One of my early favorite craft beers was Festina Peche by Dogfish Head. It is bright and happy like a summer day, which it complements brilliantly. As I’ve gotten deeper into beer and as Dogfish Head has grown a little bigger, each passing summer has left me just a slight bit disappointed in Festina Peche. It doesn’t seem to have the balance and complexity I used to find in it. Sounds like a good excuse to try my own hand it.
A Soliloquy on Fruit Beers
I understand where people find the opinion that fruit in beer is an unnecessary distraction. Many brewers use it to cover flaws in a unsettled base beer or just recklessly toss raspberries on their standard IPA. It would seem that fruit hides the truth in beer and is just another way the modern brewer dishonors the good, clean, traditional work of our forebearers. However, dollars to doppelbocks, fruit in a grain based fermented is more historically true than hops in beer. After all, we’ve only been using hops for about 500 years, but “extreme” beverages with fruit and grains go back thousands. There’s no reason to hold back because of medieval tax laws or bad practices elsewhere.
So, I love playing with fruit in beers. One of my best batches of beer, ever, was a watermelon, lime, and ginger blonde ale inspired by a trip to Bali. The delicate fruit joined with the delicate pilsner malt and rice sweetness with just a hint of complexity from the ginger – it takes me back to the Sweet Orange Warung in the middle of a rice paddy outside of Ubud. (Look forward to a rebrew of that beer soon.) Fruit beer is just beer, we simply must respect the ingredients like in other batch and keep them in an intentional balance for a quality product.
However, there are a few tricks to getting it right. The most important one being to nail the acidity of the beer to the acidity of the fresh fruit. Palmer has a fantastic little table in the latest edition of How to Brew that shows the expected acidity and sweetness of various fresh fruits. This is quite handy when you’re trying to get your beer to pop, though getting the final product to the right acidity isn’t trivial.
The easiest place to modify the pH for BIAB brewers is at the mash water. I like to get it down towards the bottom of the reasonable mash pH range, about 5.2. Enzymes will still work below that, but they’ll get less and less active because of deformations in their shape. It seems that extreme pH can also denature enzymes, but that it takes errors in the realm of several points.
The mash and boil will drop the pH, especially if you are utilizing a decoction. So the next reasonable place to adjust the pH is at transfer to the fermenter. Note that the yeast, too, have a preference for a specific range (about 4.8-5.0), but fermentation will continue down to around 4.0. In my experience, when sour mashing, the yeast will tend to correct a low pH, so I’ll see something like a pH at the beginning of fermentation of around 4.2 but nearer to 4.4 at the end of fermentation.
The low 4’s are a nice little landing zone for most fruit. It’s at the upper end of a lot of the fresh fruit acidity range, which is a little friendlier than the low end for the drinker. After all, no one wants to drink a whole glass of lemon juice. However, there are two further options for making things a little more acidic. First, we can manually add more acid. Many brewers keep lactic acid on hand for modifying the mash, and it can be added simply prior to packaging. Some claim that this leads to a “harsh, fake” acidity, but I’m not convinced by this (assuming that the rest of your beer is sufficiently characterful). It seems more likely that lactic acid itself simply isn’t that pleasant and leads to some off putting flavors. A better choice may be to use acid blend, a product more commonly used in wine making. The multitude of acids helps provide a rounder acidity rather than just one note.
The final option is to take the time honored route of using souring bacteria in parallel with fermentation. This is the route I’m taking for this brew. Naturally, there is a little less control here, but this is also how we can build up that special organic something along with the lactic acid output. Again, lactic acid can be somewhat unpleasant, so there needs to be enough going on to keep the sour milk character from damaging the flavor. The fruit is a major component here, but I’ll also be buttressing the flavor with my saison blend, which tends to lean a little estery.
A Brief Musing on Weiss Grains
Fruit was the easy side of this brew. The Berliner Weisse base was something I’m a little less familiar. I’ve used Tonsmeire’s no boil berliner as the starting point for my NHC placing brett pale, but that in pursuit of a decidedly different flavor. For this beer, I am looking for a full mouth of wheat with crisp cracker character. There’s a bit of a spread of the pilsner to wheat ratio from 40:60 to 60:40. In the end, I decided to split the difference and go about 45:55.
I’m still having trouble with low head retention, so in an effort to fill out the body and hopefully encourage head stability, the wheat addition is split between the usual malted white wheat and torrified wheat. Torrified wheat is pre-gelatinized, so there is no need for a cereal mash. Since it has not been malted, it should keep a higher proportion of long chain starches and proteins that will not be broken down enough for Saccharomyces. This should leave a bigger body and perhaps a slight added grainy sweetness. There might be a bit of playing with fire here – Brett will slowly take down these complex fuels, meaning these guys could slowly turn over-carbonated. However, this is a beer meant to be consumed fresh, so I’ll take the risk.
- Grains/Sugar Sources (% of mash bill by mass, predicted Plato contributed)
- 0.5 kg Pilsner (28%, 3.7 P)
- 0.3 kg White Wheat (17%, 2.4 P)
- 0.3 kg Torrified Wheat (17%, 2.2 P)
- 0.5 kg Peach (28%, 0.5 P)
- 0.2 kg Apricot (11%, 0.2 P)
- Spicing (alpha acids, predicted IBUs contributed)
- 3g Perle (7.7%, 2 IBU)
- Microbes (intended pitch rate)
- Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus Delbruekii (unk)
- House Saison Mix of 3711, 3724, 5112 (0.5 mil cells/mL/P)
- 9.5L Arlington County Water at Mash
- 1/8 tsp Lactic Acid
- Predicted Metrics
- IGU/BU: 0.04
- ABV: 4.0%
18/06/17 – Brew Day
- Prepare fruit
- Cube peaches & apricots, keeping the skin on.
- Blend until smooth in a sanitized blender
- Flatten and freeze
- Draw off 9.5L water
- Add 1/8 tsp lactic acid
- Bring mash water to 52C
- Mash in, hold for 10 minutes
- Draw off approx 1/3 of mash, as thick as possible, into a separate pot & boil for 45 minutes
- Rejoin mash along with hops
- Adjust mash to 65C, hold for 20 minutes
- Bring mash to about 90C
- Pull grain bag & drain
- Boil – Don’t do it.
- Cool and rack
- Move pot to water bath
- Add frozen fruit
- Cool to approximately 43C
- Rack to fermenter and pitch 1/2 pouch of lacto.
- Cover with sanitized foil and keep warm.
2018/06/18 – Pitch saison mix at 0.5 mil cells/mL/P. Covered fermenters with sanitized foil and moved to chilled swamp cooler. Initial gravity of 10.7 P (corrected)
2018/06/23 – Covered fermenters with airlock and moved to warm environment (i.e. the kitchen counter). Observed gravity of 0.3 P (corrected). Aroma is intense peach perfume.
2018/06/26 – (Poorly) packaged within Party Pig.
2018/07/01 – Came home from Homebrew Con excited to give a little test to this brew, but found that most of the beer had migrated outside of the Party Pig. I’m devastated, but fortunately there was enough to mostly fill a pilsner glass and evaluate.
- Aroma – Peach tree perfume leads the show with a hint of grainy-ness lurking around back. A barnyard-y muskiness forms a mild, interesting, and unexpected base note. The general effect is like smelling a grocery bag with uncut stone fruit, grains, and mushrooms. No notable acidity in the nose, which is a major discount per style, otherwise inviting. (9/12)
- Appearance – Very hazy (though not turbid) straw body snow-capped with a firm, slightly off-white head. Tiny bubbles form solid lacing as the beer is drained. A bit hazy for the style and the head retention is not typical, but just darn pretty. (2/3)
- Flavor – Peach and apricot dominate from the start. The flavor isn’t sweet, but it’s unmistakable fresh fruit. At the mid-palette it turns to fresh stone fruit on water crackers. The flavor really never stops, minutes after taking a sip, that peach character lingers, not aggressively, but not letting you forget the wonder that you’re enjoying. This is not a tart beer, simply bright. The berliner weisse part of this beer is a bit lacking, though the fruit part is delightful. (15/20)
- Mouthfeel – Extraordinarily light body and very low carbonation. Basically water. No creaminess, no sharpness, just kinda there. (2/5)
- Overall – This is just plain easy drinking. Fruity, but not sweet. Bright, but not tart. For competition’s sake, it should be pushed more towards reflecting its berliner weisse base by walking back the fruit a hair and increasing the grain character. More important is to increase the acidity a decent chunk, and fix the carbonation. (8/10)
I scored this guy relatively harshly because the lack of stylistic adherence, if I had extra I’d probably call it a cream ale base and expect to recover at least 6 points and score low to mid 40s. Qualitatively, this beer is probably the best I’ve made this year, which makes the travesty of equipment flavor hurt even more. Fix the packaging issues (which I think lead to the over-haziness as well), and this could hit upper mid-high 40s. I’m rebrewing it next week.
- I have a hard time concentrating on a brew when people are over. This was a open brew day with my club, and I just got darn right sloppy sometime. Lots of data were not collected.
- It takes a little longer to blend things out smoothly than expected. Go overboard, it doesn’t hurt anything.
- First attempt at cell counting & pitching with purpose. Counting is getting easier every time and need to keep up the practice.
- Seat the f*ing party pig seal right. I don’t have any more pressurization pouches, so this is OBE, but goaiwherowj;lafksdfawef it’s upsetting.
- Torrified wheat appears to be the answer to the long nightmare of poor head retention.
- With so much going on, I’m not sure the decoction did anything. Will probably sub in some melanoidin malt or Munch (since I have a ridiculous amount around).
- Learned a couple things from Homebrew Con regarding souring that I’ll immediately incorporate next brew day:
- While pH seems to level out after 24-36 hours, total acidity (TA) takes a little longer to settle. Could be worth letting the wort ride then back out over-souring with more basic wort that’s been held in reserve.
- TA is darn simple to measure and I just need to start testing. The speaker noted that while TA correlated much better than pH with “sour taste,” an even better metric is acidity/sweetness, so will start tracking TA/Plato.
- What’s the TA of fresh peach puree? Need to start augmenting Palmer’s table whenever I work with these fruits.
- Alcohol is sweet (or so people say), residual extract is sweet, but what’s the best way of measuring that residual sweetness? I’ve never trusted BU:GU since surely the initial gravity isn’t the appropriate metric, but final gravity would lead to problems with ultra dry beers.
- How can I best show ratios of bittering, sourness, and sweet?
- Brewer’s Friend brewlog
- American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmiere
- No-Boil Berliner Weisse (p309) formed an initial cut of recipe
- Useful background in historical section on p80
- How to Brew, 4th Ed by John Palmer
- Table 13.1 – Typical pH and Brix Values for Common Fruits & Vegetables, p192
- Historic Berliner Weisse – Wilder Wald
- An interesting discussion on the history of the style
- Torrified Wheat – Homebrew Answers
- First time playing with torrified wheat, this is what taught me what to expect.