About a month ago, I ran into Josh Hardin at Vino’s; he imbibing, I brewing. Hardin came from his family’s fifth-generation farm in Grady, AR and has started a new organic, sustainable farm in Sheridan, Laughing Stock Farms. Josh and I met years ago one night under Bernice Gardens where we were pouring our wet hopped pale ale with hops from Dunbar Community Garden Project for Southern farmers involved in the Sustainable Agriculture Workers’ Group. Little Rock was the host that year, and as luck would have it, Dunbar’s hops came on spectacularly; it was a treat to share our locally hopped pale for a bunch of hard working farmers! I digress. Josh had mentioned he had a previous cask of the Citrus Ginger Wheat I did a while back and wondered if I might be interested in sourcing the ginger from him. I was interested, didn’t get his information, and as happens, that idea just kind of fell through the cracks…until I saw Josh at Vino’s again recently.

He mentioned he was soon to harvest his new baby ginger crop of “Big Kahuna” ginger and would love see some of it put to use in a Moody Brews creation. As it happened, he was also pulling a second harvest off his Black Diamond watermelons–I asked for both, not exactly knowing what I would do with them but knowing I wanted to work with them. About a week later, I get my ginger and watermelons.

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Baby ginger is much more delicate and less fibrous than what we normally find in the grocery store.

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Arkansas Black Diamond watermelons from Hardin Family Farms

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We received about 200 lbs of watermelon and about 7 lbs of ginger root in all. I had to hide them in the grain room to keep staff from getting into them! I had asked the staff what beer style they wanted to see out of the produce: wheat base, farmhouse base (always my pick), or IPA. Staff overwhelmingly chose an IPA.

The day before brew day, I began to prep the watermelons and ginger. Prepping produce for a brew is nothing new to me, but it should be noted the difference between adding extract and using fresh ingredients in brewing. Most times when a customer sees a fruited beer, they think of real fruit being added to the beer. In truth, many breweries are adding cans of pasteurized pureé (at best) or synthetic extract (at worst) to the beer. They do this for good reason: it’s a pain in the ass to process real fruit, real fruit spoils, real fruit is expensive, and you have to add a lot of it to come through in the finished product. It’s much easier to pour a pre-processed can into your fermenting beer, easier still to add faux-fruit-flavor at bottling. The problem is neither of these methods reveal the nuance of the fruit itself. It’s either homogenized or it’s candy-like/fake. I have used both in the past and have not been as pleased with the result as using the real thing, especially when it’s a product that grows so well locally. One of my guiding principles in brewing is using my trade to create a sense of place in my community, in my state. It’s far from a novel concept, indeed I’ve been doing it most of my brewing career, but it’s also how I can differentiate my brand. Anyway, back to the produce, man…

Prepping the ginger was easy. We rinsed the ginger well and ran it through a food processor to mince it. Watermelons were more involved. I knew I needed a lot of watermelon for it to come through in the beer since they are relatively dilute in flavor. I set up a makeshift station in the brewery and began removing fruit from rind.

I needed to separate pulp from juice because I didn’t have fermenter space for beer plus pulp of 15 watermelons. To purée all that watermelon, I initially thought to use a paint mixer/drill combo (a chef had given me advice on that) until I realized we had a cheese grater adapter for the Hobart© here at Vino’s.  So we ran the pulp through that, gallon by gallon, until we had about 20 gallons of purée. You can check out the video of the process on my instagram post (I was pretty excited about the idea, and it worked!).  We then poured the pureé into a bucket with cheesecloth, where we strained the juice by hand. We yielded nearly 1 gallon per melon, which I thought was pretty efficient and a testament to Josh’s farm–those melons were juicy, yo!

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Beautiful Hardin Family Farm Black Diamond Watermelons.

Once processed, we brewed the IPA. I made a unique recipe for this batch, heavy in malted white wheat, low in caramel malt or specialty grains. I wanted a dry base to allow the watermelon and ginger to come out on the palate and not be hidden behind sweet malt. I used only two varieties of hops, El Dorado and Citra with large doses in the whirlpool and as a dry hop. I placed the ginger in a hop sack (kind of like a cheesecloth) and dumped it in boiling wort to sanitize before hanging in the fermenter. Upon flameout, I dumped all 15 gallons of watermelon juice in the kettle, wanting to preserve as much flavor and aroma as possible (but also needing to sterilize the juice). Adding that much watermelon juice diluted the gravity of the wort just a bit, ending at 1.060 SG, yielding a 6.6% ABV brew.

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A few days ago, I tasted the beer out of primary fermentation (about 1 1/2 weeks on) at 66 degrees F. I was pleased with the nuanced layers of wheat, juicy hop, yes watermelon, and slight ginger on the back of the tongue. I hope you will be too. I can’t wait to see how those flavors hold up when the beer is cold, carbonated, and conditioned.

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We will release this beer first at a tap takeover event at Skinny J’s in Argenta this coming Thursday, Sept. 8th, 6-9pm. We will be pouring our Cuban Pull, a cuban coffee inspired brown ale, along with Vino’s Pulaski Pilsner, a Czech-style Pilsner at the event. Only about 110 gallons were made of this, so plan on coming to Skinny J’s or Vino’s soon: we’ll have it on tap at Vino’s beginning Friday, Sept. 9th.

arkansas, Beer, brewing, craft beer, farm to table, Little Rock, local food

No cans, no extract: on prepping and brewing a fresh watermelon ginger IPA

crafting a locally sourced watermelon ginger IPA

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