Last January, at the beginning of this year, I began teaching part time in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program offered at Niagara College. This has been a very interesting and rewarding experience- and it also opened the potential opportunity to do some contract brewing out of the teaching brewery! We recently decided to explore that opportunity, coming to the realization that the smaller size of the school system (500 liters, instead of the 2000 or 4000 liters that we normally brew at Black Oak) would be perfect for producing some interesting and experimental small batches! And you want to drink some interesting and experimental small batches, yes? Yes.
But we didn't want to commit to making "one-offs", as some brews really do demand a second round, and we didn't want to do "seasonals" either. We don't have a lot of interest in picking just 4 brews or so, and making them in order, again and again, year-after-year.
The brewing industry, however, is lacking a common term for "Beers that are made maybe once, maybe every-so-often, but not regularly, and never hang around for very long."
So, once again, we turned to the world of gardening for inspiration, and decided to call this series of beers: "Now In Bloom!"
The Blossom is a good symbol, we think, to express our idea.
Though the Art History student in me wanted to call the series Wabi-Sabi
After that was settled, we then turned, once again, to Mike Jerome, our Graphic Designer Extraordinaire! He's always done great work for us, and this project was no exception. He created the "Blank" seed packet images below:
Mike created a version where the logo space was empty, as an opportunity to customize the art for these special beers, which gives me a chance to have some fun contributing to our beer artwork! In a past life, I actually made much more art than beer, though I know my limitations (one of the good things about getting older??) which is why we got a professional to create all of our branding and graphic design. We didn't want it to look amateurish or sloppy, and Mike was really able to do things right. Still, I do miss art, and I think within the context of Mikes work, it'll all come together! Besides, it'll be fun to have an opportunity to make some art again for this series!
After Mike had completed his work I dusted off my old printmaking tools, which hadn't seen the light of day in about 6 odd years. (Hmmm, they went into storage around the same time that beer making stuff moved back into my home. Coincidence??)
About the beer:
Elderflowers are often described as having a character reminiscent of ripe pear and floral lychee... Or sometimes as having an aroma existing somewhere between a peachy stone fruit and lemony citrus fruit. This character seems to be emphasized when Elderflower is used fresh, but as we were unfortunately unable to source any locally-grown commercially-available fresh flowers, we used dried flowers. When dried, the blossoms seemed to retain their classic qualities, but gained a surprising Star Anise/Fennel Seed character as well! In our experiments, a long boil and hot (or extended cold) steeping really brought out the fennel quality, while a short boil brought out more of the citrus and fruit notes. Interestingly, passing hot wort through the blossoms created more of a subtle savory note of earthy mushrooms, chopped celery, and dried sage, not unlike the aroma of turkey stuffing!! We didn't end up using that technique, as it also clogged our hopback. And that was probably lucky, because: turkey stuffing.
We ended up going with a compromise: a short boil, followed by a long steep. This allowed us to get the classic elderflower notes we wanted, along with some of that licorice quality for complexity. We used our hops in the same way- highlighting the orange marmalade note that Pacifica hops are renowned for. Pacifica was the perfect choice for this brew, as its bittering qualities are gentle and "noble" -in the tradition of its German ancestor, Hallertau Mittelfrüh- but its Orange Marmalade aroma qualities are much more like that of its fellow Kiwis! An ideal hop for this hybrid lager style.
In terms of malt, it was 57% Canadian 2-Row, 18% English Maris Otter, 18% Canadian Toasted Wheat, and finished up with 7% German Acidulated malt to create a slight sourness- which comes across as a subtle tartness- something to enhance the perception of citrus from the flowers and hops, and to increase its "Refreshing" thirst quenching qualities. (Think Lemonade- or Elderflower Cordial!)
We had an extended-length mash, with heating periods that helped develop some colour as well as some lovely subtle caramelized bready-wheaty notes. That was followed by an hour long boil, with both hops and blossoms going into the boil in the last few minutes and then whirlpooled for a full half hour. Fermented as a Lager, this beer is clean and crisp with a bit of a lager bite enhanced by the botanical additions and clean lactic tartness. Finally, it was dry hopped with a little Galaxy hops to add a peachy-gooseberry complexity to the aroma. In terms of style, this beer is probably best thought of as a Spiced American Wheat. Of course, as with all our beers, we were not looking to brew to style, simply to create the best showcase for Elderflower: the most harmonious, interesting, and delicious beer possible!
Elderflower is hard to pin down in terms of its exact flavour- it seems to gently move and change as soon as you figure it out- like trying to fly a kite in a really soft and gentle breeze. As a result, it is sometimes simply described as "Tasting Like Summer". We love that! And we like to think that our Petal-Pusher, with its classic, clean lager beer character, notes of lemon, orange, and tropical fruit, and its sharp, biting finish- tastes just like summer too!! We're excited to see what you think!
I'm going back to the teaching brewery first thing next week to put the Petal-Pusher into kegs, and you'll hopefully be seeing it in bars and pubs very soon. We're happy to have it coming out now- just in time for summer- and we've already filled our first casks with this beer too!
These casks were filled after primary fermentation was completed, given some extra sugar, a fresh pitch of ale yeast, and were dry-hopped with Galaxy. The Firkin is reserved for Because Beer, which is adding a Cask Zone this year! You are planning to come to Because Beer this year, yes? Because last year was awesome, and this year looks to be even better! As for the Pin, it has already had dibs called on it by The Mugshot Tavern- so look for it to get tapped there soon!
Here's to summer!