Brewing Shade the MadTree Way

Gose, a once “dead” German beer style, has been resurrected in recent years with brewers employing wide variety of contemporary brewing methods that have resulted in new interpretations to the classic style. The traditional style calls for salted water, a malt bill that is more than 50% wheat, hops, coriander, and a combination of yeast and Lactic Acid Bacteria from spontaneous fermentation. This produces a crisp, wheat beer with a touch of salinity and a tartness.

Contemporary breweries employ many different methods to achieve a tart characteristic - sour mash with Lactobacillus, adding Lactobacillus to a fermenter, adding acids to a finished product, using acidulated malt, adding tart fruits, or combinations of methods. Modern advances in brewing science, such as using isolated bacteria cultures and food grade acids originating in a lab, take much of the guesswork and mystery out of traditional methods used to sour a beer.

Some view modern methods as a shortcut and an offense to methods employed by the skilled brewers of yesteryear. Whether it be a 1-2 day Lactobacillus culture fermentation or a skillfully designed blend of acids added to a finished beer, modern science provides alternative methods to achieve the desired sour flavor profile in a repeatable and consistent fashion.

In the 1-2 day Lactobacillus culture fermentation, the contemporary brewer uses a scientifically cultured strain, monitors the pH, boils, and completes production as normal. At MadTree, we blend a series of six different acids and add it to the finished beer to achieve a specific flavor profile.

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We certainly respect tradition and all methods of production, but we don’t feel these methods are necessary to achieve the desired flavor profile in Shade, a Gose style ale with blackberries and sea salt. We want the salt and blackberry to lead the way with just a hint of tartness on the end. In fact, Shade would fall on the low end of the acidity scale compared to other popular “American Goses.” While not traditional, this approach employs a great deal of science and sensory evaluation.

When we set out to design a tart summer beer, we researched the complex organic acid profile found in a traditional white wine as a starting point for the flavor we wanted to achieve. The acid blend was developed to complement the flavors contributed by the malt bill, hops, yeast, fruit, sea salt, and water profile of the base beer.

The following acids were used in the blend:

  • Lactic: the primary sour acid produced by lactic acid bacteria, providing the sour taste found in yogurt and other sour beers.
  • Acetic: literally vinegar.
  • Citric: sour acid most prevalent in citrus fruits.
  • Tartaric: usually described as sour patch kids or sweet tarts sour.
  • Malic: sour acid found in warheads and many fruits but is commonly described as a green apple sour.
  • Succinic: the “funky” sour acid, imparting a combination of saltiness, bitterness, and acidity.

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In Shade, we like the way a slight amount of acetic acid plays with the fruit and salt, the tartaric acid provides a slight “shock tart” hit that comes in the finish (and seriously, who doesn’t love sour patch kids), and the malic acid was tempered in order to avoid any confusion with acetaldehyde.

To arrive at the final product, the sensory panel spent about a month evaluating different blends of acids in blind tastings to arrive at a final flavor profile. We recalibrate the profile every season to ensure it still meets changing tastes. This year, we found the sensory panel developed a more refined palate for sour and tart beers than in the past. For this reason, a few key acids were adjusted which we believe helps us better achieve the refreshing and fruity crushability of Shade.

We certainly have respect for all methods of production. We have kettle soured with Lactobacillus and liked the results. We’ve also tasted great Goses and Berliners made by brewers pitching Lactobacillus in a fermentor for a short period of time. And, there is no doubt that we revere the art of blending used to achieve the flavor profiles found in the Funk Series of sour beers that age on combinations of bacteria and yeast in a variety of barrels for up to three years. At the end of the day, the production method chosen by the brewer should match the desired flavor profile and not be beholden to tradition.

This is how we approach every beer. Working to control the results with scientific theory and blind sensory analysis. It is a time-consuming approach that requires careful measurement and skill to get the beer tasting just right. There are no shortcuts using this method.