Less than two years after its debut, Tarpon River Brewing has gone experimental with a series of beers that use wild yeast and barrel-aging along with local fruits. The resulting brews are funky, bright, and full of grassy, tropical fruit, and floral notes.
Tarpon River head brewer Dan Kastner says brewing uncommon flavors is his passion. "I love making regular beer, but these are unique and they're also a challenge."
The challenge lies in the use of wild yeast in the brewing process.
Kastner uses Brettanomyces, a genus of wild yeast found naturally on many fruits. Usually "wild yeast" means yeast other than the typical pitching yeast in beer-making and is considered a contaminant. Kastner, like many brewers, is attempting to tame the wild yeast. When the process is successful, the result is a beer with a funky, sour taste. Sometimes, however, the experiments don't quite work. Kastner points to barrels resting in the brewery's tasting room. "One of these is getting dumped — it has a rubber taste." He explains that the overall industry average is about a 10 percent loss when working with wild yeast strains.
Kastner says the beers require more attention but are worth the additional effort. In addition to overseeing the experimental fermentation, Kastner is also aging one of the beers in wine barrels. The brewer has been working with wild yeast for about eight years; he began blending barrels to create better flavor profiles.
One of the new beers, the Key to My Tart, is a 6 percent ABV wild saison fermented and aged with peaches in French oak Chardonnay barrels. One barrel has been aged for a year; the other two have rested for about three months each. By combining the barrels, Kastner can blend the bitterness of one and the sweetness of the other to make a beer that's well rounded, with hints of peach gummies, vanilla, and oak.
The Downtown Superbloom, a 6 percent ABV Brett saison with passionfruit, blood orange, and guava, is perfect for drinkers who love the pucker of a sour. The beer's top note is guava, which gradually gives way to passionfruit and the fragrance of the blood oranges.
The third creation in the series, Weird Uncle Brett, an 8.3 percent ABV Brett saison, is a bright, highly carbonated beer with pineapple and grassy notes. The brewery's description says the flavor is "reminiscent of light barnyard/horse blanket, fresh-cut hay, white pepper/spice, and white breakfast biscuits." Though that sounds like a mouthful, the result is a clean beer with a touch of grassy funk and a hint of spicy pepper.
The brewery commissioned local artist Greg Boucher to design the labels for the limited-edition bottles, which cost $12.99 each at the brewery. In addition, Weird Uncle Brett is available on tap for about $6. The beers are limited edition and available only in the Fort Lauderdale taproom.
Tarpon River Brewing. 280 SW Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-353-3193; tarponriverbrewing.com.
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