November 22, 2016

Punch Down Beer

This is a follow up post to the "Modifying a Barrel" post.

In the beginning of October I put 40 gallons of 18 month old "Méthode Lambic" beer on to 80 lbs of wild blackcap raspberries. These berries were foraged from the woods of the Driftless region by the crew at Forager Brewing. I can only imagine the dedication that is required to harvest 80 lbs of these tiny little berries.

In preparation for making this beer, I had to figure out how to fruit it. With only 80 lbs of fruit, I knew I needed a ~50 gallon vessel for fruiting. Using a modified barrel would be a perfect vessel, but presented a set of its own hurdles. The biggest of which were 1.) how to empty the beer when it's finished, and 2.) how to prevent too much oxygen exposure.

The fruit screen pictured in the previous post was my answer to issue #1, and it worked perfectly. I was a bit nervous about how much these small berries would disintegrate during secondary fermentation.

I attached an in-line strainer to make sure the beer came out clean and to get an idea of what would make it through the fruit sieve. As hoped, the fruit bed itself becomes a strain and captures most all of the fine particulates. 

I was able to completely empty the barrel without the strainer clogging, and this was all that made it through. Just a collection of raspberry seeds. If you've ever emptied beer off fruit, you know this is pretty incredible. The fruit bed was completely dry, which means I probably captured a good 5-10% more beer than I would have otherwise, and with a beer this expensive, that is going to pay off immediately.  We have made these available through Stainless Brewing and can be ordered here:

Issue #2, oxygen exposure. This was my biggest fear, and the aspect beer people voiced concern about the most. I know punch downs are common in the wine world and O2 exposure is as much of a concern for them as it is us. I also believe the wine world has much more experience when it comes to to fruit and there are lessons that the beer world can learn from them, even if they are scary at first.

So, even though I was afraid I'd ruin the beer, I trusted the concept.  During the secondary fermentation, I punched down the cap twice daily. It was a very gratifying experience. I did CO2 blanket the top prior to fermentation starting, and at one point after fermentation even push CO2 through the drain port.  

But maybe most importantly, after fermentation was finished and I was done with my daily punch down regimine, I put a sheet of plastic over the top of the barrel and used extra barrel hoops to secure it to the sides of the barrel.

While I know gas was able to escape, I was very encouraged to see water droplets form on the top of the plastic sheet inside the barrel. I believe this means the gas mixture inside the barrel was not exchanging with the air outside the barrel at any significant rate. More to the point, the CO2 was staying inside the barrel.

The result.

Look at that color! The aroma and flavor are equally as amazing. I am 100% sold on punch-downs as well as black-cap raspberries. It was an incredibly expensive and laborious process, but the resulting beer is mind blowing.

Thank you again to Forager Brewing for this collaboration experience and the idiotic amount of trust.

(This beer will be ready Spring of 2017 and due to the limited amount will not likely see public release, sorry)

November 15, 2016

Working Title - Cervino

I'm a huge fan of what grapes bring to lambic (and sour beers in general). In my mind, the flavor profile of lambic is more akin to wine than it is regular beer. Adding grapes just further blurs that line and it's so fun to see people's reaction to that experience.

Experimenting in this blurred region of beer and wine is fascinating to me. I want to push this to the legal limit and create something that is as much wine as it is beer. It also opens a new world of wine techniques that I can incorporate into beer. On the wine side there are a near endless combination of grape varieties, using whole grapes, crushed grapes, or juice. One could add the grapes right to the wort and have them primary together. Or add juice to already fermented beer. Ferment them separately and then blend. Oak aging. Pump over and Punch down. Délestage. MLF. On lees/off lees. Carbonic maceration. And on and on and on...

What do we call something like this? It's not right to call it a fruited sour ale. My working title for this has been "Cervino" (an amalgamation of cervisia and vino). Maybe Méthode de Vin? Domaine Flou? This is a style name, not an individual beer. There is so much that can be done in this blurred region, so this is my call out to other breweries (and homebrewers), let's start exploring!

I know some breweries have already played close to this territory, so I'll define what I'm looking for. This new style I'm proposing, while legally beer, is 51% beer and 49% grape/wine. The purpose of this style is to create something that, from an experiential basis, can not be defined as simply "a beer" or "a wine". And, much like the "pét-nat" style, this can look/taste/feel very different from example to example, but they all share a common core.


My first venture into style is a blend of sour ale base that spontaneously fermented and aged for 6 months.  I then went to Wollersheim winery and picked up some Chardonnay juice.
Arriving to Funk Factory with Chardonnay juice to blend. (Instagram)
The aged sour ale and Chardonnay juice were blended in equal parts allowing the yeast from the beer to ferment the juice.  This has aged for another 2 months and will be bottled in the next month.

What I like about this beer is the connection to the seasons.  The beer was brewed in the winter when spontaneous fermentation is possible.  The wine juice was added at grape harvest.  It is something that I can, and will, repeat each year and it becomes part of that season.  It is also a great "base" to start at. From here I can look at incorporating different wine techniques and judge their impact.

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