Not from Concentrate
Apples in a beer. It’s not exactly a novel idea — at least not here at CMBC –, but you don’t see them very often. Apple juice, apple cider — both are a tangy and refreshing treat any time of year, and it gives us a chance to source our ingredients locally from Hill Creek Farms.
That’s why we were all pretty excited when production announced our latest limited release, Not from Concentrate. Not only is it filled with enough apple cider to give you that little tingle at the base of your tongue, but, with the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, you’ll want to curl up under a blanket by a warm fire with this one.
Most breweries tend to stay away from apples, as a green apple is considered an off-flavor in certain beers. Yeast produces acetaldehyde which has a strong Granny Smith-type flavor. In fact, both Devil’s Reach and Summer Catchsuffer from an acetaldehyde bloom towards the end, but we’ll give them a few days to clean things up.
“Believe it or not,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, “there are a few people on the production staff who love these beers in their earlier stages when the acetaldehyde is still present. Devil’s and Summer Catch have this ripe, Granny Smith apple character, and then they like the beers less as that flavor compound is reabsorbed.”
Brian has a hunch that that’s why many breweries stay away from producing beer with apples: they don’t want it to come across as an unintended off-flavor. However, we sort of play into that fact.
“Apple and beer go together pretty well,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “Since some of the flavor compounds in apples are a natural occurrence of fermentation, there’s this pre-existing overlap between the two.”
Regardless of the technical aspects of apples and yeast, we just really like using them in beer.
“The sweetness from apples is different from other fruits,” Jimmy says. “It’s not as saccharine sweet, it’s more subtle and natural. So, whereas something like watermelon or tropical fruits really stand out when added to beer, apple tends to meld a little more with the beer characteristics, resulting in a more homogeneous flavor profile. It’s odd that there aren’t more apple beers because of this, or maybe it is because of it that brewers avoid using apples, generally if we are going to add fruit we want it to really stand out.”
For Not from Concentrate, not only did we want to go after that apple flavor, but we also wanted something a little more autumnal. So, instead of apple juice, we went with apple cider, juice’s tangier cousin. They’re both produced much the same way, but apple juice is filtered to remove some of the solids that are left after processing.
How can you tell the difference? For that, we’ve got to rely on Ned Flanders’ advice: “If it’s clear and yella, you’ve got juice there, fella! If it’s tangy and brown, you’re in cider town!”
For our cider, we contacted our new friends at Hill Creek Farms, an apple farm up in Mullica Hill. Fred Sorbello, the third-generation owner at Hill Creek, has been down on the farm for the past ten years. Before that, he’d built up one of the largest cold storage companies in the world, but, with farming in his blood, he couldn’t resist the lure of the farm.
“I pursued a career in cold storage logistics,” he tells us. “That company became extremely successful, but I felt like where I belonged was back on the farm. I felt like I’d disrespected the family by breaking the chain, and I wanted to get back into it.”
He recreated his father’s farm, Hill Creek Farm, getting into apples and planting an apple orchard. However, farming on its own is tough, and the money isn’t what it was. With the growing surge of agritourism, he knew that’s where the future of the farm lay.
“I didn’t want to just grow and sell produce,” he explains. “We created a you-pick apple farm. With that, we had to create the agritourism aspect of our business: hayrides, room bounces, and activities like that for families. We slowly got into a bakery business, and we bought a cider company in 2011.”
They didn’t buy just any cider company — at the time, Fralinger’s Cider Mill was a 101-year-old South Jersey institution. For years, their name was synonymous with apple cider throughout the area.
In 2016, Hill Creek expanded into farm-to-table dinners with hiring Chef Murray Levin, making the organization more of a full-service farm, providing fresh produce, baked goods, apple cider, and agritainment. As they gained momentum, they diversified into vegetables, now growing 53 types of vegetables and 18 types of fruits.
“The farm is a way to remind us of our roots and where we came from,” Fred says. “The grandkids today, their first jobs will be on the farm. It’s how we remember where we came from.”
At the height of the apple season — ie: right now — Fred sees about 10,000 people come through the farm on any given weekend.
“They like knowing the grower,” he says. “The whole concept of eating local and knowing your grower really focuses on me, Fred Sorbello. I literally talk to almost every customer I have on weekends. I greet them all. I direct them out in the orchards. I answer all of their questions and concerns about herbicides and pesticides and what we’re doing to protect the environment.”
Fred provides cider to a number of wineries and cideries in the area, but Not from Concentrate marks the first time a brewery has come knocking on his door. We talked with Fred about the flavor profile we wanted from the cider, eventually opting for a sweet cider with a bit of tartness to it.
“Every apple has its own flavor profile,” Fred explains. “Granny Smiths, for example, is a sour apple. Crimson Topazes are a tart apple. As far as sweet profiles, you’ve got your super-sweet apples like Red Delicious or your Golden Delicious or a Cameo, and you have your semi-sweet apples like a Fuji, which also has a bit of a tang to it.”
So, once they understood what we were looking for, the folks at Hill Creek created a blend of those apples for us when they make the cider for us.
“It’s just by knowing your apples, and the individual profile of that apple, and then trying to blend it to make the flavor for the customer,” he explains.
For Not from Concentrate, Fred blended four different types of apples: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Enterprise, and Mutsu.
“The Mutsu is a sweet-tang,” he explains, “the Enterprise is a sweet-tart, and the two Delicious are super-sweet. So, we erred on the side of sweet.”
Hank went up to Hill Creek on Wednesday to pick up the cider, and he was thoroughly impressed with the operation there.
“Their cider mill is a cool operation,” he said. “All of the pressing had been done in a cold room, which is what his company used to do, and there were a few people running the mill and running it through the pasteurizer. I went to the farm as well, and they’ve got so many apples — varieties I’d never even heard of. It’s crazy.
“It was great to see how they do things. They’re super enthusiastic about what they do and it comes through in the quality of the cider. You can tell they invested a lot of money into their equipment and the farm. I grabbed some lunch and coffee at their cafe and stopped at the market to pick up dinner as well. It’s a great setup.
“They do it right. They’re exploring some other juices, so I look forward to working with them in the future.”
To say the very least, we got ourselves some extraordinarily fresh cider.
“We crafted the perfect beer to pair beautifully off the custom blend of cider they pressed for us today!” Brian says. “This cider is fresh, like apples-right-off-the-farm-yesterday fresh, and they weren’t finished being pressed until Wednesday afternoon.”
We’re all looking forward to this brew, and we’re sure that you’re going to love it as well, dear reader.
“It was a lot of fun to conceptualize and execute,” Brian says, “so I’m really excited to see it all come to fruition. I still haven’t tasted the final product because the cider is so fresh that we haven’t even blended it into the beer yet. Cellarmen JP and Brad are taking care of blending everything together a few hours prior to canning, so this beer is very farm fresh.”
Jimmy is a fan of apple beers in general
“When we have Apple Bomb or Apple Pie out there, or the number of one-offs we’ve done featuring apples,” he says, “I think people really gravitate to them because they’re unique and oftentimes really refreshing, and Not from Concentrate is no different.”
And this one is rather different from our other apple beers, Apple Bomb and Apple Pie.
“Apple Bomb is actually closer in flavor profile to a cider than Not from Concentrate is,” Brian says. “Not from Concentrate is a spiced, autumnal ale that is subsequently blended with freshly-pressed apple cider from our new friends at Hill Creek Farms.”
Not from Concentrate is truly autumn in a glass. Laboratory Manager Lauren Appleman is really looking forward to this one, and we’re sure it’s not only because her last name is “Appleman.”
“Give me apple cider over pumpkin spice every day of the week,” she says. “The spices in Not from Concentrate are so warming and comforting and the tart apple should complement them perfectly. This beer is different; not quite Apple Bomb, not quite Mop Water, not quite the delicious Apple Pie, either. I’m going to love sitting outside by a bonfire with my friends with this beer in hand.”
A beer is always better with friends, and since it’s prime bonfire weather, you may want to pick up a few of these for sharing. Not from Concentrate is available in the Brewtique beginning at noon on Friday. Don’t miss it!