Robert Rivelle George Reveals Secret to Creating Full-Flavored Beverages

Umami-filled Nut Brown Ale

Umami-filled Nut Brown Ale

Have you noticed the proliferation of enticing labels in the craft beverage section of your grocery store or liquor outlet? Perhaps you’ve also noticed the breathtaking prices commanded by these handcrafted drinks. Fermentation master and author Robert Rivelle George certainly did, and decided to share his knowledge with those who enjoy craft drinks but balk at their cost.

His new book The Umami Factor: Full-spectrum Fermentation for the 21st Century, takes on the task of instructing the aspiring or seasoned craftsperson in the secret to creating full-flavored, satisfying beverages at home, the way it was done for centuries.

Umami is the fifth taste, existing alongside the better-known sensations of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is the savory taste of amino acids ubiquitous in foods such as yeast, grains, fruit, and roasted meat and vegetables. By exploiting the taste sensation of Umami, a craft-beverage enthusiast can create savory, mouth-watering drinks of all types, hard or soft.

Released this May by Schiffer Publishing, Robert’s book The Umami Factor features a foreword by brew master Norm Chapman of Spencer Hill Cottage Brewery in Grand Forks, and more than 100 color illustrations. These accompany 75 original recipes for beverages spanning the gamut of soft drinks, beer, wine, sake, cider, mead, and even hard liquor. Mr. George explores ancient to modern techniques for producing these beverages, while offering a philosophical perspective to their creation and enjoyment.

“Robert’s philosophic approach to brewing in The Umami Factor is more of a lifestyle than a hobby,” says Maarten Lammers, owner of Nelson’s Art of Brewing. “He has a sense of humor that leaves you laughing out loud. I read with the eyes of a novice, and the eyes of a scientist, and I’ll certainly use the recipes, which are delicious.” Harry Davidson of HD Ventures adds “Like any good book there is drama, intrigue, inebriation, and sex. A complete reference guide to brewing, rich with recipes, menus, instructions and photographs, it leaves no stone unturned.”

The Umami Factor available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

The Umami Factor available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

History includes a long tradition of brewing, vintning and craft pursuits of all types. The Umami Factor presents a unique way to follow those crafty impulses, and amaze and impress your friends. Robert’s recipes are complex, for you can’t create a complex flavor sensation without a complex recipe. But the book also suggests easy ways to improve even the most prosaic of concoctions. Beginner and expert alike can find very many ways to challenge themselves.

“These are the creations of a man who is a master of his craft. Read this book carefully and keep it by you. You will be a better brewer as a result.” — Norm Chapman, Brew Master, Spencer Hill Cottage Brewery

Cherry Apple Sky Cyser

cherry apple skyW1When it comes to creating full-spectrum recipes, it’s important to be open to inspiration at all times, during the random events of life. For example: you are in a nice grocery store and see a bag of dried Montmorency cherries. Perhaps you’ve never heard of them, and have no idea what to do with them. Grab a bag anyway, buy them and put them away for later.

Then, say you are driving through spring orchard country just before sunset. Rolling hills, air fragrant with blossoms, and the words “cherry apple sky” pop into your head. What does that mean? You have no idea. Don’t dismiss it; put it away for later.

When later comes, and you’re casting about for something creative to do, perhaps some leisurely Sunday, you look about for what’s on hand: some Winter Banana apples you bought because you were intrigued by their name; some farm-stand apple juice you bought for later; the bag of Montmorency cherries; a jug of honey.

Suddenly you remember “cherry apple sky” and you know what it means.

Cyser is a hard apple cider that is made with honey. It is among the many different varients in the mead family. Apples originated in Central Asia, from where the spread to Mesopotamia, Persia, Greece and the Roman Empire.

Now, apples may taste sweet but they are comparatively low in sugar, making the juice by itself capable of producing a fermented beverage of about five percent alcohol. While sugar was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was exotic and scarce. Fortifying apple juice with it would have been prohibitively expensive. Adding honey then, to the natural juice of apples to boost the alcoholic strength of a fermented beverage, must have been an inevitable choice.

The term “cyser” is derived from cicera, which was used as a way of spelling in Latin the Hebrew word for “strong drink,” shēkār, in the Old Testament. It was only after the early 12th Century that sugar replaced honey in Europe, which up until then had been the only available sweetener. Thus, if you had plenty of apples, and you wanted a strong drink in Classical times, you made a cyser.

The Montmorency is a sour cherry (Prunus cerasus L), most often used in making cherry pies, but also available as a healthy snack in dried form. Though they are called “sour” they are actually quite sweet, but with a serious tang to them that balances the sweetness. In this respect they are similar to the varieties of crab apples that are grown for eating.

They have strong anti-oxidant properties, containing flavonoids which inhibit cancers by scavanging reactive oxygen ions from the body. Their red pigment adds to the color of the cyser, giving it hints of a rosé wine.

This cyser certainly lives up to that expectation, with a starting gravity like a good wine. It has a beautiful rosy orange color like a mountain sunset, and a nice aroma that suggests pineapple and a flavor just hinting of the mildest mint. Because the tartness of the cherries comes from their considerable acid content, it can be sweetened to taste before bottling. It will continue to improve for many years.

Sparkling Dry English Cider

Sparkling English CiderSparkling hard cider may hold only 1% of the beer market, but sales grew 84% in 2012, eclipsing by far the 17% growth rate for craft beer. A well-made cider is certainly a thing of beauty, but even a middle-market commercial cider offers a welcome respite from high amplitude hop bombs.

In the UK and Ireland though, beer and cider taps exist as equals at the pub. Locally crafted brands of cider have been there for decades. The key to these brands’ drinkability is the care that goes into the blending of juices that create a full-spectrum flavor.

English ciders are known for the blend of varieties specifically grown for the purpose. These apples are virtually unobtainable outside the small areas in which they are grown. It’s possible to make a good beverage without them, however, with a little creativity.

The recipe for this cider starts with a base of Cortland, Red Delicious and Gold Delicious sweet apples. Gravenstein and McIntosh varieties provide aroma, and Jonagold offers tartness. Crab apples substitute for English cider apples in furnishing tannins, as well as additional acid. The apples were milled, and pressed to express blended juice, which was pitched with White Labs’ WLP775 English Cider yeast. A malolactic culture was added to the secondary fermenter to make the acid flavor more smooth. Oak chips contribute a mild, woody barrel taste and aroma.

While this doesn’t qualify as an English Farmhouse Cider–it was sweetened a bit with wine conditioner and carbonated with the Charmat process, it is an excellent brut with about 1% residual sugar, well-balanced acid and a full, rich vanilla flavor with very light oaky background notes. The aroma is quite apple-y, and an empty glass retains this for quite some time. It’s disappearing from the cellar very quickly.

New Creston Barrel Cider

Creston Barrel Cider New Englanders of the 17th and 18th Centuries were known for their consumption of prodigious amounts of rum. Less expensive and easier to come by were large quantities of apple juice, from nearby orchards. But the modestly alcoholic beverage made from fermenting pure apple juice was unlikely to satisfy the jaded palates of the aldermen. Faced with the prospect of imbibing a mere 5% ABV, New Englanders resorted to various adjuncts, including sugar, raisins, molasses, and honey, which, upon fermentation, would raise the alcoholic content of the drink to a more respectable 10 percent or so. This they would age in oak barrels, with perhaps some handfuls of wheat, which would moderate its taste “be it harsh and eager.”

New Creston Barrel Cider is so named because the apples come from the Creston Valley of British Columbia. Creston is known for the wide variety of apples grown there, and this is a key factor in the making of superior cider. When I first started making hard cider I would buy a few gallon jugs of apple juice from the likes of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, pitch some yeast, wait a while, and decide I really didn’t like hard cider very much.

Then I discovered blending. Mixing the juice from several varieties of apples creates the full-spectrum experience that is typical of complex recipes. In the case of hard cider, the blend of juice should include sweet, tart, bitter and aromatic apples. For traditional barrel cider, the sensation of umami can be created with an addition of grapes and grains.

New Creston Barrel Cider starts with a blend of Jonagold (tart), McIntosh (aromatic) Spartan and Gala (sweet) apples. To add umami I took 25 grams of Sultanas and 25 grams of Malawi “Sucre de Canne Brut” per liter of juice, added 12.5 grams per liter of cracked dark wheat malt, and simmered these in South African Muscat grape juice for 20 minutes. I added this mash to the fermenter, and noted that it would make a terrific breakfast cereal!

I’ve recently found that unpasteurized Creston apple juice will ferment nicely with its natural yeast, but it can be a risky proposition with unpredictable results. For this batch I pitched a starter of White Labs WLP720 Sweet Mead yeast in malt powder with a little yeast nutrient.

As barrels are a pain to use and maintain, I’ve added barrel flavor to other batches by using French oak chips. For this version I left them out. Instead, when fermentation was complete and the cider well-aged, I added crab apple syrup made with equal parts of crab apple juice and sugar. This gives the cider the tannic, bitter principle of a full-spectrum blend, with a semi-sweet flavor. With three years of aging, it’s a beautiful cider, with a lovely apple aroma, super clear, sweet, yet still tart. The sultanas give it a moderately full body, and the wheat provides a soft finish. Luscious.