Har­mo­niz­ing Har­vests

The beers brewed at Pitts­burgh’s Draai Laag Brew­ing Com­pany are a com­bi­na­tion of fruit, fer­men­ta­tion tech­niques, cask ag­ing, and the spirit of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. Den­nis Hock, founder and brew­mas­ter, uses fruit for the ma­jor­ity of his beers, and no two are e

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Fruit in Beer -


with brew­ing and fer­men­ta­tion when he was in high school that his mom let him start brew­ing beer … as long as he didn’t drink it. He re­lied on his senses and help­ful neigh­bors to hone his tech­niques un­til he was of age, tak­ing notes and di­al­ing in his recipes with the skill of a sea­soned brewer. And in 2009, after a de­ploy­ment in Europe, un­der­tak­ing stud­ies in wine­mak­ing and food sci­ences, and earn­ing ad­vanced sci­ence de­grees, Hock founded Draai Laag Brew­ing Com­pany. His ex­pe­ri­ences have given him a depth of ex­per­tise when it comes to fer­men­ta­tion tech­niques, fruits, and spices.

“Any­body can make a fruit beer. You can dump fruit into any beer, and it tastes like the damn fruit. But if you [cre­ate] it in such a way that it’s just a lit­tle bit of every­thing—it’s a much more bal­anced ex­pe­ri­ence,” Hock says. His brew­ing process in­volves match­ing his beers and in­gre­di­ents with fer­men­ta­tion tech­niques, casks, ag­ing, spices, and other fruits.

De­sign­ing a Recipe Around Fruit

With so many in­gre­di­ents in­volved and so many pos­si­bil­i­ties when it comes to fruits, get­ting started might seem daunt­ing. Hock strate­gizes his fruited recipes two ways.

One op­tion is to build a recipe around a spe­cific fruit that he has in mind, with ac­com­pa­ny­ing fruits, fer­men­ta­tion pro­cesses, and ad­juncts to sup­port it. Atomic Pomme, for ex­am­ple, is an ap­ple ale that was in­spired by caramel ap­ples and has a Werther’s candy char­ac­ter­is­tic to it. The ap­ples are added dur­ing the mash, and the beer is aged for more than a year, then blended with another sim­i­lar batch in sec­ond-use bour­bon bar­rels for the caramel notes.

Hock’s other recipe-de­sign method in­volves casks. “Casks are mag­i­cal,” Hock says. “They truly are. You could put a beer into a cask and it might be medi­ocre at best, and if you give it enough time and enough care and you pay at­ten­tion to it enough, ul­ti­mately, it might come out com­pletely dif­fer­ent, and so beau­ti­ful, that you’re like, ‘You know what would set this off is if we blended a lit­tle bit of X fruit into this to re­ally heighten the tones that we’re ap­pre­ci­at­ing in this.’ ”

He shared an ex­am­ple of how he’s done this with his El­der­berry Fig beer. “We took a beer that was just a stan­dard bar­rel-aged beer, and we put it into a cask. Al­though it wasn’t any­thing spe­cial, some­how, some way, some re­ally dark spice notes started to pro­ject through it.” The dark spice notes gave Hock an idea.

Draai Laag uses lo­cal in­gre­di­ents when­ever pos­si­ble, so Hock con­tacted a friend who grows fig trees that were brought over from Italy in the late fifties. He also thought of the high con­cen­tra­tion of el­der­berry bushes that grow in western Penn­syl­va­nia. With both of these fruits in mind, as well as the base beer and the fla­vors that were com­ing in from the cask, Hock was able to cre­ate a med­ley of in­gre­di­ents that was dark and de­light­ful.

“You’re go­ing to pick it up and go, ‘There are a lot of dark fla­vors in there that re­mind me of figs and el­der­berry’ and what­ever else there might be. But ul­ti­mately, we’re cre­at­ing a much more com­plex beer, and we’re cre­at­ing lev­els and lay­ers of fla­vors rather than [just one] fla­vor. That’s a case where we did it after the fact, not know­ing what it was go­ing to do.” He fur­ther ex­plains that brew­ers can take a sweet beer and add fruit to it, but there are a lot of dif­fer­ent acids and fla­vors that you might pick up that cre­ate new and dif­fer­ent fla­vors.

Choos­ing Fruits

With so many types of fruits avail­able, brew­ers have many op­tions at their fin­ger­tips. Hock is ded­i­cated to se­lect­ing lo­cal fruits when he can and has note­book

“Any­body can make a fruit beer. You can dump fruit into any beer, and it tastes like the damn fruit. But if you [cre­ate] it in such a way that it’s just a lit­tle bit of every­thing—it’s a much more bal­anced ex­pe­ri­ence.”

upon note­book on what’s worked and what hasn’t when it comes to tech­niques used. Fruit has a few … quirks (see “Fruit (Not Fruity) Fla­vors,” page 73), and he’s learned more than a few tricks.

His ex­pe­ri­ence in wine­mak­ing has taught him about the ways that dif­fer­ent cli­mates, tem­per­a­tures, and al­ti­tudes will af­fect the fruits grown in an area. A white grape that’s grown in Cal­i­for­nia will have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent fla­vor from the same grape grown in Ger­many, for ex­am­ple. The Cal­i­for­nia grape will have del­i­cate fla­vor and thin skin, whereas the Ger­man grape will have thick skin and ro­bust fla­vor. So when se­lect­ing fruits for brew­ing, it’s im­por­tant to know one of the chal­lenges he faces in us­ing some of the fruits grown in Penn­syl­va­nia: “If it’s lo­cally grown, be­cause we’re in a north­ern cli­mate, typ­i­cally we’ll have a higher acid con­tent rather than a higher sugar con­tent. So that also plays into what we’re look­ing for in a beer. For in­stance, rasp­ber­ries. If you buy rasp­ber­ries in the South where they have a longer grow­ing sea­son, the rasp­ber­ries have a higher sugar con­tent and less acid con­tent—al­most like what you see in wine world.”

Hock likes to use black­ber­ries, which have a sul­fu­ric char­ac­ter. In wine­mak­ing, he learned that black­ber­ries typ­i­cally have a lower ni­tro­gen con­tent when they grow. So when brew­ing with black­ber­ries, he adds ni­tro­gen to dis­solve the sul­fury char­ac­ter. The way to do that is with di­ammo­nium phos­phate (DAP), a wa­ter-sol­u­ble salt that is typ­i­cally used in wine. Stir it in and within minutes, the sul­fur is gone.

“Know­ing the fruit, know­ing how it fer­ments, get­ting to know it just like I know my yeast strains—that ben­e­fits ev­ery­body across the board.”

Fruit and Fer­men­ta­tion

Fer­men­ta­tion adds a dif­fer­ent el­e­ment to fruit fla­vor be­cause it opens up a new realm of pos­si­bil­i­ties. Hock works with a va­ri­ety of fer­men­ta­tion tech­niques and works with in­dige­nous yeast strains, in keep­ing with his ded­i­ca­tion to lo­cal in­gre­di­ents. Draai Laag har­vests yeast from the skins of the fruit they use or from the air and sur­round­ing ter­roir or even from a sev­en­teenth-cen­tury monastery cabi­net. Noth­ing is off lim­its.

Their fer­men­ta­tion tech­niques are many times the fo­cus of the beers, with the fruits play­ing a sup­port­ing role. Hock ex­plains, “If you’re go­ing to make a sour cherry beer, more than likely you would use Bret­tanomyces lam­bi­cus. B. lam­bi­cus typ­i­cally projects a cherry char­ac­ter­is­tic if it’s fer­mented cor­rectly in the right en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. So by sup­port­ing it with not only your fer­men­ta­tion but also with the fruit as­pect, you en­hance the fruit as­pect of the beer over­all.”

One of Hock’s most in­trigu­ing ex­per­i­men­tal beers in­volves cave-aged bleu cheese im­ported from France. He stud­ied the cheese and the process of mak­ing it for two months, then dis­cov­ered over time that Peni­cil­lium roque­forti, the strain that makes bleu cheese so dis­tinct, doesn’t like to go through al­co­holic fer­men­ta­tion. But un­der the right con­di­tions, the mycelia im­part the bleu cheese char­ac­ter­is­tic to the aro­mat­ics of the beer.

“So know­ing that we wanted a slightly tart, funky beer, we thought, ‘What goes bet­ter with bleu cheese and that slightly tart funk­i­ness of a bal­samic vinai­grette than peaches?’ We took a ton of peaches, threw them into the beer, and did a ter­tiary fer­men­ta­tion on the peaches prior to putting the beer into the cask with the Peni­cil­lium roque­forti,” he says.

They didn’t fill the cask all the way to the top be­cause Peni­cil­lium roque­forti is mi­croaerophilic, which means it needs oxy­gen to fer­ment. How­ever, as the bleu cheese grew its mycelia, which formed al­most like a blue-veined pel­li­cle over the top of the beer, the bleu cheese char­ac­ter- is­tic stayed through­out. The re­sult­ing beer was Grand Blü (pic­tured above).

Malt and Fruits

Draai Laag uses lo­cal maltser Ap­palachian Malts in nearby Portage, Penn­syl­va­nia. Hock se­lects the malts in each beer de­pend­ing on how ag­gres­sive the fruit is. True to his ex­per­i­men­tal spirit, Hock found a unique com­bi­na­tion for his strong Scot­tish-style ale, Rag­narok, which has a sour edge and clocks in at a hefty 8.8 per­cent ABV.

The malt for Rag­narok was peatsmoked, and he added three types of fruit. “Most peo­ple would be like, ‘Who the hell would ever put fruit and peat-smoked malt to­gether?’ We did.”

He used black­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries, and black cur­rants, which are on the more ro­bust side of the fruit spec­trum and hold their own pretty well in a beer. Hock worked with these fla­vor­ful fruits and mixed them with a malt that was lightly smoked (it isn’t a smoke bomb by any means), which cre­ated har­mo­niz­ing notes.

“We com­bined it with the tra­di­tional Bel­gian [spon­ta­neous] fer­men­ta­tion, which is what our back­ground is in, and we added those three fruits be­cause we thought they com­ple­mented the malt very well. And it did, and for the most part, peo­ple dig the beer. It’s so dif­fer­ent that peo­ple are all about it, and it’s awe­some.”

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