Thursday, 13 March 2014

Bam Biere


The first beer that got me really excited about sour and wild brewing was Jolly Pumpkin's Oro de Calabaza. To be honest, I don't remember why I bought it: my local Binnys had several of their beers on the shelf for a few months, and one day I picked that one up.  I know that the Brewing TV episode on sour beers made me pay more attention to them, so maybe it was related to that, although JP beers don't figure in it at all.  Regardless, that first bottle was a revelation.  I don't remember the particular taste so much as what I suppose I’d call the structure of the beer: the way the flavours developed along the palette after each sip, hitting a range of notes over a few seconds and drawing them together into a harmonious but complex whole.  The best comparison I can think of (and the one that struck me at the time) is with a sip of good whisky: some initial wave of flavour, persisting and deepening over the mid-palate, then fading to something else at the back of the mouth.  If you’ve ever tried bad (read:young) whisky, you’ll have a better sense of what I mean: the young stuff also hits a series of notes, but it is blocky and jagged, one thing after another with no integration. That bottle of Oro was complex and integrated: a striking initial taste, a prolonged and complex middle note, and a mouth-watering sour finish.

That was enough to get my interested in Jolly Pumpkin, and sour beers in general.  At the time I was still relatively new to home-brewing (I suppose I still am!), and I was a learning lot from listening to old shows on The Brewing Network.  A quick search of their site threw up two episodes of Can You Brew It that featured Jolly Pumpkin beers.  I listened to both back to back, and was struck by the thoughtfulness and generosity of the brewer, Ron Jeffries (I’ve since emailed for brewing advice, and his responses have only confirmed that impression). 

I particularly recommend that Bam Biere episode for anyone looking for an easy recipe to try for their first sour beer; you can find further details on this HBT thread. One great thing about the episode, especially for a beginning brewer, is that Jeffries talks in detail about the thought behind his ingredient choices.  When you’re first starting out, you see a recipe like the one below and have no real idea what’s going on.  Why that blend of base malts?  Why those proportions?  What does that flaked barley add?  What about the crystal malt?  Jeffries explains the thinking behind all of this, as well as the process they use to make their sour beers.  This is translated admirably to the home-brew level by Mike Mraz and the other hosts in the second half of the episode.

As far as I know, Jolly Pumpkin beers are distributed in most states, and the bugs and wild yeast available in fresh bottles will provide a pleasant sourness to most beers relatively quickly (especially compared to commercial blends like Wyeast Roeselare).  What’s more, since this beer has such a low starting gravity, the turn around is fairly quick for a sour beer.  I drank my first bottles at about two and a half months after brew day, and they were tart and hoppy, the perfect beer for a hot Chicago summer day.  At this point the beer is around 8 months old, and the hops have faded and the sourness increased.  I’ll do my best to describe it below.

A note on brewing the beer: I followed Jeffries’ instructions, creating a fermentable wort by mashing low and adding dregs from a fresh bottle of Bam Biere after primary fermentation was complete.  I’ve been happy with the sourness throughout: light at first and more assertive now.  However if you like a bracingly sour or overtly funky beer, you might want to add the bugs and wild yeast along with your pitch of saccharomyces so that they have a stronger population earlier in the fermentation. 

Appearance: Medium white head that dissolves quickly to a thin layer on top of the beer.  Hazy orange colour, changing to a red-tinged yellow when I hold it up to the light.
Smell: Pronounced stone-fruit.  I want to say nectarine, but it’s a long time since I had one.  J says it reminds her of  the juice in tinned pineapple.  There’s also an almost cream-like or maybe yogurt smell---it reminds me of a frozen yogurt we made with grapefruit and hibiscus, not for those flavours but the pithy, creamy smell that it had.  No hops discernable, in contrast to the way it smelt when it was young.
Taste: Follows the nose: strong stone fruit and pineapple juice.  Medium sourness, and that same slight creaminess.
Mouthfeel: Relatively low carbonation.  I was worried about over-carbonation because I was bottling half the batch in regular bottles to drink young.  Next time I’ll aim higher.  The initial fruity sourness fades to that mouth-watering feeling that sours produce, along with a lingering tannic dryness at the back of the throat, probably from the oak.
Drinkability & Notes: Pleased with how this one has aged.  The mouth-watering sourness and stone-fruit flavours remind me in some ways of New Belgium’s Le Terroir, although this is less sour.  Its much more drinkable than that beer too though, in that I can get through a glass quickly and immediately want another, whereas I found the NB beer too sour for that.  It’s a shame I only have a few of these left, but there’s another batch on the way for the summer.
Estimated O.G.        1.037
Measured O.G.       1.036
Measured F.G.        1.002
ABV:                       4.4%

Mash:     149°F for 90 minutes

51%        Pilsner
25.5%     2 Row
13.8%     Wheat malt
6.6%       Flaked Barley
2.9%       Crystal 80
0.2%       Black Patent

Crystal           60 minutes             17.3 IBUs  
Crystal           30 minutes             6.6   IBUs
Crystal           0 minutes               70% of 30 minute addition
Crystal           Dry Hop                40% of 30 minute addition

French Oak Cubes        14g            Secondary; 2 months

Wyeast Belgian Ardennes (3522); Jolly Pumpkin dregs added to secondary.

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