When Brew­ers “Know a Guy,” Kriek Can Hap­pen

Chicago’s Dove­tail Brew­ery re­leased a kriek that was made pos­si­ble, in part, by a great re­la­tion­ship with one of the tap­room reg­u­lars. By John Holl

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

Chicago’s Dove­tail Brew­ery re­leased a kriek that was made pos­si­ble, in part, by a great re­la­tion­ship with one of the tap­room reg­u­lars.

ONE OF THE GREAT ben­e­fits of own­ing a brew­ery, most own­ers will tell you, is the di­verse cross sec­tion of peo­ple who walk through the doors and sit down for a beer. Gen­uine friend­ships can be forged over pints and shared pas­sion, and now and again there’s even an oc­ca­sion for a col­lab­o­ra­tion.

This is the story of Dove­tail Brew­ery in Chicago, reg­u­lar cus­tomer Joe Daniel— who works in pro­duce lo­gis­tics—and a kriek that was re­leased ear­lier this year, in what the brew­ery calls a “city first.”

Dove­tail’s co-own­ers, Chicago na­tives Ha­gen Dost and Bill Wes­selink, met in brew­ing school in Mu­nich and bonded over a shared ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the tra­di­tional meth­ods in clas­sic Euro­pean beers. “Not be­cause we think they are cool or any­thing but be­cause they are the path to the high­est-qual­ity beers,” says Dost. “Our fa­vorite brew­eries still use those tra­di­tional meth­ods at least in one way or an­other.”

When Dove­tail opened its doors in 2016, it gave more of a bow than a nod to those tra­di­tional brew­eries. This, of course, means the brew­ery con­tains a coolship. “From the be­gin­ning, we planned to do spon­ta­neously fer­mented beer in the style of lam­bic,” says Dost. “To be ab­so­lutely clear: these spon­ta­neous beers are not lam­bic be­cause lam­bic can be made only in Bel­gium. We’re pro­duc­ing a beer in the style.”

They do a tur­bid mash of 60 per­cent Pil­sner malt and 40 per­cent raw wheat, let the re­sult­ing wort hit 13–14° Plato, and then let it rest for up to 18 hours in the coolship. The brew­ery, which is lo­cated in the north­ern part of the city in a 90-year-old build­ing, has a lot of mi­crobes to work with, but Dost and Wes­selink also like to think they get some help from the Chicago Tran­sit Au­thor­ity.

“We’re us­ing what­ever the Brown Line brings us,” says Dost in a ref­er­ence to the “L” train that is nearly ad­ja­cent to the three-story brew­ery.

From the coolship, the wort is pumped into bar­rels, and any­where from a day to 2 weeks later, fer­men­ta­tion starts and con­tin­ues for 2 or 3 years. That’s what makes this kriek news­wor­thy.

Even be­fore they opened their doors, the brew­ers were talk­ing about this beer. Dost made a kriek back in his base­ment home­brew­ing days, but rather than us­ing the more com­mon Mont­morency cherry (what he refers to as “cough-syrup cherry”), he opted for the Bala­ton cherry, na­tive to Hun­gary, that is slightly larger and known for a tart yet slightly sweet taste.

“I had the most de­li­cious jam made with those cher­ries, so it seemed like the right fruit for the beer,” he says. “If it makes great jam, it’ll make great other things, too.”

Dur­ing its first coolship sea­son, Dove­tail had five batches. Around this time last year, the brew­ery went through and se­lected six­teen bar­rels that would be­come kriek but ran into a prob­lem. Bala­ton cher­ries grow in the Lee­lanau Penin­sula in north­ern Michi­gan but are some­what dif­fi­cult to source with­out a good con­nec­tion. En­ter tap­room-reg­u­lar Joe Daniel. “He found the farmer,” re­calls Dost. “There aren’t too many, and it would have been im­pos­si­ble for us to find a grower.” Not only did Daniel se­cure the 2,300 pounds of cher­ries the brew­ery needed, but he also drove the rental truck up to the farm to pick up the pro­duce, then turned around and came back the same day.

“I am a huge fan of the brew­ery be­cause I

like con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean beers, so they had an im­me­di­ate life­time cus­tomer in me. Once I saw the cop­per still from Weis­tephan, the sacks of grain from Bam­berg, Ger­many, and the wa­ter fil­ter sys­tem that helps sim­u­late the wa­ter found in Bavaria and Bo­hemia, I knew this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill place; it was truly spe­cial,” says Daniel.

Af­ter Daniel re­turned to the brew­ery with the fruit cargo, a de-stem­ming party was held, the spon­ta­neously fer­mented ale was mixed with the cher­ries and trans­ferred to food-grade IBC totes be­cause “it’s re­ally hard to get cher­ries out of a bar­rel, and while we’d love to do it in a foeder, we’re not sit­ting on a pile of money.” Af­ter a year, the re­sult was bot­tled in brown 500ml bot­tles and made avail­able for pur­chase.

Their pa­tience seems to have paid off: Travel, beer, and spir­its colum­nist Josh Noel of the Chicago Tri­bune called the kriek “just mar­velous: tart and com­plex, rife with earthy notes of rich fruit that veer from ripe cherry to plump straw­berry and back again.”

For Daniel, the beer of­fered a new per­spec­tive from his long ca­reer in pro­duce lo­gis­tics. “I work in an in­dus­try where I never see the peo­ple or prod­ucts I move,” he says. “Al­most my en­tire day is spent be­hind a com­puter screen and on the phone. It brings me a lot of pride and hap­pi­ness to see an ac­tual prod­uct that I played a role in cre­at­ing. Even more so, it’s some­thing peo­ple en­joy, and it makes them happy.”

For the brew­ers, pa­tience and trust are the two lessons they are tak­ing from this ex­pe­ri­ence, Wes­selink says, and they are im­por­tant qual­i­ties for any­one who wants to brew spon­ta­neously fer­mented beers.

“The idea [be­hind the brew­ery] was these lam­bic brew­ers in Bel­gium and what they do. They trust in na­ture, they trust that na­ture will give them some­thing de­li­cious to drink, and Chicago is, af­ter all, known as The City in a Gar­den,” says Wes­selink. “So, we thought we have sim­i­lar weather [to Bel­gium] and a good se­lec­tion of mi­crobes here, so we have to trust na­ture here and pro­duce some­thing of our own, some­thing that is de­li­cious and comes from that trust.”

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the kriek, the brew­ery got seven­teen coolship days ear­lier this spring, and a new batch of cher­ries will be mak­ing its way to the city in a few weeks, ready for a re­lease next year. And there’s lots else to do in the mean­time.

“The rasp­ber­ries are com­ing in Mon­day,” says Wes­selink.

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