basecamp sour 2012: the Brettcurrant edition

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Truth in advertising – deep down, I really only truly love a fruit beer if it’s also sour or wild or Brett-influenced, something more than just a fruit beer. That’s just the way Crom made me.

Which isn’t to say I can’t appreciate a well-made straight-ahead fruit beer, but, sour or not, I do feel that the fruit should reflect the beer’s provenance – the fruit adds another layer of reality to beer as an agrarian product and an extension of its time, people, and place.

Every great meadmaker I’ve ever met, from Ken Schramm to Curt Stock, has espoused the use of high quality, local fruit when making melomel, and that philosophy translates very well when brewing sour and wild ales.

With all that out of the way, this, then, is the story of what happened to the B portion of Basecamp Sour 2012.

In the slideshow above, you see Chernaya Lisovenka currants from Mary Dirty Face Farm (shameless plug) in the hills along the Red Cedar River of western Wisconsin.

The first time I can clearly remember tasting blackcurrants was in soda form in Ireland, but the first time I drank them in alcoholic preparation was in Curt Stock’s basement, and from him I took the idea to utilize them in conjunction with oak to create a non-grape beverage with inflections of Cabernet Sauvignon. The cold-hardy Chernaya cultivar grows intense here in the Upper Midbest (yeah), berrylike in flavor but with a strong winey acidity and tannic character (think Frontenac grapes) that I envision melding nicely with oak and some light Brett action.

As a side note, if you ever have the chance to drink Curt and Kathy Stock’s meads, his love of – and skill with – the blackcurrant fruit will manifest itself quickly as you down sample after sample and say to yourself, “Hey this is good,” and it will never occur to you that it’s approximately one thousand percent abv until you wake up in a pool of purple sweat with a blinding headache. So what I’m saying is: just be careful, I guess. Stay hydrated if you ever have the chance to drink Curt and Kathy Stock’s meads.

A commenter on a previous post asked about my process for adding fresh fruit to beer – blam. Not much to it, and it’s more or less taken wholesale from Al Korzonas’s Homebrewing Vol. 1. In a nutshell: freeze it (cut it up first, if need be), then add it to secondary. (A person could probably also blanch it as well, as an extra precaution, but I never have). Freezing, according to Al, has the dual effect of inhibiting microbial growth on the fruit and rupturing the cells, allowing for better extraction of color and flavor once added to the beer. The alcohol present after primary fermentation – plus Star San foam, as can kind of be seen in the photos – will take care of the rest.

Props to Don O and Keith C for making possible a mason jar of Sanctification yeast in my basement. Based on the age of that mason jar, I elected to ferment the batch with a neutral ale yeast and add the Brett along with the fruit in secondary. Medium-plus French oak cubes will be added once spotters on the ground confirm some breakdown of fruit matter and some Brett activity. Stay tuned.

13 thoughts on “basecamp sour 2012: the Brettcurrant edition

  1. Yummy.
    I have had two carboys sitting in the basement with brett since April.
    One has 6 kgs blueberry the other has 5 kgs rhubarb.
    Hopefully they will be ready for summer 🙂

  2. Michael,
    Glad to find this place. Missed you since BTV. I read all of the posts here and they were inspiring. You are one of those people that make me want to push on into uncharted territory looking for new brews. My setup is modest today, but I’ve got plans for the future.

    Great to know we still get to see what you have brewing!

  3. Micheal, if you would not mind offering a suggestion I would appreciate it. I brewed a patersbier about 6 weeks ago. It was a low gravity beer 1.047. I pitched it with a 2 liter starter that I had cultured up from the dregs of a Watou St. Bernardus Pater 6. Fermentation went great, but at about 3 weeks I noticed some lacto bubbles appear. I let it sit for another week, and found a lovely Dr. Seuss looking pelicle. I do love me a sour beer so the lacto does not bother me. I am fine with letting this beer sit on a shelf for as long as it takes. The recipe was just belgian pils with a little carafoam, some tradition for bittering and some saaz at 10 and an oz of saaz dry hopped. Yeah I added an extra oz of saaz for dry hopping like a homebrewer will do just cuz well you know it’s saaz. I have been ruminating on adding fruit to this. The beer tastes great even now. I think with the low gravity and the sour aspect some fruit would be nice though. I have been thinking that pear’s would be perfect. I am not sure whether I should go with fresh or canned pears. The obvious answer would be fresh, but I was thinking that perhaps some canned pears would add a bit more sugar than the fresh. I was also considering throwing some brett into the mix. what are your thoughts? Any help would be appreciated.

    • Cool! This is a great opportunity to contradict myself and state that I’ve used canned fruit purees/bases with great success in the past: they’re certainly easier to work with than fresh fruit, and – while maybe not quite the same quality as a perfectly-ripe local fruit specimen in peak season – they’re always consistent and available year-round.

      I think pears would go nicely in that recipe; I don’t have any personal experience using them in beer, but my understanding of the perry (pear cider) process is that it involves crushing and pulping the fruit prior to fermentation, and since it’s a pretty mild fruit, it requires a pretty high lb/gallon ratio. Canned pears should work fine as long as they don’t have any sorbate or other preservative that would inhibit the Lacto or other bugs you may add in the future – I think you can find pear “wine base” at HBSs that would fit that bill. My instinct would be to modify one thing at a time as the fermentation and aging progress: add the pears first and let the Lacto run a ways, then sample for flavor in a few weeks – you can always dose it with some Brett later on.

      Good luck and keep us posted!

      • Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we brew well or poorly. Why we brew, or why we drink. All that matters is that homebrew stood against many fizzy yellow caned beverages. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me a sour fruit beer to crush my enemies! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

      • What is your take on using dried fruit? I watched a video on the Russian River barrel program with the guy heading it up saying that they had chosen to use it instead of fresh. The main reason I ask is that at Costco the other day they had 24oz dried cherries for sale, depitted of course, for like $7.99. Compared to wet weight with pits and stems (at 6.99/lb if you’re lucky) that seems like a hell of a steal. If you do use dry fruit, does it need to be chopped in a food processor to assure absorption? Thanks in advance. Sure do miss brewing TV. Learned a lot from you guys.

        • I’m for it. I’ve yet to try it in a beer (have used dried red currants in wine to good effect) so couldn’t give you firsthand advice on scaling the dosage vs. fresh, but the ease of use and handling would be great. I just checked some of the dried fruit in my cupboard, and some of it has sorbate, which would be a bummer.

  4. Hey Mike, thanks for following up with the process for adding fresh fruit to beer. (I think I was the commenter you referred to). It sounds easy enough. I’ve had good luck with “canned” fruit, but can’t wait to try the fresh stuff!

  5. Pingback: into the keg with you | the beer engine

  6. Dawson, thanks for all that you brew and if you don’t mind I would like some insight into brewing your Kriek from NB. I don’t have the ability to perform a decoction mash so what temp would you recommend as a single infusion? I mash in a 5 gal igloo cooler and batch sparge.

    • Hey Jesse,

      If doing a single temp rest, I’d do a high sacch’ (156-158*F or so) to create lots of dextrins for the Brett to work on over the course of time. Good luck with the brew session!

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