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.