltered, hazy and unlike most traditional beers: which in our opinion is great, but for some a hazy beer is a turn-off still.

That’s our philosophy on IPAs, so when you get a glass of King Tut Hat, our 9% Double IPA hopped with Warrior, Simcoe, Citra, and Galaxy, don’t expect bitterness, be prepared for something closer to orange juice than your traditional IPA.

 

For further reading check out these:

The Contribution of Geraniol Metabolism to the Citrus Flavor in Beer: for confusing science about how hops and fermentation work together to produce flavors. Great summer reading.

Bear-Flavored Ales: Too Many IPAs: for why you should come to The Brewery at Bacchus in New Paltz and fill a fresh growler of our IPAs.

Our Farmhouse Ales

Our Farmhouse Ales

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At The Brewery at Bacchus, we are not unique in our love for farmhouse ales. Brewers have been making farmhouse ales for centuries, inherently with mixed culture fermentations because of the process and equipment they used. These beers were, one would imagine, unique to each brewery and filled with the sort of “terroir” that wineries talk about. We don’t know if these beers tasted any good, but we love the ideas behind them. In our world of modern brewing, funky, mixed culture fermentations are relatively new. They are a sort of pendulum swing away from the sterility and monotony of too many single culture pure fermentations: for a long time the world of brewing has been concerned with pure yeast fermentation and preventing “contamination” from wild yeast and bacteria.

We believe that mixed culture fermentation, that is, producing beer with a variety of different microorganisms, some intended for the production of beer and some not, creates a much more exciting, interesting, and ultimately enjoyable product. We are certainly not alone in this: our favorite beers and what we consider the best breweries in the world are making beers this way, and have been for a long time. But this blog is where we will talk about how we do it and why.

 

TO BE CONTINUED