The folks down at Focus on the Beer have started a very cool and interesting program for making beer, Beers Made By Walking. The general idea is as follows: take a walk in your natural surrounding, find an ingredient to use in the beer making process, pick or order the ingredient in question (depending on the circumstances), make a beer using the ingredient, and lastly, enjoy the beer made by walking. Lots of people and breweries have gotten in on this action over the last several months, and now, I am happy to report, New Belgium has joined the fun...
About six weeks ago we took our walk. We have a very good, natural (and edible) landscape on the NBB property, so we decided to walk the grounds. We stumbled upon gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, hops, sage, and other useable plants. All of them seemed great, but when we came upon the lavender and the plums we knew we had a match made in experimental-beer-heaven. I picked and dried the lavender, and we ordered the plum juice as it was late in the season and the birds (plus co-workers) had picked the plum tree pretty clean. I took counsel with plant engineer and brewer, Chris McCombs (AKA Puffy) to help with the recipe (and all the other stuff, like brewing and fermenting, etc...). He thought the plum and lavender flavors would display nicely in a something a bit sweeter, with a very low hop profile. He suggested we brew a bock, so that's what we're doing.
We got the yeast all propped up, ordered the malt bill and called the Focus on the Beer folks to come up and help. They got here last Friday around 11am. We had lots to do. Our plan was to start the brew (mash in), then mince the dried Lavender and brew a tea to add after the boil. Then add the plums, mid-fermentation, to ferment some of the plum sugars, but still leave some fruity sweetness (and highlight the possible tartness). The mash in, boil, and hop addition takes about three hours, and on the new pilot system it's pretty straightforward. In fact, it's kind of anti-climatic. The new system is pretty automated, so no real heavy lifting is required (until the cleaning part). After we got the mash happening we got to the lavender chopping. We were looking at a big paper shopping bag stuffed with lavender sprigs, so it took a while. We got it done though (like a boss). To make the tea we had to weigh out the chopped lavender, separate it into game bags, and put them into hot water, it went well. It was about 12 gallons of tea, tasty, but not too strong. After we were done with the lavender prep, and the mash had moved into the boil, we got down to business on removing the spent grain. This is hard work (the heavy lifting part of the cleaning process), lots of shoveling and garbage can moving around. But it's an important step towards a clean pilot brewery. Then we went in for the tea addition. As the boil finishes, the wort (the malty liquid that will later ferment into beer) is whirl-pooled, to knock out any large particulates, and then sent through a chiller to cool it down from boiling temperatures (before the yeast addition). We added the lavender tea to the wort as this was happening. It went great...
After the chilling and lavender addition, the wort met the yeast in a fermentation vessel, where it will sit for a couple weeks as this (hopefully) delightful lager turns into a (hopefully) delightful lager. But before it finishes we will add the plum juice, about 10 gallons to the 8 barrel batch (a barrel equals 31 gallons (it's a old-tyme beer making measurement)). This addition will happen before the week is out. We want the fermentation to take hold, and remove some of the malt sugars before the plum sugars invade. Then, after the plum sugars invade, and mix up with all the malt sugars, the fermentation will continue, and a (hopefully) an awesome lavender plum bock will be ready to get kegged up.
And speaking of getting all kegged up... This beer is very limited, but it will be made available to the drinking public. A bunch of it will end up at the Focus on the Beer anniversary party happening in early December in Colorado Springs (you should go to that). And the rest will be poured in the tasting room here at New Belgium (a few errant kegs may make their way out, but let's not count on that). So if you are in Colorado you have a pretty good chance of getting some sips, but if not, maybe you should come to Colorado in December for your share of the sips (December is a a beautiful time to visit).
I want to thank everyone from Fous on the Beer for coming up with such a cool program, and also for the awesome execution of said program here at New Belgium. It was a real treat to work with you guys. Speaking of, here they are, in all there bearded glory:
That's it and that's all, I am looking forward to this beer, and thanks for reading (and please go check out Focus on the Beer, and Beers Made By Walking, they are both linked above).