For fans of classic Saison, what would be a super cool thing to do? How about going to BFE Belgium and spending a day with Dany Prignon, the brewer owner at Brasserie Fantôme? Yeah, cool! Bonus points? Dany is a genuine, slightly eccentric, totally enjoyable dude to have as a friend.
Ok then, what would be even better?
How about having the opportunity a couple years later to collaborate on a beer with Dany, then go to Belgium at the turning of the new year to 2017 in the freezing cold winter to brew the beer with him? That would be Ghost Turtle. Seriously! Collaborate and brew a beer with the undisputed Mad Scientist of Belgian Super Saisons? What a lucky effing Saison loving MFer am I?
How about a year later designing a specialty Saison that is brewed at Brasserie Fantôme, Brasserie Saint Somewhere, and Barley Forge Brewing Co.? The “Fantôme of the USA”, the “Saint Somewhere of Europe”, and a favored local (to me) brewer of classic Saison – all three brewing a beer I designed? That would be Ghost in the Kettle. Yeah… Holy Crap! How did I manage that?
Umm… I haven’t a fricken clue.
But, I can unequivocally assert that this Ghost Turtle I am enjoying tonight – and the Ghost in the Kettle already released by Barley Forge, and within a few months released by Fantôme and Saint Somewhere – are all fine beers.
And me? I’m a guy who makes some beers. The lucky MFer who gets to bring a long-time admired brewer and now friend, together with some newfound brewer friends to make some good beers.
Each brewer has tuned the recipe to express a bit of their own brewery's personality. The version of Ghost in the Kettle brewed at Barley Forge is a dry Farmhouse Ale fermented using a wild yeast isolated from a tangerine tree in the Beancurdturtle Brewing yard, with a little extra herbal/spice character, and dry hopping.
I recommend you head down to Barley Forge and get you some of this delicious stuff.
Today I was at the market, picking up some milk - stashed it in the back seat, opened the driver side door to step in the car and looked up. There's a guy standing a couple parking spaces away in shorts, the ubiquitous black t-shirt, and dark shades - hustling his wife and kid out of his car - seemingly making eye contact.
It kind of stopped me, like I should know him or something. He says, "I just want you to know - I'm a big fan." Now I'm shopping for milk - organic raw milk at that. I have no context for the comment and wonder if I'm getting jerked around. Probably with a confused look I ask, "For what?". He smiles and says, "Your beer!". I laugh and say "Ok" in an aw shucks kind of way. He turns and leads his family for the store.
Now I probably should have said, "Hey thanks. I'm glad you enjoy it." or something more socially appropriate - more than a nervous laugh and "Ok". But I was honestly totally surprised and a little embarrassed.
I know I haven't been very busy with collaborations, or really craft beer community visible since I stopped brewing for the taproom in Riverside. It would be nice to work with more local breweries, but I haven't put a big effort into it (and I'm a lousy networker). I really only have one foot in the beer game right now - though with totally enviable collaborators like Barley Forge Brewing Co., Brasserie Fantôme, and Brasserie Saint Somewhere. So to be recognized and acknowledged as a brewer while picking up milk was a bit surprising and humbling.
I like making, designing, and collaborating on beers that many people can enjoy because, well, because beer is not politics and usually not a fulcrum for contention. It's just a simple thing many of us appreciate and enjoy sharing. To participate in creating something good and to be acknowledged for it feels good, and is a great reminder of why I play this gypsy brewer gig.
So anyway, about "my beer", I'm really glad you enjoy it.
I'll be using some brewer jargon for this post because the batch of Ghost in the Kettle brewed at Barley Forge Brewing Co. is being fermented with a wild yeast, and brewers geek out on that stuff. Kevin Buckley put the beer in the fermenter on May 17th. I provided the base recipe to all three breweries – Barley Forge, Fantôme, and Saint Somewhere – and got out of the way to let them do their thing. I can't recall if Buckley will be dry hopping or not. I can say that intuition, experience, maybe both, led him to ferment it with very much a classic Saison schedule, and the yeast seem to love it.
The yeast is a wild strain from a mixed culture that I propagated from a white patch on the skin of a honey tangerine in the brewery yard. White Labs isolated the predominant organism from the mixed culture and gene sequenced it. It is identified as a wild Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain. They've banked it as Beancurdturtle Sacc WLP5179. In forced fermentation at White Labs they were getting attenuation at 82% minimum – meaning dry finish.
I gave Buckley all the information from White Labs and my experience brewing with the mixed culture, and the isolated Sacc C. strain. He decided to go with an aggressive Saison fermentation schedule – and the yeast bloomed and fermented like crazy. 85% attenuation by the end of day 4 - that's impressive. On day 4 I asked him if the esters (aroma compounds) were like Orange Tang (observed on previous batches). He said, "I was going to say citrus/peach with some pepper. Tang might actually be closer". He also described the phenols as "Spicy, clove and a very slight barnyard.", and commented "Flavor still has a perceived sweetness given the low finishing gravity and it is still dry."
That's all good news for a Farmhouse Ale. But Wait! There's More! Nine days later I checked in, and the gravity was down to 1.002 which indicates a 96% attenuation. Again – impressive. And it was still producing some CO2, creeping along. If this attenuates to 1.000 (same weight as water) and retains a citrus, spicy, slight funk/dank you could say it's nearly a perfect Farmhouse/Saison strain – and as clean as it finishes, maybe even awesome for dry Pale Ales and IPAs. Ok, so enough beer tech geekness. Where are we at with this beer for the beer drinker?
Well, Buckley is leaving it to rest and condition. From my experience with this yeast and a beer I designed with similar herbs and spices – it should be a really great, citrusy, slightly funky, beer with a touch of sweetness and slipperiness, yet a dry finish. Buckley has done a great job starting with a recipe and wild yeast I provided, and tweaking it to his preference and process. I have a lot of confidence that he's shepherded this batch to a nice conclusion.
As brewers we start with a target – a concept and vision in our mind of the beer we want to create. The appearance, the aromas, the flavors, the mouthfeel, and the overall impression we want to create for the person enjoying it. We combine grains, hops, yeast, process, and sometimes herbs and spices aiming at the target. With enough experience, we sit down a few weeks after brew day and take a sip – and what was in our mind is in a glass in front of us. It's exciting and a bit magical. I'm thinking we'll have a bit of magic to share with Barley Forge's take on Ghost in the Kettle. That makes me happy.
Ghost in the Kettle is a collaboration between Brasserie Fantôme, Brasserie Saint Somewhere, Barley Forge Brewing Co., and Beancurdturtle Brewing LLC. A lucky collaboration from me pitching the idea to three brewers, all whose beers I loved for one reason or another, all who know how to brew a Saison. Starting with a recipe designed by Beancurdturtle Brewing (that's me), each brewer tweaks it to their own taste and process. The three beers should have a similar backbone, with each a different personality. The first batch was brewed at Barley Forge Brewing Co. a few weeks ago.
A little over a week ago I visited Brasserie Saint Somewhere where Bob Sylvester brewed his spin on Ghost in the Kettle. Some changes in the hops and hop schedule, an addition of honey in the fermenter, his own house yeast strain and "Free Range Tarpon Springs Brett and friends". I'm very much looking forward to the beer that this will be. From Bob's last message "Pitched the honey today. Beer’s doing great. Can’t wait for the finished product." I believe he is on the same page.
One thing I remember from the brew day was wrapping up and walking from the brew house to the taproom, I told Bob "I'm really pleased and I feel privileged that I got to be here today." He laughed and brushed the compliment off. Pretty much the same kind of reaction I got when I told Dany Prignon of Brasserie Fantôme that he was like an icon of Belgian Farmhouse, "Ouf! I'm just a brewer." All three of the brewers in this project have been low ego, open, and generous to me with ideas and answers to my questions about brewing Saison with a bit of wildness.
Good ideas, good brewers, good will – can't result in anything less than good beer. I am looking forward to enjoying the beer from all three exceptional brewers.
Each brewer will bring their own preferences and distinctive style to a beer designed by Beancurdturtle Brewing. The beers will be similar in backbone, while each will express the uniqueness of style each of the brewers/breweries has.
I've been hinting about this for a while, the ball started rolling today with a brew day at Barley Forge.
Allrighty. In the lineup for pilot/test beers to brew in the next month or two.
First will be a Belgo-American Double India Witte. It's basically a White IPA that I've made before, but I'll incorporate Belgian elements, and use a hop schedule like a New England IPA. I already have the ingredients, so I'll do it. This beer is not hazy by design, but hazy by the expression of its ingredients.
Next will be a Grisette. This is a (currently) very misunderstood beer style that was brewed in Belgium mostly during the 19th century, when the industrial revolution was booming. It was the hydration beer for miners. Quite possibly the first beer produced in an industrial versus farmhouse/Abbey way in Belgium. It should be light and crisp, and cleanly fermented without lactobacillus or wild yeasts. A light ale with Belgian barley and wheat malts, French and Czech hops, and a slightly spicy yeast of Belgian origin.
Then I'll brew a Scottish 60 Shilling Ale. Classically a dry and crisp beer with toasty/caramel characters and a light garnet color. Hops from England for balance only, and fermented with yeast strains from Scotland that lend a hint of smokey notes to the aromas and flavors.
Later I'll brew a Patersbier (Father's beer). Traditionally a low alcohol beer that Abbey breweries made for hydration for the monks. It will be light in color, body, and alcohol. Yet it will be rich in balanced character from Belgian grains and the house yeast from a Trappist brewery.
All three of the last beers have ABV targeted between 2.5% and 3%, will have very low residual sugars, and will be eminently crushable.
Is it really necessary? Doesn’t a Budweiser, like iced water, go with anything? Is this the kind of twisted Chefery that results in a food truck trying to sell me a curried pork belly soft taco with béchamel sauce and pickled strawberries? Well – no, and yes. Hear me out, because this “pairing” thing is actually simpler than you’d think.
In this article, I’ll discuss the Beancurdturtle method for pairing. The basis comes from research into chefery and flavorist snobby things, years of tottering about in the kitchen, and years of hovering over a hot brew kettle. I’ll distill it all down into three different types of pairings, and an example of how they might work. Then wrap it up with an invitation to join me at a restaurant where I’ve put together a list of eight pairings of Belgian beer with Italian food (of the North-Americanized ilk).
What all this pairing stuff really is, is combinations of flavors and aromas from different sources that result in something easy to appreciate, something exciting, and sometimes something complex and bold. I break it down three ways; You’ve got comfort pairings, complimentary pairings, and contrast pairings.
A comfort pairing is in large part a cultural or regional thing, it’s closely tied to knowing your audience. It’s simple flavors and aromas that we are so used to being together that it “just works”. A simple example of a comfort pairing would be Mac and Cheese. Mac and Cheese is easy to appreciate, un-complex and usually well accepted even by folks not familiar with the flavors.
A complimentary pairing is a combination of flavors and aromas wherein the contributors have a broad base of similar characters. A complimentary pairing can be exciting, “Oh yes, this is nice together!” But the closeness of the marriage of characters should be universally apparent. An obvious example of a complimentary pairing would be coffee and chocolate.
A contrast pairing is trickier and more dangerous than the others. First the balance of contrasting flavors needs to be right. Second, the individual palate of the taster has a big role to play in the success of the pairing. A good example is lemonade – sweet and sour. The same batch of well mixed lemonade will be too sweet for some, too sour for others, but pretty darn pleasing to a bunch of folks between them. Yet the contrast pairing provides the greatest opportunity to present something complex, bold, even divisive – think Hawaiian Pizza, Tom Yum Gai soup, or Mexican Mole sauce.
Now I’ve defined my three classes for pairing, then attached the pairing classes to some familiar foods. For a beer food pairing you just need to wrap the concepts of comfort, complimentary, and contrast pairing around a beverage and food together. Of course, you also should have a discerning palate and sensitivity for aroma, and be familiar with the aroma and flavor characters of a bunch of different beers, dishes, and ingredients. Which means you need to taste a lot of beer, and try many different dishes. So get on that right now.
In the meantime though – if you’d like to test this strategy at a great little Italian American restaurant with a terrific beer selection – haul your behind over to Alza Osteria in Brea and try one of these pairings on for size:
• Brasserie d’Orval – Orval Trappist Ale with Pescatore
• Brouwerij Westmalle – Trappist Dubbel with Penne Calabrese
• Brasserie Dupont – Saison Dupont with Chicken Piccata
• Trappist Achel – Bruin with Blonde Lasagna
• Chimay – Grande Reserve Blue with Sausage & Peppers (pasta)
• Brouwerij Huyghe – Delirium Tremens with Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
• Brouwerij Lindemans – Framboise with Grilled Chicken Strawberry (salad)
• Fantome/Beancurdturtle – Ghost Turtle with Linguine Puttanesca
My first taste of this collaboration between Brasserie Fantôme and Beancurdturtle Brewing® LLC. I will say that I have never been more confident leaving a brewery after a brew day and trusting that the fermentation schedule and packaging would befit the style and target for the beer. The collaborating brewer is Dany Prignon after all – and he knows his way around a Saison like few others on this planet. I simply overlaid the beer with the several flowers, herbs, and type of honey that my experience and palate told me would lend it the ghost of Genièvre.
• Restrained aromas of, gin, resin, juniper, peppery spice, biscuity malts, and citrus acidity.
• Flavors of dry grain, resinous herbaceousness, spice, and punchy phenols.
• Medium light body, slippery fat middle, and a sticky dry and slightly astringent tongue tingling finish.
Overall, I would say I’m, more pleased with this collaboration than I may be able to express. First for the fact that a Brewer that has been a legend in my mind since 1995 has become a friend. Second for the opportunity to influence a beer that he brewed with the Beancurdturtle touch. And third because the progeny of two old brewers putting our ideas into one beer has resulted in such a crazy complex - rough/dry/spicy/ginny/peppery - Belgian to the bone beer.
I’m incredibly grateful to have collaborated on this amazing beer with a longtime brewer/hero of mine, now a cherished friend.