Grapes, Grapes, the magical fruit!

Ever since trying  Cantillons Vingneronne - Lambic aged on Grapes about a year ago (holy crap you have to get a taste of this stuff), I knew I needed to somehow make an attempt at something similar. Being that I have 5 or 6 Lambic or Flanders or Wild Saison, or American Wild Ales aging at any given time I knew I'd have the opportunity to grab a couple gallons of my Wild beer to age on grapes.   The hard part was finding some grapes as I live in Minnesota...Nordeast Mpls...that's what's up.   I had heard that sometimes local home brew stores will get shipped whole grapes from Cali, but upon further investigation, both Northern Brewer, stopped doing that this year because it wasn't profitable for them.and Midwest you can get buckets, but the weird thing is that the whole grapes are sent to you already crushes, with Yeast pitched in the bucket already.  That just wouldn't do for my situation.  So, being that I'm all about local ingredients, and unprocessed things, and organic whenever possible I started looking for a local alternative.  Well, just my luck, it turns out that the U of M has an exceptional breeding program and Grape growing program specifically designed around producing grape varieties that are cold hardy to be grown for eating, and to be used at wineries in cold hardy regions!  On top of that, one of the main guys Peter Hemstad involved with the grape breeding program also owns a local winery, St. Croix Vineyards.  I reached out to Peter in the Spring because I had heard about a free tasting he does of over 70 varieties (don't quote me on that I think it's more then 70) of grapes during harvest season at the MN Arboretum.   Like most people that are extremely passionate about the things that they do, Peter was more then happy to talk to me about the local grape varieties that he has spend the good part of his life breeding, cultivating, analyzing, eating, turning into wine, etc.   In our conversation he mentioned that he owns St. Croix Vineyards, and that I should stop out to try his wines.  The conversation then turned to my desire to age some of my Wild Ales on local grapes similar to what Cantillon has done.   He was intrigued enough to talk to me about it, although he didn't hesitate to ask "why would you want to put my grapes in a beer that has already been "spoiled"."   Now, he was just kidding to some degree, but at the same point, Brettanomyces is the devil to most Vintners.  When a winery detects Brett in their Wine it is typically a lost cause at that point, and the typical detector is a Band-Aide type aroma.  Not good, not good at all.  I our conversation we talk about some specific grape varieties he will have available and their characteristics.

  • Frontenac - (Plum, Berry, Cherries)
  • Frontenac Gris - (Peach, Tropical Fruit, adds body)
  • La Crescent - (Aromatic, Peach , Citrus, Pineapple, Tropical Fruit)
  • Marquette (Cherry, black pepper, complex)
  • Brianna (grapefruit, pineapple)

Fast forward to last weekend which was the start of their harvest season at St. Croix Vineyards and I made my way to put in a 4 hour shift at the vineyard to harvest some grapes.   Now, harvesting grapes can be a tedious process.   Some grapes are under developed and pinkish and extremely acid, those don't make the cuts, their are also many grapes that have been burst, and ants, and bees are all over them just sucking in the sweet goodness.   A 4-hour shift was kinda long so make sure you are down if you decide to help them out.   In my shift we picked Marechal Foch grapes, and they were in small clusters.  That's the key word that we used..."this is a beautiful cluster!"  That meant, all of the grapes are in tact and I don't have to do much work.   Anywho...it was a great experience. Part of the deal at SCV is that if you help out for 4 hours, they will give you two bottles of wine.   Instead I asked, how many pounds of grapes go into 1 bottle, (4-5 lbs.)

  • 5 lbs of Frontenac Gris (pr. Gree)

 (Peach, Tropical Fruit, adds body

  • 5 lbs of Marquette

 (Cherry, black pepper, complex)

  • 2 lbs of Un-named U of M experimental grapes 

(apparently although they taste beautiful, they didn't produce enough large clusters of grapes to justify mass production as a cold hardy variety.   I have 2 lbs of a grape variety that you will never ever be able to get, see, or try, other then the beer that I age then in! )

Hell Yeah!  Locally grown grapes for adding to my Wild Beers!  According to a video I saw about Cantillons grape beers, they use appr. 2 lbs per gallon of whole grapes, so that's where I'm going to start.    Planning on tasting some of my Lambic style beers to figure out which ones will complement these grapes the best and let them shine.   I'm thinking 2 gallons of Lambic on Frontenac Gris, 2 gallons of Lambic on Marquette, and 1 gallon of Lambic on Unnamed grape variety!  

Needless to say, I have a new found respect for grapes, and wine, and terroir, and especially wine.   I'm gonna go out and get a bottle or 12 today!

"Our winery doesn't run unless there is Summit in the fridge.  We make wine, and when we make wine, we drink beer!" - Peter Hemstad quoting someone else that works at SCV.

******Spaced reserved to give updates and tastings on my beers that I age on these grapes.*******


Nothing better then bottling your first ever Barrel aged Sour beer!

We were lucky enough to have this beer turn out amazing!   It literally tastes like liquid gold and for a RR - Temptation clone, it tastes very close to the real thing!   Click on the image above to go to the original recipe, or click HERE.

The Great Brett Experiment is about to begin! (has already begun)

So.... I really like Brettanomyces, and in many ways it's the "unknown" about Brett that I really love.  It's the artist in me that enjoys using Wild yeast and not the scientist.  When most people think of Brett they think of flavors and aroma's of cheese, horse-blanket, wet dog, etc and some people really enjoy those flavors in their beer.   In my quest to understand this wild yeast I've come across some examples that have huge fruit characteristics and are described as passion fruit, pineapple, strawberry, stone fruits, and pie cherries.   I really enjoy the fruity strains of Brett as opposed to the funky strains and it's these fruity Brett stains that I lean towards utilizing in my beers.   It's to that artistic end that I decided to join a scientific project dubbed The Great Brett Experiment.

The Great Brett Experiment is the brain child of a mad scientist in Switzerland with a yeast blog called Eureka Brewing but also is a home brewer that him and his brother call Blackwell Brewery.   Back to the experiment....The experiment is based on understanding the flavors, aroma, and fermentation characteristics of Brett strains that Sam has isolated from various commercial bottles.   Some bottles of Cantillon have had up-to 4 or 5 different Brett strains.   He shipped me 20 different varieties of Brett in these tiny little vials...see picture on the bottom of the post.   Unfortunately 3 of the varieties didn't make the long transport from Switzerland so I'll be doing 17 different varieties.  (Keep in mind that a few of these 17 varieties may be the same strain, just from different breweries, or they may have been the same at one point, and are now mutated and are now a unique strain.)

I'm hoping to find additional Brett strains that have those amazing unique fruity flavors that only certain strains of Brettanomyces can provide.  We'll then be able to mapped those strains as either great 100% fermenting strains, or great strains for complementing Saccharomyces strains in mixed fermentation (ex.  Saison Brett!)

I'll take these small samples and build them up until I have enough to 100% ferment a half gallon.   Here is my plan taken from Jeffrey Crane's blog Beers Bikes & Adventure

I created a simple recipe that I thought would be interesting enough for us to enjoy the taste of the beer, but not too complex to distract us from the yeast derived flavors. For the recipe, I added some wheat to help with mouthfeel (protein) and long term food source (long chain carbohydrates). Then a small percentage of acid malt was added to give the Brett strains some lactic acid to convert and to also lower the pH for the mash and Brett fermentation.

Sam will be sending the yeast in 1.5 mL vials (mostly to help with international shipping costs). These will need to be built up. I've read that you should build up about 10x each step. I'm planning to brew wit hall 20 strains at once. My goal is to have 20 - .5 gal trials going all at once - here is how I plan to do that.

First Starter Step -  15 ml (~.5 oz)
15 ml Sterile Centrifuge tubes (~$15 and great for saving dregs)

Second Starter Step - 150 ml (~5 oz). Here are my ideas:
250 ml flask w stopper/airlock or foil (laboratory way), but expensive
12 oz beer bottles w stopper or foil (pretty cheap, but the stoppers/airlocks would be pricey)
12 oz water bottles w 1/8" blow-off tubing sealed into cap or foil (cheap)

Main Batch - 1.5 l (~50 oz) - maybe a bit more to get 4 beers worth
64 oz growlers w stopper/airlocks (homebrewer friends have extras - especially with CA laws)
2 liter water bottles w 1/8" blow-off tubing sealed into cap

We wanted to make sure we standardized the evaluation of the strains. We thought it was best to taste at Month 1 (uncarbonated at bottling), Month 2, Month 6, 1 Year.  I have created a Brettanomyces Evaluation Scoresheet (based on the AHA Scoresheet). We will compile the tasting notes, scores and sour/funk ratings.

Brettanomyces Evaluation ScoreSheet (pdf)

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