Friday, April 22, 2016

Forest and Main Brewing Co.: Exploring their indigenous culture

Kids allowed, which is always a plus for me.
Situated in an old Victorian house at the corner of Forest Ave. and Main St. in Ambler PA you'll find one of the most unique brew pubs you will find anywhere in the world. Forest & Main Brewing was founded in 2012 by brewers Gerard Olson and Daniel Endicott in that 19th century Victorian home that the two renovated from house to pub and brewery. Gerard and Dan have their own brewing focus' with Gerard's being Saison/Farmhouse inspired and Dan's, who spent time studying brewing in England, English ales. The two viewpoints come together to craft a tap list that ranges from the funky to the malty and sessionable with a some hazy IPA's mix in as well. The beers, the space, and the food come together in a very harmonious manner making for a comfortable and inspiring atmosphere that you won't soon forget upon entering the foyer of the quirky home turned pub.

That atmosphere, more specifically the house's Terroir, is on display in their farmhouse style beers in the form of wild indigenous cultures that the fellas cultivated from their surroundings in Ambler. I reached out to Gerard to describe their vision for this line of beers, which I was already a fan of, but didn't realize how exciting and unique their process was. I will let Gerard describe it...
"It's our intention to create a sort of saison vintage with these cultures. We will use a given culture for roughly that entire year. Each spring, we'll begin again, and embrace the differences that new sources, weather, or other influences may provide." -Olson
I absolutely love this idea, not only do the beers represent a sense of place through local microbes but that sense of place will vary year to year with the consumer being able to experience the changes first hand. This feels like a throwback to the old days of Farmhouse brewing where the brewers did not have the option to send a culture out for isolation, analysis, and banking to be used every year. Those brewers of the past had to do what Gerard and Dan are doing out of necessity, something that's been lost in most modern brewing where consistency is more important. Myself, and many others, enjoy the batch to batch or seasonal variations in beers brewed with this method.

Taking a bottle to go from the bar.
On a recent visit to the pub, trips that don't happen nearly as often as I would like, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of Solaire Reserve for sale. This is a non-barrel aged Saison brewed with the aforementioned culture. It's a travesty that these bottles last even the few days they do, but I am glad some lingered long enough for me to grab one. According to Gerard this beer is brewed with the 2015 culture...

"The 2015 culture was grown off cherry blossoms (from the tree in the front yard) and lilac blossoms (from a bush/tree in the backyard) - all on the brewery property." -Olson

Solaire Reserve was a delicious beer, delicately balanced like most of F&M's beers, evoking floral notes, some fruit, white pepper and a dry finish with a subtle acidity to finish. A delicate beer with unique and inviting nuances that was supremely refreshing. I once again reached out to Gerard for some info on the 2015 culture (he's surely sick of the questions by now), fermentation temps, attenuation, if there was a bottling strain in the mix etc. Once he confirmed it was fresh and culturable for brewing I got the dregs in 500ml of wort and onto the stir plate. Within 8 hours things were lively and frothing vigorously, as Gerard said it likely would. I then fed the culture a fresh 1L of starter wort and called that good for a 2.5 gallon batch. One thing I noticed is that it flocculated out very hard after a few days in the flask and dried out the DME wort very quickly. If I could produce a beer half as good as Solaire Reserve with it I will be happy.

I brewed a big batch of a Nelson Sauvin hopped Saison and put the culture, I've since dubbed Dan & Gerard's seed, to work in a portion of that batch. I didn't use an airlock, a standard Saison practice for me, during primary fermentation opting only for a foil cover to reduce pressure and stress on the fermentation that may inhibit its ability to dry the beer out. Gerard mentioned that he was curious to see how it performed in a cooler environment but that they don't normally ramp the temps up too high anyway letting seasonal temperatures dictate. So i went for a cool and very unscientific "room temperature" fermentation. He also mentioned that in a low hopped wort the acidity is more prevalent, so at 35 IBU there may not be much bacterial activity but I didn't want an overly acidic beer.

Over the years I've found well used cultures to be more hop tolerant than a fresh lab pitch anyway, but time will tell. This culture has never been looked at under magnification or streaked out on plates so I really dont know what lives in here, but I imagine it's a heavy mix of various organisms. 

24 Hours since I pitched there was a mess to clean up.
I pitched the whole starter into 2.5 gallons of wort and gave it 30 seconds of shake aeration, within 24 hours I had vigorous frothy fermentation. The most active fermentation calmed down after 72 hours at which point I bunged and airlocked the carboy. After 10 days visual fermentation mostly ceased, save for some light co2 off gassing. I waited a full 21 days before I pulled a sample and the gravity was 1.002 and totally finished so I kegged it up, and filled a 6 pack of bottles to condition naturally. It was interesting that the beer did not flocculate out as dramatically as the it did in the starter, but that could be due to the wort composition among other factors.

Dan & Gerard's Seed: Batch #1

AppearanceDeep yellow, mustard like color but not your stupid yellow mustard. Like Champagne mustard that comes with a holiday Ham. All my beers are practically the same color but this one is a tick darker yellow thanks to the Naked Golden. Medium carbonation with a wispy white head that fades and leaves a ring on the top. Moderate to high lacing. 

AromaI was having a tough time pinpointing an aroma descriptor at first but after a few glasses it hit me, it smells like roses! Wow, just now hit me. It really smells like roses, pretty wild. I do pick up on a slight acetic note but not as strong as balsamic or anything but its there. Some bready malts, melon, and earth, mixed in with the aforementioned roses in a floral note..

TasteSlight dryness on the tip of the tongue, some spice in the middle with a tick of sweetness giving way to an acidic finish that's dry and linger, biting the back corners of your mouth. The sweetness almost gets to be too much and then the spice comes and the bam, the acidity hits and cuts it all off in a timely manner. As it warms the sweetness amplifies a little but it's a really nice ride of flavors, complex yet drinkable. 

ImpressionsThis has changed a ton since packaging. When I first kegged/bottled it was heavy on the hops and very tropical from the Nelson, that's really faded away and now it's a more well rounded bouquet. This is a refreshing and complex beer that's beautiful for spring. The acetic note is a surprise but it's a nice level of complexity at such a low level. It did not seem to bat an eye at the 35 IBUs I threw at it, plenty of acid was created. Beautiful blend of aromatics and flavors in such a small simple beer. 

Thanks to Gerard for fielding my questions about their beers and this culture in particular. I plan to use this culture a bunch more going forward to see how it evolves but I am also going to try my hand at a similar practice with yearly indigenous cultures as Gerard described above. It's such a cool idea and really jives with old school farmhouse brewing traditions. Oh, if I haven't yet sold you on making a trip to Forest & Main then we probably can't be friends.

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.82 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.25 gal
Measured OG: 1.052 SG
Measured FG: 1.004 SG
ABV: 6.4%
Estimated Color: 6.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 43 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 80.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

87% - 9lbs 4oz - Pilsner Malt (Avangard) (3.2 SRM)
13% - 1lbs 6oz - Naked Golden Oats

Boil: 60min - 0.63 oz CTZ [14.0 %] - 31.2 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5min - 1.25oz Nelson Sauvin [11.40 %] - 10.1 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 1.25oz Nelson Sauvin [11.40 %] - 1.5 IBUs

Dan & Gerard's Seed: Generation #1

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150.0 F 

Fly Sparge 5.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 30 seconds of pure O2. Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.33, Water Profile ( 113ppm Ca, 6ppm Mg, 10ppm Na, 107ppm Cl, 101ppm SO4). Some acid malt and some Lactic acid was used to lower the mash pH, your water profile may vary. This was part of a big split batch, the other will have a post shortly.


  1. This was one of the coolest homebrew articles I think I've ever read. Nice work. Next step: book?

    1. Hey thanks man! It would take me a decade to write a book and nobody would read it, ha.

  2. Ed, where'd you get that tulip glass from? I really like it! Very nice article to by the way, I really enjoyed it.

    1. Thats a F&M glass from the Manu Negra release. No longer sold!

  3. Great post Ed! I wish I lived closer to Philly, so many cool breweries I want to visit!

  4. Such a great post. I love the atmosphere of that place. F&M is probably my favorite brewery I've been to. Not only are the beers great, but the food rocks too. Gerard and Dan are such great guys and like you, I've asked them many a question and they are always quick to give their input. Hanging with them for the day was really surreal. Hate you missed that but there is always next time!

  5. I am very happy to discover your post as it will become on top in my collection of favorite blogs to visit. yolongbrewtech

  6. Great article. My wife and I discovered F&M in 2012 when we were out looking for some good beers. We LOVE that place. Unfortunately we moved to TX later that year. 7 years later and we both still talk about the one IPA we had. I wish I knew the name. Anyway, I want to try this recipe and was wondering if you could suggest a yeast that would be close to the Dan & Gerard Seed: Generation 1. Is there a commercial strain that would produce similar results. We all grain home-brew and would LOVE to know. Also, have you tried Omega yeasts. OMG...we love all of them :) Thanks!