How do you create consistency from seasonal ingredients?

How do you create consistency from seasonal ingredients?

One of the largest challenges a brewer faces is consistency. From raw ingredients to manufacturing practices there are countless ways to create variance, and only one way to make an exact replica. While a small brewpub may be able to embrace batch to batch changes, a production outfit relies upon expected standards for continued success.

Raw ingredients change more than the average brewer realizes; however, vendors work to reduce that impact. Maltsters can modify processing to compensate for agricultural impacts, and hop farmers have been evolving hybrid plants for quite some time. Add to this the ability to create concentrated malt extracts, or iso-alpha hop extracts and you have an even further degree of refinement. To see what is new in the world of hops, be sure to visit Hopsteiner.

It is important to understand the balance between homogenizing your ingredients and embracing limited availability of specialty products. For example, shifting the balance of ripe fruit used in a particular batch can result in a proportional imbalance of the flavor profile. To avoid early spring batches tasting different from late fall batches, create standards for raw ingredients, and set limits for the quantity of production, as to not compromise on quality.

When working with fresh fruits, berries, flowers, or the like, it is especially important to use them at peak quality. These items can deteriorate very quickly if not preserved properly, and flavor is almost always best immediately. Natural enzymes present in these ingredients will aid in their rapid degradation, so slowing reactions is the key to preservation. 

Consider keeping items frozen when possible. Cold temperature will reduce the rate of chemical reactions, slowing the degradation process. Do take care, as freezing organic items will cause any water to crystallize, often rupturing cell walls. Upon thawing certain ingredients can turn “mushy”. Of course, this is not always a negative; Rather, the bursting of cell walls can help release more flavor and aroma into your final product. 
 

Some very popular summer brews include Grapefruit IPA and Mexican Lime Lager. Both of these make use of citrus fruits that are fairly forgiving in their flavor qualities, but this does not absolve them of seasonal changes. To combat this, many larger producers have defaulted to using pre-processed aseptic additions. Check out Aseptic Fruit Puree for some options. These are convenient and easy to use, however they come at a high capital cost.

In most cases, it is not advised to add berries or other raw ingredients directly into, or post, fermentation. Fruit, in particular, is known to have high quantities of wild yeast and bacteria present on the outer surface, which increases the risk of negative impacts. Wine makers use sulfites to combat the microbial concern. Batch processing unique ingredients into a single-season additions offers the ability to blend product with demand. Since long-term stability is always a concern, blending at the point of need reduces the risk of change.

Take raw ingredients and homogenize them as best as possible. Food processors, and industrial immersion blenders make easy work of most items, but some may require more intimate action. Whether a team of six shredding 10kg of copra coconut, or a lone ranger hand zesting 40 pounds of limes, take the time to break-down the ingredient into something that can be titrated in small tests.

In a traditional lime lager, zest the limes by hand and then juice them into a large stainless pot. Hand zesting is preferable, to limit the amount of bitter pith that is included in the mix. Heat the zest and juice together, to a minimum of 165°F, for at least 5 minutes. This will pasteurize the mix, eliminating microbial concerns, but it will also help express some essential oils from the zest. Using a nylon mesh bag will allow for separating the solid particulates, leaving a nice clean juice to work with. Cornelius kegs are a common item around the brewery, and they work great for preserving homemade extracts and juices. Since they do not allow light penetration, UV degradation is reduced to minimal levels, and purging with CO2 will prevent advanced oxidation. From these kegs it is possible to dispense the proper amount of favor, whether it be for a single glass, or a whole vessel. If larger quantities are in order, use a dedicated pressure vessel, sized appropriately (a second fermenter).

Some ingredients are much more difficult to process than fruit juices. Juniper berries, licorice root, orange peel, or heather tips are just a few that can clog up pipework or float on top of your brew. Using a mesh bag in the kettle is a great idea, but you may need to weigh down the bags to keep them submerged during boil. An alternative way to approach these items is to make an extract from them, and add the extraction back to the brew. Licorice root is a pronounced flavor, and it can be quite polarizing. If you are looking to balance complexity with approachability, then an extracted titration may be just the ticket.

Soaking dried licorice root, tea leaves, or cocoa nibs in hot water for extended periods can extract flavor, just as it would in the brew kettle. Adjusting the temperature and time will affect the result of any extraction made, so be sure to set a procedure that produces satisfactory results. Typically, hotter temperatures (over 170°F), run the risk of extracting more tannic material and may result in bitterness or astringency. Similarly, longer soaking times may extract chlorophyll or other undesirable compounds. The best advice is to use the lowest temperature and shortest soak that produces acceptable results.

Creating consistency from anything organic is difficult, and beer is no exception. Seasonal ingredients may be even more prone to variance, but with some critical thinking it is possible to homogenize and stabilize these in forms more favorable to longevity. Wholeheartedly embrace single use seasonal options, but do not “get lucky”. Engineer a plan for success, and execute with precision, in order to make that award winning batch a second time around!
 

Meet the Author

J.D. Angell

Meet the Author

J.D. Angell

After several years of providing hazardous materials training and maintenance for the world's largest brewing facility, JD began home brewing countless varieties of craft beer. Some early success and a detour with industrial scientific research engaged his interests in industrial equipment and complex science, while working at a liquid yeast supplier pointed him specifically towards enzymes. Currently heading Bircus Brewing Company in Ludlow, KY, JD blends contemporary flavors with traditional science and innovative techniques. With over a decade of operational brewing and independent contracting experience across 5 time zones, he has amassed a plethora of knowledge to share with fellow brewers. 

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