Big Ditch Brewing Company will feature a beer than was made well before the brewery opened. The beer, “Bidwell Wild,” may be the first example of a beer produced with native yeast and bacteria purposefully collected from Western New York.
“Over a year before we opened our brewery, we had a chance to perform a homebrew demonstration at the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market," said Matt Kahn, co-founder and president of Big Ditch Brewing Company. "We were promoting our yet-to-open brewery, as well as providing some education to marketgoers about the brewing process."
At the Farmers Market, Kahn and head brewer Corey Catalano conducted an experiment.
“We collected about five to six pounds of ripe, bruised fruit from farmers and used it as a source of wild yeast to kick-start fermentation," Kahn said. "Wild yeast typically lives on fruit and plants and occur naturally in the environment."
"These yeasts work similarly to brewing yeast but tend to yield a taste that is different and more complex. To be honest, I thought there would be equal chances the beer wouldn’t ferment, would turn into a vinegary diaper bomb or may be drinkable after a long, long time."
Kahn and Catalano pitched the fruit into their demonstration beer. They tossed in a mélange of peaches, blueberries, gooseberries, raspberries, pears, nectarines, plums and grapes into two batches brewed on different days.
Kahn detailed the concept for the beer in a blog post titled “Latest and Greatest," published on Aug. 27, 2013. After two days, there was evidence of growth on the surface of the beer in the form of a pellicle - a membrane that covers the surface of many naturally fermented beers. This was an indicator that Western New York wild yeast was growing and fermenting in the nascent beer.
“I tasted the beer a week after I saw activity and it was tasting like a young red wine with a lot of funk taste thrown by the wild yeast,” said Kahn.
Batch one was brewed on Aug. 3, 2013. On Sept. 21 of that same year, Kahn and Catalano returned to the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market to brew batch two. “We hoped to blend the two batches and serve this beer to the farmers that provided the fruit and yeast, even if this took three years.”
Kahn and Catalano tasted the two batches about every three to six months following the initial fermentation. “After six months, the beer had a lot of character, quite fruity and funky, but still tasted sort of young, without a lot of depth,” Kahn said.
“After another year, however, the bacteria went to work and added quite a bit of acidity. We aged the two batches another six months, then blended the two batches and bottled them.”
At noon April 9, Bidwell Wild will go on sale. But don’t expect this beer to taste like Low Bridge, Hayburner, Excavator or any other Big Ditch staple. “This is a wild and sour ale, often characterized by the following terms: horsey, leathery, cheesy and acidic,” said Kahn.
“This beer is not an India pale ale. It is certainly not a lager. It is a very complex beer with a number of unique flavors. It is much more like a wine than a beer.”
“This is an experiment," Kahn continued. "That being said, it’s an experiment gone right. The biggest problem with this experiment is that we never thought it would actually work. We only brewed eight gallons of it."
Big Ditch will be selling a very limited amount of this beer. On April 9, it will have 50 16-ounce bottles for sale for $16 each. About 150 samples of Bidwell Wild will be served as 1-ounce pours for $1 each.
Big Ditch plans to brew more wild yeast experimental beers at future Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market events later this year.
Kevin Wise, Ph.D. is a professor of Biology at Trocaire College who maintains a blog on beer science and beer reviews and can be reached at: www.buffalobeerbiochemist.com, Twitter: @BuffaloBeerBio; Untappd: @BuffaloBeerBiochemist