The Syrup Koan Part 2: Brunch Punch

(Every month we choose a topic in brewing and look at three beers that elucidate different elements of this issue. The first post of the month introduces the topic, and the subsequent three focus on a single beer each. This month’s theme is,The Syrup Koan: Syrups Keep a Beer From Being Syrupy.  This post introduces the beer Brunch Punch.) 

Brunch Punch is an arrestingly different beer, and its unusualness is heightened by the fact that its description might prepare us for a very different beer than the one we get. The notion of multiple honeys and that potpourri of fruit names prepare us for a sweet, possibly viscous, and aggressively fruity beer. This is not a sweet beer, though; it is not viscous whatsoever, to the point of achieving a seltzer-like consistency; and the fruit character is of a muted, paradoxical, almost intellectual quality. The three pronounced features of this beer are a buttery and vegetal character, a fine, high pitched, vague fruitiness, and a pronounced dryness on par with a two year old Orval, though not quite so relentless as that. There is little to no malt or hop presence, to the point that the word “beer” itself is a bit of a red herring.  This radical difference of flavor comes from the peculiar combination of honeys and the yeast used, both of which collaborate to produce the strange “quoted” sensation of the fruitiness.

Though we tend to think of honey monolithically, all you have to do is look at and smell one derived from orange blossoms versus one derived from buckwheat to realize that whatever pollen is used to form this particular baby food for bees has an incalculable effect on the the appearance, aroma, flavor, and texture. This beer has raspberry and blueberry honeys, which partially accounts for the sensation that you are smelling fruits but not tasting them. However the most influential honey seems to me to be the avocado, which has slightly darkened the brew and also lent its buttery and vegetal character. Peabody’s head brewer, Rahul Cherian, tells me they chose avocado honey more for the concept (think avocado toast) than for taste, but the real strangeness of the flavor of avocado honey happily has lent this beer what is perhaps its most distinctive flavor.   

Just as important is the yeast used. The beer is labeled as a “brett ale,” meaning it is fermented with a strain of Brettanomyces, a wild yeast often associated with sour beers.  This label is not strictly speaking accurate. Brunch Punch was actually fermented with a diastaticus variant of Saccharomyces cerevesiae, a yeast which was often confused for Brettanomyces in the past. It behaves almost identically, meaning that it produces a large number of esters, both of the tropical fruit variety and more earthy tones, while also approaching full attenuation, the technical way of saying this yeast eats all the sugars, even dextrins, leaving you with a bone-dry finish if you wait long enough, as well as a sharper body. This beer is a perfect example of the fact that brettanomyces and yeasts which chameleon it are not significant souring agents, but rather something much stranger. This beer was aged for only three and half weeks before canning, but it has a version of the extreme dryness of a two year old Orval, a quality that always feels to me like stepping for a step that isn’t there, as if things have been cut short abruptly. This quality could well increase with time as the bugs slowly eat, since this beer has not been pasteurized.

This dryness is related to the quality I referred to as “seltzer-like.” It is one of the primary pleasures of an Orval. A totally dry beer with limited acidity is at odds with most “wild” beers on the market, in which the acidity and sweetness have both been amplified. Added to the presence of the raspberry and blueberry honeys, this accounts for the other half of the sensation of fruit taste without its sweetness, of fruit merely smelled from a farther room.

I suspected the grain bill and hopping were purposefully self-effacing in order to let the above effects shine brightly, and the brewer himself has told me that he wanted to make no one ingredient the star; it is intended as an ensemble.

Buttery and vegetal elements as well as the slaking seltzer quality make this a very good accompaniment to lighter fare like salads and seafood. The radically light fruitiness and dry precision of the body would also cut nicely through the carbs and fat of Thanksgiving. This is also a nice local and organic alternative to hard seltzers like White Claw, but with a much more individual and complex flavor profile. 

While it doesn’t announce itself as such, this is in many ways a historical reproduction of what most booze would have looked like in the early Middle Ages and earlier: a mix of malt, honey, fruit, and whatever other fermentable sugar is at hand, almost no hop presence, and a ‘wild’  fermentation, or at least one with bugs often disallowed from modern brews. I can promise that you will not taste another beer like Brunch Punch this year. It has the intellectual and emotional sensation of a paradox that drives home a clear meaning.

Similar Beers in Store:  As I said, there really aren’t any beers similar to Brunch Punch, but 2 Stars, Not My Style does combine ‘wild’ fermentation with honey and other unusual fermentable sugars, though for a sweeter and more acidic final product. You could also try one of our Fino or Manzanilla Sherries if you are looking for distinctive yeast character combined with shockingly light body and relentless dryness.

If you try Brunch Punch, let me know what you think in the comments!

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