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.
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.
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
It all started with an April Fools post that I didn’t realize was a prank for, maybe, 30 seconds. Stone Brewing Co posted to their Facebook page an announcement. “We're proud to present our newest seasonal creation: Stone #AsparagusIPA - a bright, hoppy beer with a robust, pungent aroma and rich golden hue. Look for it this summer.” I thought “Ok, asparagus is grassy, herbal, and dank – I can see how Stone would… Hey! Wait a minute!”
I had my chuckle, then I started thinking about it. I posted a link to Stone’s prank post on the Beancurdturtle Brewing LLC Facebook page with the comment “I could do this for real, and make it good. No fooling!”. Someone commented “Do it. I dare you.” I opened my big mouth, got called out, and there you go.
Most everything I brew now is a pilot for a collaboration brew or gypsy brew, or to further develop a targeted beer. I rarely brew just for fun. This offers me the opportunity to brew for fun, and for an object lesson in using vegetable adjuncts.
The target for No Foolin’ was a clean ale base, restrained (East Coast) neutral bittering hop profile, enough asparagus to contribute some grassy/herbal/dank characters, and late and dry hopping to compliment the asparagus presence and not overwhelm it. I started with my taproom tested recipe for a Double White IPA base, plus a changeup of the hops and a couple other tweaks. I made a tea with asparagus and the hops to provide a checkpoint, and the components seemed to work together.
The brewday went well with no surprises and I hit all the expected targets for extraction. Fermentation schedule progressed as expected, utilizing a diacetyl reduction cycle for a clean base beer, and attenuation was a little higher than expected. I kegged and carbonated the beer – a taste at this point showed good promise.
A week after packaging and the first pour is exactly what I targeted. Crisp and clean White IPA base. Late hops presenting fresh citrusy/dank characters, though not burying the asparagus. The asparagus is present in aroma and flavor/finish, though not overwhelming the beer.
I’m very pleased with the beer and find it very enjoyable. Other tasters think it’s great. Even tasters that don’t like asparagus have claimed to enjoy the beer very much. So what started as a April Fools prank, progressed to a boast, answered with a challenge, results in a very cool Asparagus IPA. No Foolin’.
Tonight I'm raising a glass to all my fellow Orange County Brewers Guild members who were awarded medals at the Great American Beer Festival. I chose this red wine barrel aged Robust Porter that has been awarded two medals in international competition designed by Beancurdturtle Brewing LLC (me) and brewed at Mateo & Bernabé & Friends.
Toasting my guild's medal winners with a medal winner.
So it’s been two weeks since we served beers at the LA Weekly Burgers and Beer festival. Time for a wrap up – both because we had a great time, and because we received a very nice compliment. First though I’d like to thank Brew Crew Inc for hooking us up with the opportunity to serve at the event, and LA Weekly for putting together such a well-organized and, well, just plain terrific event.
We served two of the most popular beers we designed for the BCT Brewing Project brand – a Champurrado Imperial Stout called Captain Jack Turtle, and a wild yeast fermented Pale Ale with Hibiscus, Rose Hips, and Szechuan Pepper called Tingle Me Pink. Kind of polar opposites from a beer style standpoint – but consequently quite fun to serve.
We were in good company, with fellow Orange County Brewers Guild Members Cismontane Brewing Co., Noble Ale Works, Pizza Port Brewing Co., The Good Beer Company – and other great breweries like Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Founders Brewing, The Lagunitas Brewing Company, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. With peers like this, the compliments we received, and being called out as having the best beer at the event by a CBS Local food and beer writer was a very pleasant surprise.
And I’m going to guess that I probably had the best educated bevy of servers at the festival. Family and friends including an M.A.Ed., one near Ph.D., and one M.D. Them plus me – a guy who makes beer – and a crash course on beer in the morning, and we were all ready to pour. The weather was gorgeous, the servers were sharp as tacks, and the beer (with the exception of a minor and brief equipment failure) poured great all day.
People loved the beers, especially Captain Jack Turtle. Quite a few people came by near the end of the event to tell us that we had the best beer at the festival, and to get a last pour. Many were disappointed to find that the full keg of Captain Jack Turtle had kicked. We got about an hour in to the event and people were walking up and saying “I was just told that I HAD to try the Captain Jack Turtle.” It kicked about an hour before the end. Unfortunate, but I took it as a good sign of a beer well liked.
A few days after the event, CBS Local food and beer writer Hungry Hungry Harris wrote up the event and called out Captain Jack Turtle as the best beer at the fest, and “one of the best stouts I have ever tasted.” Altogether I would call the event a great success, both from a fun day perspective, and from the generous compliments we received for the beers we brought. I’m hoping to participate again when it comes around next year.