Cherries are a classic fruit to be used in sour beer. Back before brewers made fruit beers, they only made standard beers that were often sour. Bars figured out they could sell more beer if they added fruit to the barrels they got from the brewers. Cherries were one of the first fruits to be used this way. Eventually, breweries figured out that they too could add fruit to beer because their high acid and sugar content makes them a perfect fit for sour beers.
Sweet cherries are usually the first fruit of the season which growers harvest in mid June. They are a firm fruit that is always picked with the stem and they have a great shelf life, which is why you always see them stored at room temperature in grocery stores. However it is this firmness that can cause problems from a brewing standpoint. We like to break the fruit up to allow the yeast to referment the sugars quickly. Sweet cherries were the first fruit we decided to use back in 2014 for Fruit Stand Cherry; we used less than 100 pounds and hand crushing that amount of cherries was not really a problem. However in 2015, we used a few thousand pounds of cherries and used a cherry pitter that pitted 5 cherries at a time. I still have nightmares about how long and miserable this process was! I wanted to experiment with more varieties of cherries and knew we had to find something bigger to process the cherries. I scoured the internet and found a used commercial cherry pitter that could pit over 1,000 pounds of cherries per hour. It was the most expensive item we ever bought at the time and we only use it a few times a year, but the time it has saved us is irreplaceable.
In 2016, we used about a half dozen different sweet cherry varieties. To be honest, I didn’t really notice a truly significant difference in flavor between most of them. The biggest difference for noticed was the farmer who was growing them. Now we work with 2 different growers in Palisade to get Bing cherries. They have an
amazing color and flavor which are what we are looking for when picking a sweet cherry variety for our beer. Another personal favorite variety is Hedelfingin which we hand pick from a small grower in Palisade. It is even darker than most Bing but unfortunately we only get around 100 pounds in a good year. We do have some frozen from this season and I am looking forward to making something special with them this year.
Sour cherries are some of my favorite fruits to work with because the flavors are so unique and their colors are so distinct.
We use three different varieties of sour cherries. Montmorency is the largest variety grown in Colorado and is your typical pie cherry. They have a pink skin and golden flesh but when used by itself it’s tough it get a dark color in the beer. Balaton and Danube cherries have a much darker flesh and skin and can contribute to the color we are looking for in these blends. There is only one farmer in Colorado growing Danube. We handpicked 700 pounds earlier this year and then received a few thousand pounds more later in the summer, almost that farmers entire Danube crop!
Where sweet cherries are picked by hand, sour cherries are unique in that they can be harvested by a mechanical picker. This tractor-like machine moves down a row of cherries grabbing the base of the tree. The machine rolls out a tarp around the tree and then shakes the it for only about 5 seconds to get all the ripe cherries off. The tarp is then rolled in and the cherries fall onto a conveyor on the tractor and dump into a tote with water to reduce cherry breakage and cool them down at the same time. It’s mesmerizing to watch!
Future Cherry Blends
This month we’ll begin to release some of these cherry fruit blends. The first release will be Funky Blender with raspberries and Balaton sour cherries. In November, we will be releasing the Preserves version of this blend. We hope you join us to taste these new cherry beers, check HERE for tickets. As I type this, we’re bottling Funky Blender Preserves with raspberries, blackberries and Danube sour cherries. It’s fire. This one will be released in December most likely. Some other blends I’m thinking of for this winter are an intense four varittal Cherry blend. There are so many options when we get a great crop like this year!
Thanks for reading,