foeder

#ABbeer roadtrip: Blindman Brewing

I’m a big fan of hitting the road to visit the many craft breweries scattered throughout Alberta. Such is my belief in the province’s rural beer bounty, that I devoted an article to the subject in the feature coverage of the Alberta Beer Awards I wrote for the Edmonton and Calgary editions of Avenue magazine earlier this year.

A couple of weeks ago, I was extolling the virtues of small-town breweries during a segment on the Palgary Almanac, a show on Calgary’s campus radio station, CJSW, when it struck me: it had been awhile since I’d visited a brewery outside Calgary or Edmonton.

Because it’s our first year living full-time in Edmonton, my wife Lea and I decided to largely stick around this summer to get to know our new city and its environs. With some time off for the both of us last week, we decided to visit Lacombe and Blindman Brewing.

If you’re a craft beer drinker in Alberta, you’ve likely heard of Blindman and you’re familiar with its beer. But visiting a brewery offers so much more: it’s not only a chance to spend an enjoyable day exploring new places, it’s an opportunity to learn a bit more about the beer you’re drinking and the people who make it. A couple of the owners, Hans Doef and Shane Groendahl, were at the brewery the day we visited and both were happy to take a few minutes from their work to chat about what’s been going on. Now, I’ve met both guys on several occasions and Hans saw me come in, but my experience is you don’t have to be a beer writer to experience this kind of hospitality. I make a point of visiting taprooms anonymously and/or unannounced, as a paying customer, and I’ve received the same kind of warm welcome just about every time. Beer people are passionate about what they do and they’re often eager to talk to people who share that passion.

Berliner weisse (left) and strawberry-basil kombucha. My wife Lea doesn’t drink beer so we always appreciate taprooms that offer a variety of alternatives.

The more obvious attraction, of course, is the beer. While it’s always rewarding to try familiar beers fresh and straight from the source, it’s also an opportunity to try small-batch beers that are either exclusive to the brewery or packaged in limited amounts. During our visit, Blindman’s taproom had all four seasonal variations of Saison Lacombe on tap, as well as a Berliner weisse — a tart, low-alcohol wheat beer that’s a great choice for the summer. Fruit additions are common in Berliners, either by putting it in the beer itself or via a flavoured syrup at serving time. Blindman is offering its Berliner with raspberry and passionfruit flavouring. I opted for passionfruit: it complemented the style’s characteristic tartness and mild acidity (which comes from the addition of lactobacillus bacteria to the wort) but the overall impression was bright and refreshing.

Speaking of summer, Blindman’s taproom has not one, but two, patios for enjoying your beer al fresco: one adjacent to the parking lot out front, and a recently-opened deck accessed from a second-floor mezzanine inside.

Salut, Jean! Y’a tu d’la bière icitte?

Keep an eye on Blindman as it expands its work with sour beers, wild yeast strains and various microbiota that go into making complex and unique beers. The brewery recently bought two oaken foeders used to age cognac, which the guys call Jean and Pierre, after a French cooper named Jean-Pierre who repurposed the vessels for making beer. Blindman is also starting to experiment with a koelschip, a traditional broad, shallow vessel that promotes spontaneous fermentation by allowing wild, airborne yeast strains to inoculate the beer as it cools off. (I have more about Blindman’s koelschip program, as well as other breweries working on sour beers in the August issue of Avenue Edmonton. Read it here, or pick up a copy of the magazine at various locations around the city.)

 

 

A beer named Pierre

Blindman Brewing recently released its first beer aged in one of two oaken foeders it bought from a cognac maker in France  — and it did not approach the new venture timidly.

The brewery threw a metaphorical kitchen sink of ingredients into the recipe for Pierre, named in honour of a French barrel maker named Jean-Pierre who repurposed the foeders for making beer. No less than a dozen yeast and bacteria strains went into the beer, along with barley, wheat, rye, oats, coriander, Grains of Paradise and whatever flavours and microbiota have been left behind from years of aging cognac inside the foeders.

The resulting beer is complex — and enjoyable. The two don’t always go hand in hand if all the elements don’t work well together, but here they do.

Pierre poured a cloudy gold, with a hint of coriander in the aroma. The initial flavour and sensations on my palate were bright and lemony. This is one of the tamer (and more pleasing, IMO) manifestations of the wild brettanomyces yeast strain and I feel it’s usually a good complement to the traditional saison yeasts that give the style its characteristic tartness and dryness. There’s a mild peppery quality, either from the yeast, the coriander, the Grains of Paradise — or a combination of all of them. The fact it’s impossible to tell where one starts and another ends shows the brewery had a deft hand with all of them. The oats are there for mouthfeel, giving the beer a bit more softness than typical saisons, which are usually highly carbonated and effervescent. If you put nerdy style considerations aside and just consider whether it’s enjoyable or not, I would argue it is.

Just as “complex” doesn’t always mean “good,” complexity in a beer doesn’t mean it’s unapproachable. There’s a building tartness and some moderate acidity as you keep drinking, but Pierre never tips over into full-on, puckering sourness. I struggled for a good 20 minutes trying to put my finger on how to describe it before the answer emerged from one of the recesses of my addled brain: it’s kind of like the SweeTarts candy I remember having as a kid. (And yes, I mean that as a compliment.) For all Pierre’s stylistic flourishes, it finishes like a solid traditional saison should: dry and dusty.