Most who know me, know how highly I regard my favorite acre of land in Little Rock: Dunbar Community Garden Project. But, for a refresher for non-Little Rock folk, Dunbar is a sui generis institution. One part typical urban community garden, where neighbors regularly volunteer their time to tend to the seemingly endless chores pertaining to the Garden’s upkeep, Dunbar also partially supports itself by selling its produce at Farmer’s Markets and to local restaurants.
One part animal husbandry farm, complete with (the cutest) goats, chickens, sometimes a turkey or two.
One part apiary.
One part children’s education.
As it adjoins Dunbar Elementary School, teachers bring their students out regularly for lessons on life science including gardening, learning where and how our food comes from, and the importance of our pollinators (bees).
In addition to the above, Dunbar has grown hops for nearly a decade. I have been making local wet hopped beers for about four years now, and Vino’s has used the hops many years before that, under Bill Riffle’s tenure.
In addition to hops, I have used plums in a hefeweizen:
But most recently, I have been all about their pluots.
A pluot is an apricot / plum hybrid fruit tree grown by crossing both species. The fruit retains characteristics of both fruits: tart, tangy, yet sweet as well. Damian Thompson, who runs operations and education outreach at Dunbar, picked and froze pluots all summer in 2015. I got my hands on approximately 46 lbs.
I wanted to really emphasize the fruit in the brew, so I used a very traditional, low hopped, moderately boozy farmhouse style base ale, fermented with yeast Grant Chandler had previously isolated from Dunbar. We brewed his hoppy wild ale when I worked with Damgoode Pies in the River Market, and I harvested and re-used this yeast.
I have been keeping it going ever since, brewing everything from low alcohol hibiscus and orange peel saisons (Aria’s Bier) to traditional farmhouse ales (Dunbar Gardenhouse ale) to stronger, well hopped “super saisons” aged in Chardonnay barrels (Katchiri’s Bier), and at the time of writing, this yeast is fermenting a pear cider in collaboration with Stone’s Throw Brewing. As my favorite style of beer, I have found this wild Dunbar yeast contributes every complexity and nuance of any Belgian style farmhouse yeast I have ever worked with. I have been so pleased with it, I have ditched all other farmhouse strains I had kept going!
Back to the pluots. Rather than “infusing” beer with ingredients, I prefer actually fermenting with them. It might seem pedantic, but as a brewer, my job is to guide fermentation. Merely mixing a beer with an ingredient post-fermentation isn’t in keeping with my brewing philosophy. So, I knew I wanted to ferment the pluots. And I wanted the pluot flavor to really come through. To sanitize the pluots (I didn’t want to brew a sour), I took them home and began to stew them down on my stove.
A few weeks prior, I brewed a batch of our Dunbar Gardenhouse ale (6.0% ABV), our take on a traditional farmhouse saison, fairly simple malt bill and low hopped.
After pluots were stewed and cooled, they were pitted and pureed with the pits saved. We then added the pluot puree into a French Chardonnay barrel that was recently swelled with near boiling water.
We then transferred our Dunbar Gardenhouse beer, unfiltered, into the barrels and unto the puree. Yeast still present in the beer quickly began fermenting the puree in the barrel. Barrel fermentation is an old technique that enhances the barrel wood flavor into the beer. We then simply let the beer condition atop the puree and pits for over 6 months, tasting periodically until we felt the beer contained the appropriate characteristics in balance with eachother: tart, dryness, jammy fruit, oak character, juicy wine aromatics, etc.
Finally, we decided it was ready, and last week we racked a nearly 8-month old farmhouse ale out of its extended rest in barrels. We brought most of it back to a brite tank, where we force carbonated the beer and put into kegs (all unfiltered). We also decided against adding pectinase enzyme. During the stewing process, pectin from the pluot peel is released into solution, and, later into beer. Pectin contributes to a cloudy, hazy beer, and most home brewing or professional brewing books will tell you to always add an enzyme (pectinase) to break down the pectin to preserve clarity. I opted not to do this. In fact I opted not to filter at any stage in this process. I wanted haze. I wanted to preserve every bit of pluot, wild yeast, and barrel flavor. Damian, Chris, and the kids at Dunbar had hand picked every pluot and saved them for me; I wanted this beer to have as much authentic flavor as possible.
I proudly present the final product: Dunbar Garden Wild Pluot Ale!
I have further hand bottled, and bottle conditioned a few cases of this beer and donated them to Dunbar. These bottles will be available at Garden events for a suggested donation of $15 (tax deductible) to the Garden.
We will release this beer, 8 months in the making, May 21st, the night of Dunbar Garden’s Pig Roast Fundraiser. This promises to be a night to remember, with a sit-down dinner in the Garden prepared by local chefs, Catholic High School jazz band and other local musicians, our pluot beer and our farmhouse pear cider! These are the kind of events that create a sense of place in our community, so let’s celebrate! Tickets available here. We can’t wait to see you there! Come have a beer with us in the Garden!