Friday, November 6, 2015

Blending the Tart Cherry Suburb-house ale

Suburb House blending, this ain't
no farmhouse I live in.
I like to try out different yeast, both Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces isolates, in fairly simple Saisons to get a good grasp on their flavor profiles and how they work. Sometimes these simple beers turn out wonderfully and the yeast really shines but sometimes they end up one dimensional and boring, not bad beers at all just not particularly exciting to drink. These one dimensional Saisons actually serve me well as paint on a palette for blending as opposed to boring beer I don't want to drink. I may use one to blend back and overwhelming character in a new beer, or maybe use a really funky one to add complexity to a clean Saison. Its good to have a myriad of options around.

Recently I had three of these Saisons laying around and sat down to see if I could come up with an interesting blend. The three beers used in the blend aren't important really, two were FitR variants with dregs and another was an all Pils malt Wallonian beer. After sampling them and playing with blend ratios I wasn't able to really tie together a blend I was happy with. The blend I did like the most had a nice balance of fruity and earthy brett aromas with a decent peppery spice note but lacked a finish worth noting. It needed either a more dry or more acidic finish so I opted to blend in 64oz of Lakewood's Tart Cherry juice in hopes of getting that added acidity and a jammy cherry character. If you haven't used this juice before it is very potent and very characterful, claiming 3lbs of cherries per 32oz package. The juice alone is almost too tart to even drink but the depth of flavor is really amazing. 

Apparently there is 6lbs of cherries in these two bottles.
While adding the cherry juice it reminded me of a tidbit of information, the real topic of this post, that I gathered from a homebrew swap I did back in 2012-13 on the Babble Belt. We all mailed each other the same beer and got in a chat room to taste them together and chat. We also each sent a beer to a surprise guest/pro taster and that ending up being Shaun Hill and Dan Saurez both of Hill Farmstead at the time. One of the brewers sent an amazing Kriek that was so good infact that Shaun compared it to some of the classic examples from Belgium, here is the brewers blog post about the exchange. I wish there was a chat transcript I could link but the site didn't allow archiving and it's a shame that blog post didn't quote what Shaun mentioned next because I found it invaluable. We got talking about how he made this lovely Kriek and mentioned he blended in an English Mild. Shaun was quite excited by that and said that when they age sour beers on cherries (and I think he said some other darker fruits) they like to blend some portion of a darker/maltier beer to add some complexity and rich malt backbone to prop up the fruit character. For some reason that really stood out to me as unique.

Juice first of course.
With that long story in mind I remembered I had some older Russian River Consecration clone that might work in place of the Mild or Stout Shaun mentioned. That beer was another one that turned out fine but due to some under-attenuation I never really fell in love with it. But for the addition of something more malty and dark this might fit just do the job. The addition of the bugs from the Consecration Clone will be a welcome addition over the aging of the beer as there was no bacteria in the Saisons. I popped open three bottles of it and poured them straight in, added benefit is the carbonation should do well to purge the headspace of o2 until re-fermentation of the cherry juice starts. 

I should have chilled the bottles of Consecration clone before opening them, spewwwww.
The beer was aged with the juice for 2 months after which things settled down and a terminal gravity of 1.004 was reached. I had over 5 gallons so I packaged up 4x 750ml green champagne bottles and the rest went into a keg with priming sugar the night before my club organized mobile canning run, so the cans will be naturally carbonated. Below is my thoughts on the beer after 2 months in the can.

Don't be a D-bag, drink from the can.
Tasting Notes:

Appearance: You get a decent psst sound when you pop the can, could be a little more carbonation but it's solid as is. The color is a striking deep red mahogany like color with an off white head. The beer is really murky, not the most beautiful looking beer in the world. Moderate carbonation leaves a ring along the edges of the of the glass throughout. Could be due to this dirty ass glass Im drinking from :)

Aroma: Dark fruit cherry nose, some spicy bits but mostly dark fruits. 

Taste: Cherry hits right up front and a spiciness on the tip of the tongue on first sip. Then the acidity hits that is then balanced with a small bit of maltiness. Finish is dry and tart, with tons of ripe tart cherry character.

Overall: Super good, restrained but complex. I think the addition of the Consecration clone achieved the malt backbone that this needed, granted I don't have a control to compare it to but there wasn't much for maltiness in any of the components that were blended in. I think this will continue to improve with a little bit of age, but I don't want to age out too much of the cherry character because it is truly rich and complex. These cans will go really well with Thanksgiving dinner in a few weeks. 
I tried to crush this can over my head but I'm not that strong.
I will definitely add some darker malty beer to any dark fruit beers I age going forward. I could even get away with adding a few bottles of a commercial stout or porter if I don't have anything homebrewed around, assuming I don't plan to enter it into any competitions of course. I'm glad I remembered that tidbit that Sean and the Dank Brewer shared during that funky beer swap, what a shame that conversation is lost to the internets.


  1. You know, you should send a can of something into a BJCP competition, just to see how much that throws off the poor stewards and judges. ;D Interesting post!

    1. Ha! Is that even legal? Probably not.

    2. BJCP doesn't care about container, just that it was brewed by the entrant. It would definitely throw off the judges though. Might get some weird feedback if they drink it thinking you entered commercial beer.

  2. Great tip on the mild/kriek blend - thanks to you and Shaun.

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