Craft Beer & Spirits: Beers from the Pines
Last summer, the brewers at Flying Fish Brewery in Somerdale went for a hike in the New Jersey Pine Barrens in search of special flavors for their latest creation—a brew dedicated to the forest.
“I love the idea of foraging, and being able to make a product that’s uniquely Jersey and uniquely Pinelands,” says Flying Fish’s head brewer, Barry Holsten. “But we had to think, what would translate into a beer?”
Lending botanical expertise during the expedition was Russel Juelg, senior land steward for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation at its 10,000-acre Franklin Parker Preserve in Chatsworth. Juelg is also an avid homebrewer, and he was the first to suggest using the needles of the short-leaf pine, Pinus echinata, which have a more complex flavor than the needles of the ubiquitous pitch pine.
“The short leaf has a pleasant citrus flavor, almost like tangerines,” Juelg says—not withstanding its bitter, turpentine- like finish. (Juelg speculates there may be a way to extract the citrus notes while leaving behind the part that tastes like paint thinner.)
He also led the brewers to Solidago odora, sweet goldenrod, which has an anise-like scent and is sometimes made into an aromatic tea, and to Gaultheria procumbens, the eastern teaberry plant, whose leaves have a strong wintergreen flavor. These will find their way into the boil kettle for the Pine Barrens brew as well.
“People who love small-batch beer just seem to get it,” says Rebecca Free of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. She was also on hand during the hike, and has worked with Flying Fish owner Gene Muller in the past to raise awareness of the importance and vulnerability of the shallow Pinelands water table. “Craft-beer drinkers are looking for something that has a great taste but also has an identity,” she says.
The catalyst for this experiment in nontraditional beer making was Beers Made By Walking, a Colorado-based brewing program that invites brewers from across the country to create beers with a sense of place—“a drinkable portrait of the landscape,” as they put it—and then uses the beers to raise funds for local environmental nonprofits. The program’s regional director, David Wright, first approached Flying Fish in early 2015 about creating a beer for the program and sending kegs of the finished product to a series of events in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. “You get all these different influences coming in for the beers, and it’s a ton of fun to see what people come up with. But a lot of it’s pretty crazy,” he admits. “Some of it you’d never want to try again; some of it becomes year-round beer.”
Flying Fish is one of 40 breweries set to participate this year, and the first ever from New Jersey. Their limited-release Pine Barrens beer, dubbed Exit 5, is due to be released in June. A portion of proceeds from the beer will benefit the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.
Flying Fish Brewing Company
900 Kennedy Blvd, Somerdale
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