I thought it would be good to kick off this blog with the market description I wrote for this beer, and then break down some of the finer points.
Nothing says “Let’s celebrate America” like taking German stuff and making it better. In the spirit of celebrating American freedom and independence we took two perfectly fine styles of German beer, Berliner Weisse and Kolsch, and smashed them together. Watermelon and 4th of July are interchangeable terms, so we couldn’t resist inviting it to the cookout. The result is an incredibly refreshing and crushable concoction that screams, “Beach Beer!”
Berliner Weisse is a traditional German beer that goes back a few centuries. It is usually in the low 3’s for alcohol content and made from malted barley and wheat. It is often highly carbonated and served with various fruit syrups. The other distinctive characteristic is the slight sour tang from lactic acid produced by lactobacillus. In modern brewing there are several options for achieving this lactic profile. You can obtain or culture a yeast mixture that includes a blend of regular saccharomyces yeast and lactobacillus and pitch this into the fermenter for the primary fermentation. You can take a similar approach but do the fermentation in two steps: first with saccharomyces, arresting the ferment with a certain amount of sugar left, separating the beer from the primary yeast, then engaging in a secondary ferment with lactobacillus. If, like me, having live lactobacillus cultures promoted in your main fermenting vessels gives you anxiety attacks of the first order, then you can engage in kettle souring. This is where you create a mash and let it sit warm in the brew kettle overnight while lactobacillus does its work. When you reach the appropriate pH drop (sour comes from acid), you boil the mash to kill the bacteria, then transfer the sour mash back to the mash tun for a proper mash and when you gather the wort for the batch it includes the lactic acid produced by the lactobacillus. For this method you need certain pieces of equipment in your brewhouse- pumps that can transfer solids between vessels, and a kettle that has the appropriate heat source.
At K4, I am not willing to put mass amounts of lacto in my primary vessels, and we lack the proper brewhouse equipment and the time to let the sour mash occupy the brewhouse equipment. We engaged in the third road of options: a faux sour mash. Some maltsters make an “acidulated malt”. I do not know how they do it, but it incorporates lactic acid. Normally we only use it for small mash pH adjustments. For AAF we used quite a large portion to really drop the pH. We learned that using that much can cause some technical difficulties- but that’s how you learn. We will adjust for the next time. A second step to the faux sour mash is to add food grade lactic acid (like we use to adjust our brewing water) to the beer in the fermenter or the finishing tank. We did not do the second step this time as I liked where the tartness was and I thought any more would not work well with the watermelon.
The second part of the AAF equation is the Kolsch. Kolsch is a traditional German style of beer from the Cologne region that is lower in alcohol content. It is an ale, which means a top-fermenting yeast that typically ferments at higher temps (around 65F). What makes this style special is that Kolsch yeast happily ferments and conditions at lager temperatures (55F). The recipe is typically just light and clean pilsner malt. The result is a very clean experience.
America AF utilizes a Berliner Weisse grain bill and incorporates lactic acid for a pleasant tang and was fermented and conditioned with Kolsch yeast at lager temperatures. We used watermelon concentrate from a company that holds a patent on the processing of watermelons that captures the true essence of fresh watermelon. The result is something very special. Clean grain profile with very little hops, and a pleasant background tang that perfectly counterpoints sweet fresh watermelon. I have never brewed a Kolsch or Berliner Weisse before, nor have I worked with watermelon in my brewing career. I was nervous about this idea, and not even fully sure what the result was going to be. I am blown away. I would love to put this beer in tall boy cans and pound them on the beach while getting my butt kicked in the volleyball court.
My first idea was to make a red, white, and blue….berry ale for the 4th of July. I was going to do watermelon, white grape, and blueberry. When I mixed all three flavors together it tasted great but looked like disgusting grey waste water. I also found myself simply rooting for the watermelon to win out, so we went with just watermelon. That beautiful green and red melon can be found at just about every Independence Day celebration, and certainly has been at every party I have attended. Watermelon did not originate in North America, but I feel it is quintessentially American. Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with some outstanding German folks in the brewing industry. They are always consummate professionals, and I love working with them. If you get to really understand some nuances of German culture and language you could hear in your head a Deutschland-er saying, “Berliner Kolsch? This is not possible.” The cartoon playing in my head makes me chuckle and want to attempt the beer just so I can make the situation exist in real life. So, what could be more appropriate for the 4th than using watermelon while brewing a beer that will make a German colleague say, “What are you crazy American brewers doing??!” What are we doing? What we always do: be awesome!!