There are a lot of things that signal the transition of summer into fall in New England. The mornings and evenings are accompanied by cool breezes, daily walks become crunchy with fallen leaves, and the weekends are acrid with the smell of pitchy pines roasting in backyard fire pits. For me, there is another cue; my garden hops blossom into sticky, resinous buds, whispering into my ear that it’s time to make beer! I’ve experimented with different approaches to utilizing my fresh hops in beer. While many folks may go straight to IPA, my brain focuses on earthy farmhouse characters. My hops produced a minimal yield their first year, as is to be expected, but I did add them to a dry-hopped pale ale and loved the slightly floral, fruity result. The next year, I got a decent harvest and made a really nice Dark Saison. I love hoppy saisons, and this had notes of raisins and citrus, along with a nice white-bread note from the pilsner malt. Last year, though, I mulled a different spice in my brewer’s brain; a Raw Ale, utilizing all of my garden hops in the mash. And because I dig farmhouse vibes, why not use some kveik? And while we’re at it, maybe we’ll go forth in the Nordic tradition and throw some juniper at it! Off to the races!
Before jumping into the recipe and process, I want to explain my hop situation a bit. I bought six varieties of hops; Fuggle, Comet, Crystal, Centennial, Chinook, and Northern Brewer. I built a pergola for them to climb and planted them in two rows, complete with strings running down to stakes and pretty little labels on wood with permanent marker.
Then it rained.
The hops loved it, but the markings didn’t hold up, and I lost track of which plants were which. Then, in the winter of 2021, I had to move so I did what any good brewer would do and set to work digging up the frozen rhizomes (and the pergola). Moving is always hectic, so I once again lost track of which hops were which, and by the time I re-planted I was mostly concerned with keeping them alive. With some minor repairs, the pergola is back in action and my hops are happy. Now I simply have a garden of assorted hops.
That brings me to hop harvest and hop selection. For my Raw Ale, I wanted primarily citrus, dank, and pine, with a bit of earthiness in the background to play with the juniper flavor. To see which hops I wanted to use in this beer, and to tell when the hops were ready for harvest, I simply grabbed a hop off the bine and split it in two down the middle, exposing the bright yellow lupulin glands. I gave them a big sniff, rubbed the hop pieces in my hands, and smelled again. I am always surprised at how different the hop aromas are from one another! Once the leaves of the hop buds started to feel like drying paper and the aroma was pungent, I picked a brew day and got to work. And it was a fair amount of work! I cut the bines and pulled them down for a more ergonomic picking process. I tossed the hop cones into a five-gallon bucket and discarded the bines and leaves. When the harvest was complete, I had a brew bucket full of fresh hops (over 5 lbs) and it was time to fire up the brew kettle!
For a normal five-gallon batch, I typically use a 120v Digiboil with the mash tube upgrade, recirculating the mash to help distribute the heat during conversion. However, because I harvested over five pounds of hops and they were all going into the mash, I decided to brew up ten gallons, and thus needed to use my 20-gallon pot and a huge brew bag over the trusty ole propane burner.
Because this is a raw ale, I started off by sanitizing all my mashing equipment, then putting 12 gallons of strike water into the kettle and bringing it to 163° F. While that was coming up to temp, I weighed out my grains and salt additions, and measured my lactic acid. When the water reached strike temp, I dissolved the salts and whirlfloc in a bit of brewing liquor, then added them along with the lactic acid.
I then mashed in the grains, followed by the hops and the cedar branches. The smell reminded me of campfires in the northern woods of Maine. After mashing in, I closed up the lid and waited idly for 90 minutes, enjoying a fresh American light lime lager to pass the time. When the conversion step was complete, I fired up the burner again to get to a mash out temperature of 170° F, where it was held for approximately 15 minutes.
While getting up to temp, I brought two cups of distilled water to a boil on my stovetop and added one ounce of Warrior hops. Five minutes into the boil, I added 4.4 grams of crushed dried juniper, boiled for another five minutes, then added this mixture to the mash. I let the mash sit at 170° F for about 15 minutes before pulling the bag and squeezing the everloving crap out of it. I then added a sanitized wort chiller to the wort and began chilling.
When the wort got to 95° F, I pulled five gallons off into a fermenter and pitched a healthy starter of Arset kveik I picked up from the Yeaster Bunny on eBay. Arset is a relatively clean fermenter that produces tropical/stone fruit esters when fermented at high temperatures (>90°F). I placed a heat wrap around the fermenter and it was bubbling away within hours. The remaining 5 gallons of wort continued chilling until it reached 75° F, when I transferred it to a second fermenter and pitched some harvested Omega Cosmic Punch from a recent batch. Because this was sort of a last minute decision, I just added about half of the yeast I had harvested, which is probably two or three times the volume that would come in a liquid yeast pack. I placed this fermenter into a fermentation chamber set to 72° F. Unsurprisingly, the Arset finished within two days, with a final gravity of 1.011. The Cosmic Punch got started around the time the Arset was winding down and finished up about three days later with a final gravity of 1.012.
Arset kveik Cosmic Punch
On packaging day, about two weeks after brew day, I racked three gallons of each brew into purged and sanitized three-gallon kegs and set them in my kegerator at 30 psi to burst carbonate. The remaining two gallons of each batch were racked into a secondary fermenter and pitched with Brettanomyces claussenii. (Brett. c.) and Brettanomyces lambicus (Brett. l.) allow them to fully attenuate prior to bottling. This gives more control of carbonation level when bottling. After 4 weeks, the Brett beer was racked into a bottling bucket with enough dextrose to carbonate to 2.5 volumes. Sanitized bottles were filled, capped, and set aside to age at cellar temperatures for 4-6 months. I will write a brief follow-up as these bottles come into age.
Before I get into my tasting notes, I would like to discuss my thought processes behind the yeast choices for this project. Because I was making ten gallons, this was a good opportunity to do a split batch to compare two yeasts. I knew I wanted to use a kveik strain to stick with the Nordic tradition. I had Arset on-hand and had never used it before, so that was an obvious choice. For the other half of the batch, I considered several options- do I use an American Farmhouse strain? Brettanomyces? Belgian ale yeast? Saison? The possibilities abound! However, I have been keenly interested in the thiolized yeasts Omega and Escarpment Labs have been focusing on, and I thought the generous mash hopping in this beer might produce a lot of precursor thiols. If so, then Cosmic Punch could produce a much fruitier beer than its Norwegian cousin.
For those who are unfamiliar with thiols and their effect on beer, let me give you a crash course (nerd warning!). Thiols are organic compounds similar in structure to alcohols, with sulfur replacing the oxygen molecule (that is SH, rather than OH). These sulfur hydroxide compounds are bonded to an alkyl group or other organic substitute. Not all thiols are the wonderful-smelling compounds currently being discussed in the brewing community. Thiols are the aromatic compounds responsible for the smell of skunks, onions, and garlic, which can be responsible for off-flavors in wine and beer. However, other thiols are responsible for the rich smell of coffee, the brilliant citrusy-funk of grapefruit, and a slew of tropical fruit aromas found in the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, such as guava, passionfruit, and gooseberry. While research is still being performed to optimize the process of getting these thiols into a finished beer, we are beginning to get an understanding of the factors at play. Famously, new world hops such as Citra, Galaxy, Sabro, etc. contain tons of free thiols and produce many of these characteristics in beer on their own, especially when used during or post-fermentation. However, scientists have learned that lightly kilned base malts and certain hops, such as Cascade and Saaz, contain massive amounts of precursor thiols that can be modified into more desirable (i.e. tropical fruit) thiols in the mash through the powerful work of enzymatic activity. Importantly, using these hops in the mash is what exposes them to the enzymes that convert these precursors into these more desirable thiols. Once the thiols are converted, they are still bound to other compounds and need to be released through the biological process of alcoholic fermentation to achieve the desired result. Just as certain hops and malts yield higher levels of precursors, certain yeasts are better at converting these bound thiols into free thiols. Escarpment Labs and Omega Yeast have been hard at work developing exciting new strains of yeast designed to maximize the production of these desirable thiols.
Visually, I love these beers. They pour a glowing hazy orange with a soft white cap that slowly dissipates. I believe the haze will be permanent because the process of brewing raw does not encourage proteins to coagulate and drop out of suspension. There is a consistent light lacing left on the glass as you drink. I did not observe any visual differences between the beer brewed with Arset kveik vs Cosmic Punch.
Aromatically, these beers were quite distinct. The Arset kveik beer has a clean profile, with a strong earthy cedar aroma backed by big lemon and grapefruit citrus notes and a touch of funkiness. The Cosmic Punch version was less earthy but shared the dominant cedar aroma but had a complex of dark/stone fruits accompanied by an interesting berry aroma. Interestingly, the aroma of the Cosmic Punch version was a bit less hoppy.
In terms of taste, these beers are far from your average brew. Following suite with the aroma, the flavor of the Arset version is strongly cedar/pine flavor paired with lemon and grapefruit. Although there was a little “funk” in the aroma, none was presented in the flavor of this beer. The Cosmic Punch beer has an interesting guava/papaya component, as well as some underlying dark fruit/cherry. Both beers are medium bodied, with a relatively thick mouthfeel, likely a result of being protein heavy.
This beer is a nice fall campfire beer, but not one I would drink pint after pint of. It tastes of the woods, and I really like that. That said, drinking trees is probably not for everyone. But, if you enjoy the scents of Northern forests, I fully recommend giving this brew a try! I did not weigh out or otherwise quantify how much cedar I used; however, I probably will next time, just for record-keeping and reference. I might go a little less on the next run, as I feel the strong cedar flavor and aroma was distracting a bit from my fresh hops, which was kind of the point of this particular brew. Now, go fourth and brew Viking beer!
5lbs, 5 oz Mixed fresh garden hops (likely Chinook, Comet, Centennial, & Northern Brewer)
2 cups of hop tea (1 oz Warrior for 10 minutes)
One batch with Yeaster Bunny Arset kveik
One batch with Omega Cosmic Punch
Original gravity: 1.061
Final gravity (Arset): 1.011
Final gravity (Cosmic Punch): 1.012
ABV (Arset): 7.35%
ABV (Cosmic Punch): 7.22%
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