Harvest Ale is Back!
Traditionally, harvest is a time for celebration. To our ancestors, a successful crop meant that they’d have the means to survive the coming winter and the year beyond.
And, let’s face it, there’s no better reason to celebrate than the prospect of survival.
So… we’ll make a beer for that. Why not?
We haven’t brewed our Harvest Ale for over two years: a beautifully complex beer, effervescent and peppery, with a juice-like flavor and a gentle bitterness balancing it out and tying it together.
When it comes to brewing — and don’t be terribly surprised by what we’re about to say — but a Harvest Ale isn’t technically a thing. It’s not an official beer style. You’re not going to find a category for Harvest Ales at the Great American Beer Festival, and no one wakes up in the morning saying, “Hey, I want to brew a Harvest Ale.”
“Harvest Ale isn’t a style,” says Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm, “it’s just what we called it back in the day because of the timing of when it was brewed and that it utilized local hops and grape must.”
Grape must what? Jimmy, did you trail off?
Okay, no. “Grape must” is a thing. A noun. Not a verb. It’s a thing you can touch… and drink.
Must is the freshly-pressed grape juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the grapes. The solid stuff is called pomace, and the rest is called, well, juice.
You must make must if you’re making wine, but you don’t see it in beer too frequently.
“I think it’s funny to note that this sort of experimenting and hybridizing is not something you’ll find in the wine industry,” Jimmy says, “no one there is looking to add beer or barley to their wine to make something new and exciting!”
But, since hops and grapes are harvested around the same time, we decided to brew up a beer/wine hybrid.
We devised a killer Saison-styled recipe with wheat and Pilsner in the malt bill and a generous helping of Hallertau Blanc hops — a newer, German hops variety that has a distinctive white-wine quality to it. Then, just as the yeasties in the brew were settling down and fermentation was almost through, we added a bunch of fresh Merlot must from California.
“The grape juice has a beautifully rich flavor to it,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, “but we add it towards the end of fermentation to retain some of the more delicate aromatics.”
“A local farmer called us up in late August and said he’d have some hops for us,” Brian remembers, “so Hank planned out a beer to utilize these local wet hops. We only got enough hops to use in the hop-back, so Hank decided to let the local hops shine and make this the only hop addition.”
Unfortunately, that brew was lacking some oomph. Fortunately, Hawk Haven called us up and asked if we had any use for their leftover pomace. In those days, we were willing to try just about anything (not a lot has changed, by the way), so we conditioned that beer on the pomace, the result was a nice brew with a subtle vinous essence to it.
The next year, we brewed up the same beer, but our schedule and Hawk Haven’s schedule didn’t align as well as it did the first time around, with the result that the pomace was a little dried out and didn’t give off nearly as much character as the fresh pomace did the year before.
By the time 2015 rolled around, we were scheduling too far in advance to leave the sourcing of the pomace to chance, so we brewed up a Harvest Saison, playing off the French word for season. Brian had been homebrewing a lot of wine/beer hybrids at the time — the original Brian’s Geek Out comes to mind — so we contacted a local wine supply wholesaler and ordered a 55-gallon drum of Merlot juice.
“The beer was well received and I loved how it came out,” Brian says, “and after taking last year off from Harvest Ale/Season, I pushed hard to get it back on the schedule for this year. This year is pretty close to two years ago, but I did make some adjustments based on how the first Harvest Season came out.
“This is a beer a wine or spirit drinker might enjoy as much if not more than your average beer connoisseur,” Brian says.
Jimmy’s enjoyed the experience of brewing this beer. It’s not something he’s had the chance to do before, but he’s been excited about the new endeavor.
“These kinds of beers are a lot of fun to play with,” Jimmy says, “hybridizing the grape juice for various wines, a brewer can play around with different combinations of base beers and grape types to give an extra depth of character to the beer and achieve something unique.”
Be sure to stop down to the Tasting Room to sample this uniqueness. See you there!