Blending Beers with De Garde Brewing

When Sarah Pederson, Ryan Geise and I sat down at De Garde Brewing’s tiny tasting room in  Tillamook to create a beer for the 2018 Portland Farmhouse and Wild Ale Festival, we had a strong suspicion Nectarines would be involved. Like many of De Garde’s beers, they had sourced some amazing fresh peaches and nectarines that summer and two of the base beers with those fruits were showing quite a bit of promise and we liked the idea of Nectarines as they are underutilized in beer. Like many of De Garde’s fruit beers The Nectarine Cuvée starts with a base grist of similar proportions set out in a shallow coolship vessel to cool inside of an open door where it hopefully will pick up enough fonta and flora of the coastal and farmland air to spontaneously ferment.

The Nectarine Cuvée is the official beer of the 2018 Portland Farmhouse and Wild Ale Festival that will be held this weekend March 23-25th at Saraveza. The beer was based on a unique blend with primary contributions of fruit and gin and multiple aging periods. Inspired by the traditional Lambic’s of Belgium, but not exactly emulating them, De Garde Brewing sets out to make a sour style native to the Oregon coast.

The base beers for De Garde’s “The” series of beers start with a grist of 57% Northwest grown and malted pale barely and 43% Northwest grown unmalted wheat. The beer is lightly hopped with Cascade and Willamettes that have been aged for atleast three years.  So far that’s a fairly classic way of producing Lambic in Belgium but utilizing local ingredients and owner/head brewer Trevor Rogers says that “we do not believe that exactly emulating a specific recipe from a European producer will provide for the best beer in a quite different locale.”

De Garde’s Trevor Rogers (right) mixes a new blend of beers as Ryan Geise (left) of Saraveza watches.

When we set out to creating what would become our official 2018 Farmhouse Fest beer, Rogers had already indicated he was impressed with an unfinished Nectarine sour ale and it was quite good with it’s unmistakable sour-bitter fruit skin character. Rogers brought out a variety of beers with different fruits, spices and barrels in which to go any number of directions. I have found that most brewers/blenders who do this frequently have their own methodology and theory to blending. Trevor’s says his technique is to “go in looking at barrels that have been maturing for a minimum of one year, and for fruit beers target an average age of all the barrels of closer to two years.” The reason for this being that it’s often an optimal time for funky yeast/bacteria character, nuanced barrel character and fruit flavors to have begun to develop now but will likely mature and develop even further in bottles. Rogers finds that the sweet spot is an average of 20-28 months in oak but that they are still regularly surprised by the results from barrels. Wild living organisms from the air and that live in oak are tricky and unpredictable.

The nectarines themselves were sourced from local Baird Family Orchards and like most stone fruit, De Garde processes it by waiting until  the fruit is perfectly ripe and then halving each and removing the pits from half of the fruit. The fruit and the remaining pits are then added to barrels of beer that has already been fermented in oak tanks for just under two years prior to the fruit addition.

In attempting a specially unique beer we decided to take the base Nectarine wild ale and brighten it up further with a spice quality from gin barrels sourced from nearby Ransom Spirits.

Ryan Geise and Sarah Pederson of Saraveza sampling from barrels and blends at De Garde Brewing

“The Nectarines provide a beautiful sweet and floral bouquet, complementing the spicy nature of the Gin barrels.”

The final product is a mix of new and old. “we find that long term aging provides the best expression, whereas Gin barrels from Ransom give us most of their character in the first 3-6 months in our experience. ”

After sitting in the gin barrels for another three months, The Nectarine Cuvée was transferred into a blending tank where the brewers added some Candy Syrup to kickstart a tiny fermentation in the bottle and naturally carbonate the beer. The Nectarine Cuvee blend was of only one Ransom Gin barrel yielding just slightly more than twenty cases of beer, all of it in bottles sold at the Portland Farmhouse and Wild Ale Festival this weekend.

The final product? “The beer displays a beautiful sweet and floral nectarine aroma, deftly balanced by the botanical Gin contribution for a sweet and spicy combination” says Trevor Rogers. “The beer is quite dry, with a soft carbonation allowing the balanced acids to round out the flavor profile fo fruit, delicate oak and funk.”

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

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