If you’ve spent any time at all at the Jersey Shore — or, really, any ocean-adjacent seaside town anywhere — you probably know this guy: he’s northward of seventy, he’s spent his life out on the ocean, either fishing or sailing or what-have-you, his beard is the envy of everyone in Z Z Top, and he has a face like an old catcher’s mitt, wizened by the salt air.
And he knows how to tell a story.
And he will tell a story. At length.
And, somehow, each successive story becomes less and less believable, yet they all make him out to be Superman, MacGyver, and Steve Jobs all rolled into one.
That guy is an old salt. And you’re lucky to know him.
Now, we’ve got a beer to honor that guy in your life, and, as a watermelon gose, it’s just as salty as he is.
We’ve been brewing our Watermelon Wheat for the past six years, so we’ve really turned cutting up 2,700 pounds of watermelon into a science. You lob off the ends, slice off the rinds, quarter it, and slice it up. Head Chef JP Thomas has it down pat. Then, we toss all that watermelon into a vat, grab an electric drill, attach a gigantic paddle to it, and turn all that fruity goodness into watermelon juice.
We’ve gone through a few drills, as a matter of fact.
For the past few summers, we’ve done a one-off of our Watermelon Wheat, spiked with lactic acid and sea salt, and it’s been extraordinarily well-received.
“It took the easy-drinking, refreshing nature of the Watermelon Wheat and added these two extra elements that brought it to a whole new level,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink. “So, when we decided to do a fruited gose in the middle of September, we knew we were still in watermelon season, so it was pretty much a no-brainer.”
We haven’t done a gose in awhile — the last purely Cape May gose (meaning, excluding our excellent collaboration with DC Brau) was Salty Lips back in May of 2017. Since goses are kettle-soured, they take a lot of time (and space) to really do them correctly.
“Goses are a lot of fun to conceptualize, to brew, and to drink,” Brian says, “but unfortunately there’s an insane number of other beers that are fun to brew and fun to drink.”
We have a finite amount of space and an infinite number of wants.
“In the summer 75% of our fermentors are filled with IPA and Coastal, with Always Ready, Devil’s Reach, Summer Catch, and The Bog, etc, rounding the other 24.99% of tank space,” Brian says, “so it’s really difficult to fit beers such as goses into the schedule.”
Since we’re in a shore town — and many of our accounts are, as well — our production spikes in the late spring and throughout the summer, then settles back to breathable levels after Labor Day.
“We brewed 7 days a week this summer,” Brian says, “with some ridiculously long days in there every week, so to tie up the brewhouse long enough to do a proper kettle sour just wasn’t an option. It’s slowed down enough where we can start adding these fun beers back into the schedule, and we have the time to do a kettle sour now.”
A kettle-soured beer ties up a lot of equipment for quite a bit longer than a regular brew. It’s brewed like any other through the end of lautering — that’s where we separate the spent grain from the liquid wort. We’ll heat it up to pasteurization temperatures, then transfer it to the whirlpool as usual.
“And then it gets a little weird,” Brian says.
Usually, we’d knockout the wort through the heat exchanger into a fermenter, bringing it down to the proper temperature for the yeast to ferment. For a kettle sour, it goes from the whirlpool, back into the boil kettle for up to eighteen hours, then boiled. At that point, we add hops and whirlpool it again, and then finally into a fermenter.
During the boil, it’s time to add the last element of a gose: the salt. And we don’t use just any salt — we like to keep local, so we use only the finest Cape May Sea Salt.
“It’s harvested from the waters just off Cape May,” Brian says, “so it really doesn’t get much more local than that — which is always exciting — but, honestly, it’s just really awesome salt. It has large chunks, a great minerality, and it pairs perfectly with our water profile, so it just makes too much sense not to use it.”
“Once it goes back into the boil kettle for the second time,” Brian says, “instead of pitching yeast, we’ll pitch a lactobacillus culture to do the souring. Once we’re finished knocking out to the kettle we’ll seal it up and play the waiting game.”
The next morning, we’ll come in and check our levels — pH and gravity — to see what’s changed since the previous day, and we’ll do some sensory tests.
“If it’s not sour enough we’ll let it roll a little longer,” Brian says. “If it tastes off — butyric acid is the usual culprit here — we’ll cut our losses and dump the batch. These aren’t flavors that might age out or can be masked or any bad practice like that: the only place for an ‘off’ batch is down the drain.
“Assuming it has a nice pH drop and tastes clean,” Brian continues, “we’ll proceed as any beer would — bring it to a boil, add hops, boil, whirlpool, knockout to a fermenter, and a week or two later we’ll have a deliciously refreshing tart/sour beer!”
The rest of the recipe — pilsner and wheat in the malt bill, Bravo on the hops side — tries to stay out of the way of all of the amazing other flavors in the beer.
“It’s a very typical gose recipe,” Brian says, “which also happens to be one of our very typical fruit base beers’ recipe. Wheat for body and a touch of bready depth, a clean bittering hop, and our neutral house ale strain to really let the fruit and sour salinity shine.”
Then, in the very final step, we add all 2,700 pounds of now-liquefied watermelon, turning the entire thing a lovely shade of watermelon pink. The result is delightfully crisp, mouth-puckeringly tart, and intensely refreshing, with a wave of sweet and tempting watermelon to remind you that summer isn’t over just yet.
“I’m glad we’re getting another kettle-soured beer out there,” Brian says. “We’ve been doing them since April of 2014, and we’ve definitely started to gain some street cred for our sour program.”
Old Salt releases from the Tasting Room on Friday. Swing down and let us know what you think!