Fermentation Friday - 99% pit-free
Admittedly, the answer to this month's homebrew carnival question didn't come quickly or easily for me, something that's difficult to admit as being quick to respond with no shortage of verbosity is the way things are expected to work around here. Digging back through the history of my more creative creations unearthed a series of recipes that revealed I wasn't quite as weird with ingredients or techniques as maybe I'd like to appear, the anarchic individualist improvising artiste to which I aspire. After looking at logs that revealed inclusions of sweet gale, an attempt at decoctions, a locally-picked fresh hop pale ale, and the odd bit of cacao nibs, it was pretty clear that whenever I'd tried to inspire a "whazzis!?" moment in my guinea pig tasters, my formidable brain trust was going to do it through more or less traditional means: extreme fermentation temperatures, oddball grain bills, and esoteric packaging matched with laser light shows synced to the music of King Crimson.
Last week, while dining with my sister-in-law, she commented out of left field, "Mom didn't really understand when you put her cherries in your beer." That's when the proverbial lightbulb went up: To this day, it's safe to say that my mother-in-law probably still doesn't comprehend why I wasted a perfectly good jar of her brandied cherries on a batch of homebrew. My contribution to Fermentation Friday (the brainchild of Beer Bits 2, this month kindly hosted by Travis at CNYBrew.com) was written before I even touched the keyboard.
Backing up... Flathead Lake hosts a local cherry appellation that's an understandable point of pride. Sweet, floral, and late in the season, they're also collected annually by the in-laws in the vicinity of their home in northern Montana and transformed, with the aid of an almost trustworthy pitter in the hands of my father-in-law and the cooking and canning guidance of my mother-in-law, into jars of maroon gold: brandied cherries. Understand, as we're talking about a process that's as involved and time-consuming as, say, homebrewing, they're quite the valued commodity, doled out sparingly to family members deemed worthy of appreciating the fine art of capturing the ephemeral essence of peak season cherries in little time capsules to be enjoyed when the shorter days of winter don't provide.
We all see where this is going, right? Here's the point at which we can divide the readers into two camps: those who see adding these cherries to a batch of homebrew as either as act of love and respect or as a reckless, wasteful sacrifice.
When Des and I discovered we'd be welcoming the arrival of a new member of the household back in 2006, it wasn't long before the brewer brain started pondering the best way to commemorate the occasion. I wanted a beer for sipping, something that could be slowly enjoyed while it aged, to be paired with long, quiet evenings in the rocking chair spent trying to figure out this whole parenting thing. But it also needed to have some soul, some deeper connection. Some heredity, as it were. One barleywine base recipe, some lightly charred oak chips, and one coveted jar of Patty's brandied cherries later, a singularly special, if not rather unconventional, beer was created in honor of this next mysterious chapter of our lives.
And it was good.
PS The recipe as I posted it two weeks before Mia was born doesn't even reference anything about the backstory here, which is interesting in retrospect. Was I so superstitious about talking about Mia before she was born that it warranted being entirely circumspect about the recipe's origin? Why all the shy roundabout "shucks golly" explanations about why I really brewed it? Nothing like discovering proof in your own writing that illustrates the levels of denial you go through in the moments leading up to an enormous, inevitable life change, eh?