These foraged brewers aim to make truly local beers

beer quest

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Jimmy Mauric, head brewmaster at Shiner Beer, has loved blackberries since he was a kid. “They were very plentiful and grew wild on fences, creek bottoms and railroad ditches,” says Mauric, who used to forage for the berries, which are related to blackberries, in his hometown of Shiner. , Texas. “These berries were a real treat to nibble on, and most importantly were the blackberry cobblers and the ice cream mom made with them.”

When he and his team at Shiner Beer were trying to think of new flavors and styles with a strong sense of place, he kept coming back to those picked blackberries.

“Nothing gets more local than blackberries,” says Mauric. “They are literally in our backyards. So when we were developing Weisse N Easy at our pilot brewery, we just went out in the field and picked enough blackberries for the beer.”

Easier said than done. Several issues, including seasonal variability, came to light during the production process. Shiner had to find a larger source to keep the product consistent and profitable. “We can spend a lot of time picking blackberries. With the volumes we need, we have to outsource larger quantities. We reached out to Brazos River Provisions and they were able to meet our needs just over 50 miles from our brewery.”

Shiner is one of several breweries across the US that use local and seasonal ingredients like dandelions, blackberries, and elderberries to make their beers. But there are all sorts of challenges, brewers say, to incorporating responsibly harvested ingredients consistently and on a large scale.

Shiner Beer
Photo courtesy of Shiner Beer

The search for ingredients has been a part of brewing for centuries, and some historians theorize that fermentation was discovered while foraging for wild grains during the Epipaleolithic era. Gruit, one of the first beers in Europe in the Middle Ages, was full of forage plants like bog myrtle, yarrow, bog rosemary, and heather. A long-standing tradition among indigenous communities and cultures around the world, foraging has more recently emerged as an industry trend, according to food and beverage analysts. Increasingly, they say, home cooks eager to connect with their food sources and the great outdoors have embraced the activity.

Nick Callaway, owner of the Ahnapee Brewery in Algoma, Wisconsin, began foraging for food out of a desire to spend time outdoors with his brother. One spring, when they were looking for mushrooms, he had the idea of ​​adding morels to the stout that was in progress at the brewery. That beer, Fun Guy, launched in 2015 and became such a hit that it’s been in their seasonal rotation ever since.

While working on the first 100-gallon batch, Callaway quickly discovered the many challenges of brewing with forage mushrooms.

“Our first batch was dry-hopped with mushrooms. When you’re picking things up off the ground, you wash them the best you can, but they’re from the ground,” she says of the need for completely clean ingredients.

Consistency was another concern. “Those mushrooms you picked today? They will have a certain amount of moisture. Two days later you can go pick more and they won’t have the same amount of moisture.”

Callaway ended up working with a local supplier to source Wisconsin-grown mushrooms and changed their brewing process to add them at the end of the boil instead of during dry-hopping. That way, she could make sure they were thoroughly sanitized.

In Brattleboro, Vermont, Hermit Thrush Brewery production manager and brewer Nate Scull and his team see themselves as stewards of nature through their beer. Since its founding in 2014, the brewery has specialized in barrel-aged and sour beers, using wild-harvested yeasts.

Photo courtesy of Hermit Thrush Brewery

“Some of the beers we brew come from orchards, [others] by the creek and sometimes we just open the cellar door and do a coolship, which is a way of harvesting wild yeast,” says Scull. He then adds it to the word, or unfermented beer, for a truly unique flavor that only nature can create. “It is harvested purely from the wind. It’s not just about using wild ingredients, it’s about using biology collected from the wild.”

One of the biggest challenges for the forge isn’t just scalability, Scull says, but also how it’s harvested. “If wild harvesting can’t be done ethically, it doesn’t work for brewing.”

Harvesting involves ethics, including a code of conduct that says you shouldn’t take more than 10% of what you find. “Otherwise, you’ll end up with a crop of something they need; they too have a right to exist,” Scull says of wild ecosystems. So finding the right amount to use or the right amount to use and harvest ethically can be challenging.”

Another challenge of brewing with wild ingredients is the occasional lack of laboratory data. There may not be any applicable literature on these wild ingredients, Scull says, or all you can find is outdated information from the 18th century.

“So you really have to experiment, and that comes with risks,” says Scull. “You don’t know if this ingredient, when boiled, has a really astringent taste or a really beautiful taste.” Also, some plants can affect bacteria and, if used incorrectly, make beer not sour.

As a result, the Hermit Thrush team painstakingly researches each ingredient and produces their beers made from foraged ingredients in small batches.

For forage brewers, it’s well worth the extra effort to create beers with strong ties to their places of origin. These beers are special even if it takes more legwork to produce them, or in some cases especially because of the extra work they require.

“Let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun looking for food,” says Scull. “When we go looking for spruce tips for a beer, it feels like a vacation.”

Do you want more Thrillist? follow us instagram, Twitter, pinterest, Youtube, Tik TokY Snapchat!

Stephanie Gravalese is a contributor to Thrillist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *