We’ve only made a beer that was actually called an IPA once in our nearly three-year history. Until now.
As you’ve probably noticed by now, we really like making fruit beers.
We’ve used everything from apricots to blackberries to Buddha’s Hand citron in our brews, but every June we go back to one of our favorite ingredients: Cherries.
The timing is no accident. We brew our Cherry Sour especially for the San Leandro Cherry Festival. If you’ve spent much time in San Leandro, however, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not exactly overrun with cherry orchards. So, why a cherry festival?
This celebration is a relic from San Leandro’s early agricultural days, when one of the top crops grown in the city was--wait for it--cherries. 1909 was an especially fruitful (pun definitely intended) year for cherry growers, and the city decided to celebrate with cherry-centric festivities. On June 5, 1909 the very first Cherry Festival was held. 25,000 people flocked to San Leandro from all over the Bay Area, and 15 tons of cherries were given away to festival-goers.
The fest was such a hit that the city did it again over the next couple years. By 1912, there were 75,000 people in attendance.
In the 1950s, the cherry orchards were replaced by neighborhoods and industrial parks to accommodate San Leandro’s growing population and booming manufacturing industry, but the annual Cherry Festival remains as a reminder of San Leandro’s agricultural roots (pun still intended).
We brew the Cherry Sour (not to be confused with our barrel aged Cherry Red) not only as a nod to our hometown fruit festival, but to create a beer that is super refreshing in the summer months. It’s tart, juicy, and fruity, big on flavor but light enough for warm days. Think flavors along the lines of cherry lemonade.
It’s worth noting that it’s very different from a Belgian-style kriek (pronounced “creek”). Sure, both Cherry Sour and typical krieks are sour beers with cherries, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Krieks are traditionally spontaneously fermented (brewers don’t pitch yeast, and instead let the wild yeast and bacteria in the brewery do their thing) and oak aged. Young and old beer is blended to create a light and effervescent, almost champagne-like, brew with characteristic Belgian funk and earthiness.
Cherry Sour, on the other hand, boasts a richer malt bill with caramelly malts. It’s also soured in the kettle instead of a barrel, like goses or Berliner Weisses, for a cleaner type of tartness than found in Belgian sours.
So if Cherry Sour isn't a kriek, what is it? Well... It's delicious, whether or not it neatly fits into a style description.
Yes, we are beer people first and foremost. But let’s talk about cocktails for a minute.
When we were lucky enough to inherit some barrels that previously held 209 Distillery’s gin, it took a little time to decide what we’d fill them with. There was only one beer style that immediately came to mind that matches gin’s junipery flavors, and… well, we made that too (link to Sahti post). But we had six barrels to fill and a hankering to do some experimenting, so we looked to our favorite cocktails for inspiration.
The top of the list was the Aviation.
This cocktail was all but forgotten until recently, thanks to a turbulent (pun definitely intended) history. The Aviation recipe was first published in the last US cocktail book before Prohibition ruined the party. According to Hugo Esslin, head bartender of the Hotel Wallick, a proper Aviation is:
1 ½ oz El Bart gin
¾ oz lemon juice
2 dashes maraschino liqueur
2 dashes creme de violette
We’ve added cherries and citrus to several of our beers, and we made several batches of Hibiscus Saison last summer so adding flowers to beer wasn’t completely uncharted territory for us. So we decided to go for it and brew our own version of an Aviation.
Aviato is a light wheat beer, with lactobacillus added to the gin barrels for the slight, clean tartness. We added the rest of the ingredients over the seven months this beer spent aging--cherries, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and finally, violets.
The finished beer is slightly tart, lemony, botanical, and… Well, a little weird, but in a really good way. While bourbon barrel aged beers tend to be heavy on the whiskey, the gin’s presence is much more subdued, balancing the tart and fruity flavors instead of dominating them. This makes for a delightfully light and drinkable barrel-aged brew.
It's not exactly the same as a cocktail, but it's pretty damn close.