Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cabernet Grapes

My friend Steve has a green thumb.  He's always bringing me zucchini and cucumbers and tomatoes from his garden.  His parents also have a backyard garden, and a few weeks ago Steve was walking, talking with his Dad when they passed his father's cabernet grape vine.  The vine was a giant natural bramble of twisted branches heavy with sun-ripened grapes ready to be picked.  Steve's father had purchased the vine in wine country in the bay area over a decade before, and the vine had steadily begun baring more and more fruit as it matured.  The grapes it had produced this year were dark and sweet.  Steve's Dad generously agreed to cut them and give them to Steve so that he could share them with me.  That's how on Friday afternoon last week I sat staring wide-eyed at this box resting on my front lawn:

My kids started eating them right away.  Organically grown, perfectly ripe wine quality cabernet grapes are easy to enjoy.  They tasted of deep berry (blackberry?) flavors with a hint of complimentary vanilla, and were sweet and juicy.  I realized that I needed to use them right away.  So after consulting with the Mad Fermentationist (thanks for emailing me back!) I decided to add some to my Farmer's Daughter Flanders Red that's been fermenting for almost ten months.  But first I needed to figure out how much I had.

So early last Saturday morning I started to remove the grapes from the vines.  I had some help from Claire and Ben who really just wanted to eat them.  The whole process took about two hours, with me carefully removing stems and bagging the grapes after washing them.  The result was much more than I expected.  Altogether the box contained almost 21 pounds of grapes!
Four 5 +lb bags
Ben sorting (eating) grapes
I decided to use half of them in the Farmer's Daughter Flanders Red.  I crushed them into a pulp and racked the Flanders on top.  The other half I decided to freeze.  Freezing fruit is a good way to preserve its flavor and helps with fermentation because when frozen, fruit cell walls tend to  burst, giving the yeast and other microbial cultures a chance to get to all of the available sugars and ferment.  It seems counter intuitive to freeze such a fresh product, but it's actually the best thing to do.

Over the past few days, I've worked out my plans for the remaining ten+ pounds.  I want to start a cycle of lambics, brewing one roughly each year for the next three years, and ultimately blending the three batches into a gueze that has the potential to be greater than the sum of its individual parts.  I'm planning to incorporate the remaining grapes somewhere within the process, but honestly am not sure exactly where.  Tentatively I think it might be added to a portion of this first lambic after at least a year of fermentation.  The grain and hop bill couldn't be any easier, with pilsner malt, unmalted wheat and aged hops providing a simple base for the myriad of microfauna to work its magic.  I plan to brew the first one with a turbid mash schedule mid-week:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dunkel and Ambrée

After a solid two months of waiting, the lagers I brewed at the beginning of the summer went on tap last week.  I brewed a Bavarian Dunkel and a Bière de Garde, two styles that are pretty unfamiliar to me, and both of which have a distinct regional association and following.  Dunkel originated in Munich and is popular throughout Bavaria.  Bière de Garde is a product of Northern France where Belgian influence is strong.  All in all, I'm very happy with the results.  Here's a quick review of both:

Peacesteiner Bavarian Dunkel

AROMA  Browned toast and sweet crusty barley.  Muted hop aroma, almost not existent.  Aromas intensify and the bread notes become more pronounced as it warms.

APPEARANCE  Deep umber in color with slight garnet tones when tilted.  Creamy, but short-lived slightly tan colored head that leaves rings on the glass with each sip.  Very clear but not quite brilliant.

FLAVOR  Clean and bready with a rich, complex undertone of bread crusts.  The Munich malt is intense and melanoidin-rich.  Hops compliment and balance well, taking a decided back seat to the malt, which reveals significant sweet character.

MOUTHFEEL  Medium-full body and creamy smooth, with only the slightest hint of alcohol warmth present.

OVERALL IMPRESSION  A uniquely German and surprisingly thirst-quenching dark brown lager that showcases the bready aromas and flavors associated with Munich malt used in force.  The balance is very nice, and the the beer is to style without off-flavors in all categories.  I'm very happy with this beer.

Ambrée - Bière de Garde 

AROMA  Noble hops and malt in equal portions with distinct Pilsner and Munich malt aromas blending together well.  A small mustyiness, not unpleasant, in the background.

APPEARANCE  Somewhat clear, strong red in color with a wispy tentative off-white head.

FLAVOR  Cool and complex on the tongue, with malt complexity almost making it convoluted, but not quite.  Hops are present but in nominal quantities and low in bitterness.

MOUTHFEEL  Medium-bodied and crisp.  Some alcohol warmth detected and almost too thin.

OVERALL IMPRESSION  All the elements of a bière de garde are present in this beer and are mostly in balance.  The alcohol content and thinner body could be slightly adjusted (down and up, respectively) to give this beer a little more malt backbone.  Hop presence is delicate and clean.  A very nice beer that lagered beautifully.