Note: I originally meant to post this many, many months ago.
One of the opening events to start Philly Beer Week was a New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red kickoff toast at The South Philadelphia Taproom. SPTR has been a favorite beer bar of mine for several years now – I consider it the spot that truly introduced me to local craft beer in a relaxed, comfy atmosphere. When my brother still lived in South Philly too, I’d find myself there all the time. I always feel welcome, and these days, I always enjoy their vegan hoagie – a delicious mound of tempeh, marinated mushrooms, and slightly spicy homemade veganaise atop a lightly toasted hoagie roll, accompanied by fries and homemade ketchup. How good is this stuff? I usually like neither veganaise nor ketchup, but I love the versions served here.
Anyway, New Glarus is a [vegan] brewery in Wisconsin, who only distribute in Wisconsin. Therefore – it is very very rare to find them on the east coast. Since they legally could not be sold here – SPTR was giving away free tastings!
The Wisconsin Belgian Red is the #1 rated fruit beer on beeradvocate.com. It is delicious. Very tart, slightly sour (but not lambic or belgian sour territory sourness), midly cidery acetic, noticeably syrupy. I liked it a lot, as did Beth. When I suggested I could attempt to brew something similar, she was pretty excited.
After some research I found out that New Glarus uses roughly 2 whole pounds of fresh cherries per 750mL bottle. Whoah. For me to pull that off would be nearly impossible. Not to mention – incredibly messy. I stumbled upon an old issue of Zymurgy that suggested a cheaper, easier way to clone it would involve using a lot of high quality cherry juice – roughly 20% of the volume. Here’s my attempt.
Belgian Tart Cherry
- 5 lb US 2-Row
- 2 lb US Red Wheat Malt
- 6 oz Crystal 40 Malt
- .5 oz Belgian Special B Malt
- .3 oz Organic New Zealand Hallertau Whole Leaf Hops [8.5% AA] (40)
- White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale yeast
- 1 gallon Knudsen Organic Just Tart Cherry Juice
Single Infusion mash at 154. Target 4 gallons of wort for primary fermentation. When primary has slowed, rack on to the cherry juice (giving you 5 gallons total) and let condition for a few weeks. The cherry juice is going to almost fully ferment in 2 weeks or so. I did this in the keg and just force carbonated when it was done.
This beer turned out okay. I don’t think juice is a suitable replacement for all of the fresh cherries that the Wisconsin Belgian Red uses. The beer finished very very dry and the aroma was very one-dimensional. Using fruit puree – like the sterilized cans of puree that Oregon Fruits produces, I think, would be a step in the right direction.