The year, the year is gathering

The criterion common to all of these remembrances is that they enriched the vision of what it is we’re trying to do at The Referend. They are, in a word, inspirational; the sources from which we’ve drawn and will continue to draw through our years here as brewers, community members, producers of natural goods, plain people.

All undoubtedly deserved their own posts, but the year being as busy as it was we needed to act without consistent reflection and presentation. We’re catching up here with ten guiding gatherings.



Brasserie Fantôme

            Our first completed (released) collaboration, we spent a snowy day in the Ardennes with Dany Prignon of Brasserie Fantôme, who has been brewing as long as I’ve been alive. He is a magician of the highest order. He is that purest artist whose work forces you to reconsider the bounds of what you’ve called artistry. He hates business and businessmen, quite naturally in this house of the ghost, for the businessman is body without spirit.

            “The ghost never gives up his secrets,” read the old imported Fantome labels, so we’ve signed on as protectorate of this recipe, saying only that Blanchot was based upon Dany’s old “Blanche” recipe, with the gravity bumped up nearer to his saison range, and included a number of spices grown locally to us that we prepared for the journey and brought to Soy in our luggage. Very secret spices.


Antidoot - Wilde Fermenten

We have no photographs from our visit to Antidoot because we were having too good a time to think of visual posterity. Tom Jacobs has built a brewery beside his home, modest in size and rich in genuine creativity and thoughtful principles. All those affinities we talk about with beers of spontaneous fermentation—the natural wines, dry wild ciders, forgotten beer styles—Antidoot is designed (with vineyard, herb garden, and koelschip) to explore them all, as well as the interrelatedness between them. Paired with the chicken soup (raised by the family, slaughtered for the family, enjoyed by the family and we lucky visitors) were bottles of cider, gruit, wine, and a particularly beguiling apricot oud bruin, all executed with the same commitment to minimal intervention to real ingredients and their respective wild fermentations. Tom and his wife, Kristien Justaert, are both philosophers (actual philosophers, not craft beer philosophers), and it shows in all the work they do, if you’re paying attention.

In the spring, I read Kristien’s Theology After Deleuze during a brewday or two, and found this passage of hers that serves so many of our discussions of process, the natural, spontaneous creatio ex […] : “this ‘marginal god’, or ‘micro-god’, animates all creative becomings in the universe that is more like a pluriverse…this micro-god is a god-as-process: it influences the ecology around it but it is also changed by the environment; it has a relational structure, like all healthy ecological relations.”

The first commercial releases from Antidoot are available now (a friend brought one to our anniversary party earlier this month—an absolutely stunning cider), and I’m going out on the sturdiest limb in saying you should seek these out.


Pierre Frick

I was late to a wedding rehearsal because one does not turn down foudre samples from the Frick cellars. Such, at least, are my troubled priorities. The first thing I tasted were the thick, primary Gewürztraminer lees from a freshly racked foudre that Jean-Pierre was cleaning that day. The kind of yeast that is neither liquid nor solid, the kind of yeast I had never thought to try on its own to better know the young wine, its health and direction. Was it delicious? I am uncertain. But it changed my life.

We tasted through the wines in-process & in-foudre: Sylvaner, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Muscat, discussing along the way the path each wine would take on its way to becoming. As usual with producers committed to creating pure process wines, vinification is usually a question of being more meticulous, more trusting of the yeast.

Jean-Pierre refers to lambic beers as beers of bacterial fermentation, which, in contrast to his (or most) natural wines, holds true as differentiation: lambic beers have a decidedly higher bacterial contribution to character. Interestingly, I was talking with a lambic producer about our Berliner Messe process of spontaneous acidification, who was concerned about this yielding “a bacterial fermentation,” which, of course, it does, by design and to an even greater degree than their lambics, our golden ales.



Far & Away

We had the honor of pouring alongside some of our favorite breweries in the country at Half Acre’s Far & Away festival situated above Millennium Park in Chicago. We proffered Gloria: Grand Cru and Tender Buttons for all the good people of Chicago on a brisk but sunny day warmed by mind-bending coffee and sausages and the best beer imaginable under one tented roof.


La Percée du Vin Jaune

Every February a whole town of the Jura gets shut down and transformed into festival grounds to celebrate the new vintage of vin jaune. Except in the case of vin jaune, the new vintage comes from seven years prior, as vin jaune spends a minimum of six years and two months in oak, without topping, under flor, typically in dry surface cellars, to create the yellow hue and fine oxidation with high acid that in turn give vin jaune its cellar life that is unparalleled in all the unfortified wines.

Jura loves its idiosyncratic wines, whether the traditional vin jaune and cousin savagnin non ouillé, and has slowly emerged over the past thirty years as a hotbed of natural wine production, primarily out of the early work of Pierre Overnoy. But vin jaune and its patient process and distinct profile remain the jewel of the region, and it shows in the attendance of this festival. The town fills up, private garages become tasting rooms for pours of vins de paille, crémant, macvin, poulsard, the streetsounds become winedrunk and tupperwares of Comté cheese are extended freely across language barriers. Six years is a long time, but it will be far longer before we learn to attain such festive heights here in America.


Fall Fermentation Festival

Common Roots, of South Glens Falls, NY, invited us up to their annual Fall Fermentation Festival, in which breweries from the region and beyond pour the results of their forays into wild fermentations. As is evident from some of these 2018 memories, we too often fall into the trap of glamorizing what is distant, exotic, or other, so this was a wonderful opportunity to meet so many of our neighbors working on beers that make broad allowances for the natural influences of yeast. There are important things happening here.


Brews for New Avenues

Plentiful lambic (and lambic by (m)any other names) and many stellar beers and ciders besides, all exclusively in support of New Avenues’ fight against youth homelessness makes for the best-feeling beer event active in the world today. We were excited to participate and are even more excited to participate next year after seeing how well-executed this festival is, and that it is put on by the finest people. The cause, of course, remains as important as ever.

We made side trips to De Garde, Ale Apothecary, and Logsdon, as one does when visiting the region, and each needs its own separate entry or blog post. Probably for 2019. So many people to learn from.


Growing the Team

Early on, we (I) suffered the delusion that this operation could very nearly be a solo endeavor. Mitch & Melissa have been here to disprove that since day zero, but now Tom has been helping wort become beer and barrels become blends and blends become bottles for a year. And more recently we’ve been joined in all our strategic taste developments by Amy’s guiding synaesthetic palate and Brian’s innate grace. If you’ve been into the tasting room in past months, you’ve almost certainly met them, and if not: swing by and tell them about the weirdest beverage you’ve enjoyed recently. They genuinely love these conversations. We tell them as often as possible, but we appreciate the hell out of the work they do here, and wanted you to know as well.


The Labor of our Fruits

This year, exclusive of our Niagara (ON) icewine juice from the first week of 2018, all of our fruit was sourced from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware (or: New Jersey and its neighboring states).

Almost 18,000 pounds of real fruit from real farms operated by real farmers, harvested (you and we should always be aware) most commonly by the deft hands of recent immigrants to the country.

We continue to source our fruit with care, sort (triage) for quality ourselves, make any needed preparations or processing to the fruit (destemming, quartering, destoning, crushing, desiccating, etc.). We have never added to our beer any fruit that comes to us artificially preserved or pasteurized, transported across the country or world in a mylar bag. Why would we ever.

These fruits are delicate and somewhat unpredictable, but they are real.


In the American Grain part two

Our first blog post here was on our scythe-harvested local organic spelt. I haven’t yet gotten the scythe blade replaced to carry on those antiquated efforts, but this year I was briefly entrusted with the wheel of the combine at Rabbit Hill Farms for a lap around the wheat plot in Shiloh, NJ.

Our commitment is to use 100% state-grown grain, which we have accomplished for over a year now. Right around the time we were trying to get our blendery open, Hillary and Blair were converting their South Jersey family farm to a full-fledged malting operation, growing their own grain and floor-malting on-site. They have made it very easy for us to realize our simultaneous commitments to quality and support of the local agricultural economy.

It has been a year of finding our friends, learning that we are not so alone in whatever strangenesses we pursue. We’re grateful to them (all of them, including the many not listed above) and to everyone who supports such quality-obsessed producers the world over.


A Pale View of Hills (Memories of Ernesto Cattel)

It appears (in startling, saddening text before my eyes) that Ernesto Cattel, the winemaker of Costadilà, has passed away. My fullest condolences to all those whose lives he touched, as his warmth and generosity and natural artistry are unmet in the world today.

"We found this cleaning up the vineyard. It's a totem, maybe."

"We found this cleaning up the vineyard. It's a totem, maybe."

This past Friday I opened one of his bottles somewhat impulsively, his signature sparkling golden-orange wine that tastes like honest joy bottled. (It is perhaps joyous honesty, or the joy of honesty one tastes there.) Synchronous as it was, I would have preferred not to have said goodbye that way, preferred not to have had to say goodbye at all, least of all before properly thanking him for the indelible impression he's left upon me.

I visited Ernesto two years ago, around this time of year: late summer, with the grapes ripening on old hillside vines occasionally beset by wild hop bines and blackberries, for these vineyards are farmed naturally, favoring heterogeneity.

Ernesto taught me about this. See those new vineyards in the lower hills, on the left there? The vines are planted along the gentle grade so you can farm them with a tractor, but this is worse for the vines and for erosion.


A recent fungal blight had moved through his own vines and there was enough visible damage to some of the rootstock to cause concern, but one cannot envision damage so complete and severe that would reduce such principled growers to treat their vines with chemicals.

He described the manner of conventional winegrowing as being a series of interventions to problems created by the last intervention, a sort of If-you-give-a-vine-some-sulfur story of chemical addition without end. "I tell them: those are not vines, those are junkies!"

We talked of the endless hectares of vineyards in the flatlands along the highway. I had seen their armada of irrigators in action. It was all once corn, and still should be, Ernesto explains, but the worst of it is there's a wide river through that whole low region, and those vines are planted just above the water table. If they could only stop irrigating long enough to encourage the vines to find that water... On Costadilà's steep hillside vineyards there is no water that doesn't come from the sky, and it was this everyday minor hardship that made the roots dig deep in search of water and cling to the marl and Dolomitic limestone deep beneath. Everything that they touch will in some small way be imbued into the grapes, into the wine, into the mouth and mind and memory of the drinker.

"No irrigation. The vines need to work."

"No irrigation. The vines need to work."

There are whole worlds in the words "in some small way." In every craft, and especially where taste is concerned, there are endless decisions throughout the production that accrete in some small way, almost imperceptibly. When one takes a strong scientific approach, these may amount to too little to quantify, so why bother. When one takes a strong business approach, the more difficult methods & those least efficient will always be rejected outright. Artistry exists in a craft to the extent that it operates in service of those tiny accretions of principled action. Ernesto displayed this artistry everywhere.

In the rented cellar of a quiet old estate, Ernesto conducted minor experiments for the edification of his own mind and wines. He was interested in tracking oxidative flavors in his wines, leaving them uncorked and exposed to the ambient cellar air for up to six months. In a sub-cellar, he was making vinegar, leaving must (stems and all) in an open vessel for a full year for acetic acid development, at times pushing through inches thick pellicles with his hands to pull harsh young samples, then comparing with the more advanced, refined vinegars in barrels.


Ernesto's own wines bore almost no trace of VA (acetic acid, chiefly), which, when comparing against the natural wines of some of his friends, he humbly noted the advantage in producing his sparkling wines, which prevent themselves from such aerobic microbial activity once bottle refermented.

We talked about the seasonality of bottling, and the prevalence of "warm rooms" for bottle conditioning, allowing one to spark a quicker refermentation in the bottle even in the winter months. "The yeasts know the difference," Ernesto said. There's an innate seasonal consciousness to these can force them into activity by elevated temperatures, but they're sluggish and lethargic when prematurely roused from hibernation. Perhaps you can almost taste their resentment. Yeast know what season it is. These forced refermentations out of season are different in some small way.

Ernesto was well loved in the cafes we visited, but he made it clear that the region as a whole did not exactly take to his natural and ancestral methods. Prosecco as a whole has moved steadily in a more industrialized direction, of carbonation via Charmat and bulk farming the lowlands. Costadilà doesn't fit in, quixotically, blissfully.

Outside, Ernesto showed me two crates, loaded full with his bottled gold. One was sitting (really properly baking) in the late summer sun, the other had a tarp thrown over it. These crates had been sitting there for five years, through every season's temperature fluctuations, its rains and snows and sun. Not forgotten, just one of Ernesto's experiments. Early on, these bottles were sold and then returned to Costadilà. They tasted "off". We tasted them side-by-side: "Sole" & "Shadow". Only in the narrowest of minds are these wines off, even after years of natural outdoor living (already well beyond the lifespan of a typical bottle of Prosecco). The Sole did in fact carry more baked fruit, sun-dried/passito flavor where the Shadow was more classically refined.


We are impressionable creatures, I understand. I tasted things in those glasses that are well outside of chemical compounds: the aforementioned honest joy, the catchlight on a single ripening Glera grape that makes of it a single smiling eye, or even the simplicity of an improbable intercontinental friendship. A full Ibsen play acting itself out on the palate: the quiet artist against the world who does not begrudge the world its mundanities, who responds to indifference in kind, by returning to the cellar to produce something ever truer.


Thank you, Ernesto, for everything.

Still Life

"without allowing the rippling visible bubble of foam unfurled by my flight to throw at anyone's arriving feet a transparent likeness of my abducted ideal blossom."

-Stéphane Mallarmé

As we head into this weekend preparing our draft system for its actualization, pouring naturally conditioned kegs, let's discuss the wide range of carbonation levels available to brewers. For the past 10 months since opening the blendery doors to the public, we've been pouring from casks: stainless steel vessels designed to condition and dispense modestly carbonated beer. Most people consider the cask a chiefly British implement, associating with it the pints of "real ale" pulled from the handpumps at London pubs. In America, the definition has almost become "small vessel in which to put additional ingredients." Regardless, what separates it from the far more dominant keg as a serving vessel is that the ullage, the headspace that remains as liquid is drawn from the container, is (at least traditionally) comprised of air, whereas a keg is fed with primarily carbon dioxide.

This difference in profile of the gas occupying the headspace makes an enormous difference on the beer. CO2, by its very nature, prevents or mitigates oxygenation/oxidation, resulting in a far more stable beer when packaged in a keg rather than a cask. But stability is not always the point, as there are favorable flavors and aromas produced by oxygen's interaction with the beer that cannot be achieved any other way.

"Real ale," begins a recent Punch article on cask beer, "is effectively the beer world's natural wine." One can then scarcely imagine what disturbingly natural analogue exists for our own beers, which are fermented and refermented completely naturally and spontaneously, before becoming "real ale."


We use exclusively wood barrels for our fermentation and maturation in large part for their porosity. As opposed to steel, oak barrels naturally allow for small amounts of carbon dioxide egress and oxygen ingress to take place in the months and years following primary fermentation. What this yields in flavor is inimitable, what it yields in carbonation level is nothing, or very nearly so. This is how wine is made. Samples of mature beer from the barrel are completely still. There is something naked about this simple denouement that we are often too quick to cover with a captured refermentation in a pressurized vessel, clothing the beer in the fully-fledged carbonation we expect out of everything purporting to be beer.

In a visit to his winery   Costadilà   in the prosecco region last fall, Ernesto Cattel was eager to share his wild and beautiful oxidative experiments on his completely naturally fermented wines, noting the advantages one has in practicing the ancestral method of bottle refermentation in contrast to still wines exposed to some degree of oxygen.

In a visit to his winery Costadilà in the prosecco region last fall, Ernesto Cattel was eager to share his wild and beautiful oxidative experiments on his completely naturally fermented wines, noting the advantages one has in practicing the ancestral method of bottle refermentation in contrast to still wines exposed to some degree of oxygen.

So we serve certain beers from the cask unprimed and uncarbonated, as simple and complex as they are showing straight from the barrel. If not for the overriding law of the land which makes such practice difficult, we would serve straight from the oak barrel itself. These are our Jung and OED, and we have been delighted with the response to these perfectly still beers. Still, beyond our enlightened visitors we cannot help but notice that beer drinkers at large are not fully in support of still beer. Cantillon's Grand Cru Bruocsella, the culmination of three years maturation in the highest performing barrels and bottled without refermentation, is the lowest user rated beer in their wide portfolio of otherwise carbonated regular and seasonal beers.

Breweries in America are only recently recovering from the prevailing idea that a still beer is a flat beer, a flawed beer that failed to carbonate in spite of the brewer's intentions. The Ale Apothecary in Bend, OR has been doing its part to combat this prejudice with a number of still bottlings, including notably "Be Still". Upright Brewing of Portland, OR and Jester King Brewery of Dripping Springs, TX, each announced still bottlings of lambic-style origins last week, "Ives" and "SPON Still" respectively. Last spring, Side Project of St. Louis, MO, wrote a brief blog post extolling the virtues of still beer in support of their Trail Dubbel. 

Ice-Nine in the bottling tank, consisting of a single barrel gradually refermented in the barrel with Cabernet Franc icewine juice, and lightly dosed with additional Cab Franc icewine juice at bottling for a delicate natural bottle refermentation.

Ice-Nine in the bottling tank, consisting of a single barrel gradually refermented in the barrel with Cabernet Franc icewine juice, and lightly dosed with additional Cab Franc icewine juice at bottling for a delicate natural bottle refermentation.

It is our aim to explore the full spectrum of carbonation levels afforded to us. Those who have visited the blendery and tasted our Jung beers have experienced the low end, and those who have enjoyed bottles of Berliner Messe: Sanctus & Agnus Dei have experienced the high end, marrying sparkling wine volumes of CO2 with the underlying wild beer. The casks, now kegs, and ongoing various bottle refermentations are filling out that vast middle as each beer dictates. 

Still beer, still beer.

Still beer, still beer.

Discourse on Method

“I respected the rules but I decided I must define the traditional in terms of my own world.”

                                                                                                -William Carlos Williams

Jester King Brewery recently announced the abandonment of Méthode Gueuze and Méthode Lambic as identifying marks for breweries practicing lambic production in regions outside of the Senne Valley of Belgium. We were initially very supportive of such terminology, feeling that it was the most literally apt designation for those of us producing beer in the manner of the lambic breweries and blenderies of Belgium. At the outset of The Referend’s conception, in fact, we fully intended to brand any such beer as Méthode Lambic. It figured prominently into our first web pages, until we were courteously admonished for using the term “lambic,” regardless of qualifier, by a Belgian colleague in 2015.

Ever since, we’ve been weighing our options. HORAL (a federation of lambic brewers and blenders) has no legal protection restricting the production of “gueuze” or “lambic” to any geographical appellation. Further, across America and Europe, the terms “gueuze” and “lambic” denote an artificially flavored/sweetened and pasteurized product more frequently (by volume) than one of ancestral tradition. This makes any argument of confusion in the marketplace hard to swallow.

Still, if these producers—who have among them good friends and our earliest influences—wish that no one use the terms “lambic” or “gueuze” for beer brewed elsewhere in any setting, then we in turn wish to respect that.


With regards to method, 100% of our beers are turbid mashed with raw wheat, aged-hopped, coolship-cooled, and fully spontaneously fermented in oak barrels. When differentiation and specificity requires (timing, quantity) of the above, we differentiate, we specify. When we go to these lengths to create the most natural beer possible, it is in our best interest to be completely transparent about method at all times.

Jester King, as a brewery, has been more transparent about method than possibly any other, frequently publishing recipes, production techniques, and quantitative analyses of their beers. It is understandable that they would wish to protect this pinnacle of natural beer production in some manner from those who might do less and capitalize upon the success of others.

The solution presented after months of deliberation is Méthode Traditionelle, a full phrase borrowed from the wine world, which genericizes the bottle refermentation process originated in Champagne. It means, pretty plainly, Traditional Method, which unlike Méthode Lambic/Gueuze is devoid of any clear meaning. What tradition? Whose tradition? And must we be beholden to just the one in pursuit of making natural beer? There are wild beer traditions the world over. There is non-interventionism and spontaneous fermentation in the production of some wines, some ciders, some foods.

Further, Méthode Traditionnelle already has a meaning in an adjacent market, and it consists most completely of the full bottle refermentation through riddling and disgorgement, neither of which has anything to do with spontaneously fermented beers in common practice.

We are no longer in the time of the Flemish Renaissance, when painters’ guilds levied fines and various punishments not only on members who had shown carelessness in executing a painting, but even on those who had incompletely wiped their palettes or poorly cleaned their brushes.
— Giorgio de Chirico

Then there are the “Standards” to be followed:

MT Standards.jpg

In the interest of transparency, our beers follow these, with the following exceptions:

-The entirety of the Berliner Messe line (never intended to fully follow lambic brewing techniques) frequently has an ABV below 4%, is boiled between 15 minutes and 1 hour, likely frequently contains fewer than 10 IBU, spends between 3 and 6 hours in the coolship, is pumped into the coolship at 210F and cooled until 125F, is spontaneously pre-acidified (by naturally occurring microbes) below 4.4 pH

For our other beers, the beers in question:

            -The turbid decoction is not always boiled, but sometimes separated and heated (but not to a full boil)

            -The wort is sometimes boiled 5 or more hours

            -Cooling time in coolship occasionally exceeds 16 hours

            -Wort (or beer) is occasionally racked into charred oak (i.e. whiskey barrels)

So yes, “I respected the rules but I decided I must define the traditional in terms of my own world.” My own world is not solely contingent upon replication of lambic. To subscribe to one traditional method is to entrench oneself in another’s past, to be unable to make it new, to divorce oneself from the other traditions afforded to us.

There is a curious word, aufheben, which Hegel notes, “has in the German language a double sense: that of preserving, maintaining, and that of leaving off, bringing to an end.” As practitioners of brewing spontaneously fermented beer, we by nature preserve and maintain the proud tradition of Belgium’s traditional lambic beers. It is equally imperative that we leave off, exploring other traditions as inspiration and experimentation dictate.

On Seasonality

What does it mean to produce seasonal beers in our modern refrigerated age?

Les saisonniers were the early brewers of saison, Wallonian fieldhands in need of a suitable fieldbeer. They brewed throughout their mild winter, properly mid-fall to mid-spring, a beer capable of withstanding the bacterial pressures of the summer heat while it rested, chiefly, in barrels.

Today, there is possibly no more erratically performed beer style than saison, with little influence from the seasonal wort. Since the advent of widespread refrigeration, with breweries pumped full of glycol, ammonia, and freon, one can safely brew any beer in whatever season one wishes.

The one exception is that great Luddite of brewing: lambic, and beers of spontaneous fermentation.   

Wort cooling in the coolship in the unusually chilly ambient May air.

Wort cooling in the coolship in the unusually chilly ambient May air.

Belgian lambic brewers have borne the torch of seasonal brewing through the last century for two main reasons. First, lambic requires a slow, atmospheric rate of cooling while chilling the wort to the 60s F, which requires that the air be cooler than that final temperature for a sustained period of time. Secondly, the quantity and diversity of microflora in the air are constantly changing, and the summer is notoriously rough on both counts for spontaneous beer fermentations.

There are two contemporary examples of outstanding producers of spontaneously fermented beers brewing throughout the year, employing very different techniques. De Garde Brewing, of Tillamook, OR, is located in a coastal region in which seasons are considerably suppressed, with the average high in December at 51F, and in August only 69F. Brouwerij Girardin, otherwise a beacon of traditional farm-brewed lambic, brews occasionally through the summer in their newer, climate-controlled brewhouse.  

Barrel retirement in the summer shade outside of Brouwerij Girardin.

Barrel retirement in the summer shade outside of Brouwerij Girardin.

Oceanside, cliffside, invasive wild blackberries above Tillamook in late August

Oceanside, cliffside, invasive wild blackberries above Tillamook in late August

The use of primarily fresh, local fruit is a hallmark of modern American wild brewers like De Garde. There is certainly no better way to approximate terroir in beer (and in so doing, crafting truly distinctive beers) than to source nearby ingredients and use yeast from one's immediate atmosphere.

So while our winter brewing season is a necessity of spontaneous brewing in temperate climates learned from our Belgian lambic brewing friends, the current American current towards the hyperlocal guides us towards our ultimate aim.

While any attempt at cataloging the American seasonal brewers influential to us will prove futile, Jester King has provided an excellent example, particularly with their Dichotomous series. Scratch Brewing, of southern Illinois, like Princeton's Elements restaurant, forages in their surroundings for characterful ingredients that are the bounty of their given season by their very nature.

Even an early blog post on saison by a young Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead Brewery addresses the ideals of the seasonal farmhouse brewery, in characteristic form:

A farmhouse brewery may utilize various assortments of adjuncts and grains - all produced locally: myriad types of wheat, spelt, oats, buckwheat, rye, honey, maple syrup, hops, wild yeasts, berries, and fruit. In the United States, the average distance from farm to plate is greater than 2,000 miles - resulting in the depletion of natural resources at the expense of localized economies and, more often than not, nutrition. Farmhouse to me is symbolic of the resistance to the tendencies of ‘constant convenience consumerism.’
— Shaun Hill (2007)
End-of-season Trifoliate oranges in Hopewell, NJ (November)

End-of-season Trifoliate oranges in Hopewell, NJ (November)

For our own part, we've selected this region, our little slice of central/western New Jersey in the Delaware Valley, for its strong seasonality and agrarian aspect. In the fall we brew our Berliner Messe and Saison with an eye on the forecast, performing our lambic-style brewing in November through April, and bookending the season in April and May with our Berliner and Saison again.

Last November, when I had thought we were solidly in the clear with cool enough overnight temperatures to brew our lambic-style beers, an unseasonably warm forecast showed up on one of our scheduled brewdays. We take these auspices as reason to try something different. So I asked after the Trifoliate oranges behind Brick Farm Tavern and Troon Brewing, and with a bucketful of these sour, bitter beauties picked from the infinitely-thorned branches the night before the brewday, decided to give a witbier a shot.

Upon returning to the coolship the morning after the brewday, I was met with the most glorious aroma any of our wort has yet yielded, the oranges having steeped in the wort overnight, giving up their essence. Then, last month, the beer received an addition of fresh-picked, undried local Chamomile flowers, which yet again imparted every sweet aroma it had to offer. This very simple dually spontaneous beer is my favorite beer we've yet brewed, because it was given to us by the seasons.

Freshly harvested cherries bring new sugar and wild yeasts into the barrel to spark a raucous spontaneous refermentation 

Freshly harvested cherries bring new sugar and wild yeasts into the barrel to spark a raucous spontaneous refermentation 

To be clear, we do not eschew all climate control at The Referend. Throughout the summer the barrel cellar is air conditioned to keep the space below 72F. It is otherwise untouched. In the winter, cellar temperatures can drop into the 40s. As opposed to the Platonic ideal of cave-aged wine (or homeostatic FVs of beer) in which a nearly constant temperature is maintained year-round, we believe these beers become hardier when exposed to a moderate seasonal range. E.R. Southby explains in his 1885 text "A Systematic Handbook of Practical Brewing":

By storing beers in good cellars, in which a uniform temperature of about 54F is maintained, almost all risk of the beer becoming acid is avoided, provided it is well brewed, and from good materials. There are however, some inconveniences in this method of storage, for if the cellars are very cool, the beers stored in them are apt, when removed into a warmer atmosphere, to kick up, owing to their not having previously gone through that slow fermentation in cask, which is sure to take place sooner or later in all stock beers. On the other hand, if the cellars are maintained at a somewhat higher temperature, the beers are apt to chill, and become cloudy when removed in cold temperatures.

The fact is, that by coddling beers, while you certainly preserve them from disease, you are sure at the same time to render them tender, and susceptible to every change in temperature.

Brewing seasonally is perhaps not much more than a heightened awareness of the constant changes of the immediate world around us, then fitting ones work inside that context. 

As HD Thoreau so well pontificated, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”

A Little Time in its Pure State

This past Sunday, on an unseasonably cool day, a group of New Jersey brewers got together to brew wort comprised of entirely NJ ingredients, formulated for barrel fermentation and long maturation. The beer, now only a few days old, is a striking departure for us at The Referend, as we've invited these collaborative mixed cultures into the blendery.

Unbaling hay on the brewday

Unbaling hay on the brewday

A collaboration between four breweries dedicated to producing mixed fermentation beers, this beer's concept was assembled by The Referend, Amanda Cardinali and Sean Towers at Tuckahoe Brewing, Alex Helms at Troon Brewing, and Ed Coffey from Ales of the Riverwards and Kelly Green Brewing as well as Kelly Green brewer/owners Justin Fleming and Dave Domanski.

Very early on in the conception of this Bière d'état we decided on incorporating a hay substrate to the mash tun, truthfully having a nebulous idea of what this might add to the finished beer. This recently inspired a blog post by our friend Dave at Hors Catégorie Brewing, on hulls and hay being used in the mash, as "an open question about the role that alternative mash additions could have." What we are hoping for is that subtle addition of expression of the farm environment, as well as potential additional/alternate tannin extraction during our very hot sparge procedure to aid in a long fermentation. This beer also featured 50 pounds of hand-harvested organic spelt, as chronicled in our first blog post here. This spelt was threshed, but unhulled, so that additional aspect in question will play into this beer's development.

The mystery of the mash tun milk slime. We have performed over 35 turbid mashes by now, and never encountered anything quite like this. After a careful examination of the spelt hulls in the spent grain, this has been dubbed the result from the "spelt-hay interaction" completely non-scientifically.

The mystery of the mash tun milk slime. We have performed over 35 turbid mashes by now, and never encountered anything quite like this. After a careful examination of the spelt hulls in the spent grain, this has been dubbed the result from the "spelt-hay interaction" completely non-scientifically.

Onlookers to Sean's herculean efforts with this very thick mash. 

Onlookers to Sean's herculean efforts with this very thick mash. 

Spent grain and hay in the lauter tun.

Spent grain and hay in the lauter tun.

The wort was brewed with a majority of raw wheat and Pilsner malted barley, grown and malted by Rabbit Hill Farms / Rabbit Hill Malt in Shiloh, NJ, represented on the brewday by Hillary, Blair, and Sarah. When (yes, on the brewday) it was discovered we were short on New Jersey-grown hops, Blair offered up some of his farm-grown personal stash of 2015 Cascade and Columbus whole leaf hops. Other hops were sourced from Laughing Hops in Pennington (just up the road from the blendery), and a German expat who grows some very fine sun-dried Hallertau.

On the midday side-trip to pick up our emergency hop supply from Rabbit Hill Farms, it was discovered that this year's barley heads had emerged.

On the midday side-trip to pick up our emergency hop supply from Rabbit Hill Farms, it was discovered that this year's barley heads had emerged.

This beer was brewed using a reduced turbid mash schedule integrated with a 19th century saison step mash technique, followed by a three hour boil with partially aged hops. Then, as always, it was sent to the mobile coolship for spontaneous inoculation and natural, ambient cooling.

Three fountains.

Three fountains.

While we do not yet have a name for this beer, it will most certainly not be called Hot Tub Time Machine, in spite of appearances to the contrary.

While we do not yet have a name for this beer, it will most certainly not be called Hot Tub Time Machine, in spite of appearances to the contrary.

As is typical in our brew process, we allowed the wort to cool for 4+ hours in the coolship before transporting back to The Referend for additional cooling. By late morning, the wort had cooled to 70F, and already showed the early signs of fermentation and fermentative life. This is extremely unusual for us, and is attributed to the late April air's contents of pollen and plants in full flower.

"Ain't he advanced for his age!" -Samuel Beckett

"Ain't he advanced for his age!" -Samuel Beckett

Barrel pyramid with house cultures

Barrel pyramid with house cultures

What sets this apart (physically as well as philosophically) from every other wort we've brewed, is that we've welcomed these esteemed brewers' mixed cultures into the blendery. This barrel stack, comprised of Pinot Noir and Syrah barrels from Alba in Milford, NJ, contains one barrel per brewery of pitched mixed cultures on the bottom row. These are cultures that have been lovingly cared for, propagated, selected for the attributes each brewer prizes in a beer of mixed fermentation. The three barrels at the top of the pyramid are none of those things — they are purely spontaneous as usual.

If all goes according to plan, we'll be blending these barrels together about a year from now, tasting each barrel for difference and complementarity, and seeing what can be gleaned from the process. Then, we enjoy.

Berliner Messe: An Introduction

Those who have made it out to our open tasting days have encountered a great many foreign and foreign sounding beer styles and descriptors, and we thank you for indulging in that linguistic globalism. Among them, our Berliner Messe receives its fair share of questions about process and pronunciation and etymology, which will be addressed here.

Berliner Messe - Alleluiavers at conception: mature beer rising up over fresh New Jersey peaches and nectarines

Berliner Messe - Alleluiavers at conception: mature beer rising up over fresh New Jersey peaches and nectarines

The Berliner Messe beers are named after a full choral mass (or "messe" in German, pronounced "mess-uh") of the same name, written by Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt.  Pärt's Berliner Messe consists of eight movements, which provide the tonal framework for our process variables, though we combine his Erster and Zweiter Alleluiavers for a total of seven movements:

Kyrie / Gloria / Alleluiavers / Veni Sancte Spiritus / Credo / Sanctus / Agnus Dei

It is important to note that these beers are not intended to be the same from year to year. Rather, the aim is to match the aura of the movement as closely as possible with the fruits in season and the sourcing of appropriate character barrels, while allowing full freedom of experimentation with the natural flavor palette available to us here in the Garden State.

The loose framework around which the 7 Berliner Messe movements are crafted

The loose framework around which the 7 Berliner Messe movements are crafted

To date, only the base beer, Gloria, and Alleluiavers have been available. Sanctus and Agnus Dei are being blended and bottled this month, with Veni Sancte Spiritus and Credo blends in the Spring. We only use fresh fruit, so we're waiting on this summer's harvest to produce our first batch of Kyrie.

The wort for these beers is loosely based upon a Berliner Weisse recipe and brewing process, but borrowing certain aspects from the Lambic brewing tradition, namely, a partially turbid mash, a considerable portion of unmalted wheat, aged whole hops, open inoculation and cooling in a traditional coolship, and a full spontaneous fermentation. Where it differs: the Berliner Messe wort cools for 4-5 hours in the coolship until it drops from boiling to 120F, at which point it is transported back to the blendery and held warm in a separate vessel for 2-4 days, with a gradual temperature drop to 90-105F. This period is characterized by a natural acidification by spontaneously inoculated airborne lactobacillus, which thrives at these elevated temperatures. Following the acidification, it gets racked into oak barrels for spontaneous fermentation as the wort temperature drops into the active range for the wild yeasts present and formerly dormant. The beer spends between 4 and 12 months in oak barrels fermenting and conditioning.

A manuscript page of Arvo Pärt's, in which he seeks a melodic structure based on notation derived from the shape of a bird in flight.

A manuscript page of Arvo Pärt's, in which he seeks a melodic structure based on notation derived from the shape of a bird in flight.

Arvo Pärt presents a truly inspirational artistry to the work we do. His techniques are simple, frequently drawn from nature, as seen above. He eschews many of the more technically advanced tools at a composer's disposal today in favor of a consistent elongation. Everything lies in the performer's intonation and resonance, with the works arranged to showcase those lesser-touted challenges. Where many modern works seem agoraphobic, eager to fill all with technique, Pärt lives for the silences, leaves space for the nothing to shine through.

The illustration above, culled from an old book (like so much else), is an homage to the bird-flight derived aesthetic of Arvo Pärt. Only here, one looks at the jacketed bird and the scientist's spool, and cannot help but marvel at how much is lost in between.

Faro / Icewine / Eugene O'Neill

In our Abstract page outlining our often lofty principles, we declaim our beers to be "unsweetened" and are here to request an exemption for our newest beer: The Iceman Cometh, a riesling icewine faro.

Testing the enormous gravity of the riesling ice wine juice and blending proportionally

Testing the enormous gravity of the riesling ice wine juice and blending proportionally

Faros are traditional lambic beers with a misunderstood history. Today, the only universally true aspect of all that is purported to be faro is its characteristic sweetness, in stark contrast to the dryness of authentic lambic beers.

Author Jeff Sparrow, of the book Wild Brews, describes faro as "Essentially a blend of lambic and mars." Without getting too deeply mired in the similarly clouded mars/mais/meerts backstory, suffice it to say that our Berliner Messe beers are designed and named to be a hybrid of Berliner Weisse and Mars/Meerts. Thus, our faro base is comprised of a blend of Jung and Berliner Messe.

According to Brasserie Cantillon, their faro (a personal favorite) consists of:

Lambic blended with caramel and candied sugar. This sweet beer should only be kept for 3 to 4 weeks because the added sugar results in a very active fermentation process which can make a bottle explode due to high CO2 pressure.

In lieu of caramel or any type of traditional sugars, The Iceman Cometh receives its sweetness and its name from freshly pressed riesling icewine juice. Icewine is made, quite simply, by leaving the grapes on the vine far too long, in the coldest winegrowing regions of the world: first Germany, and the Alpine countries, now around the Great Lakes in the US and Canada.

What little is left of the grapes after the birds and the deer and the weather and the commercial impulse never to wait quite long enough have reduced the harvest, the grapes are picked in sub-freezing temperatures in the middle of the night, and immediately slow-pressed. It is not uncommon for a winemaker to work 30 hours straight to accomplish this task. The sugars resident in the grapes concentrate in the tiny unfrozen liquid remainder of the grape, and as such, the sugar levels of icewine grapes are roughly double what they would have been during the conventional autumn harvest. Yields are reduced to less than 20%.

Naturally, this human interaction with the extremes of nature have caught the imagination of other than just ourselves. CG Jung, in his Liber Novus, writes:

a terrible cold had fallen from space, which had turned every living thing to ice. There stood a leaf-bearing but fruitless tree, whose leaves had turned into sweet grapes full of healing juice through the working of the frost


If you accept death, it is altogether like a frosty night and an anxious misgiving, but a frosty night in a vineyard full of sweet grapes. You will soon take pleasure in your wealth. Death ripens. One needs death to be able to harvest the fruit. Without death, life would be meaningless, since the long-lasting rises again and denies its own meaning. To be, and to enjoy your being, you need death, and limitation enables you to fulfill your being.

Fittingly, the "Iceman" of Eugene O'Neill's famous play, is referred to within as "the Iceman of Death" and death is of central importance in nearly all of O'Neill's plays. Eugene O'Neill is of special interest to us, not only as one of eleven or fourteen (depending on how you account for nationality) American Nobel Laureates in Literature, nor because he was possibly expelled from Princeton after throwing "a beer bottle into the window of [then] Professor Woodrow Wilson" but also because of ties to The Sourlands.

...the crossroads in the midland badlands of New Jersey, the Sourland Mountains...

Only picnickers and a few of the curious visit the old house now. The rotting roof of the long porch is falling awry. Windows are broken and missing and doors are ajar. There’s moss on the leaky roof, a roof that may be lower from all the indications than the one the playwright and the artist knew when one admitted that he “did a little writing” and the other [George Bellows] set up his easel to paint “the crookedest trees you ever saw.”
“Yes,” said Edgar Durling, the postmaster, “Gene should come back and see the old house now. It’s sort of like his plays, isn’t it?”

“Gene was a jolly sort of boy, as I remember him,” the postmaster recalled. “He was about nineteen or twenty when he was here that Winter and Spring of 1909. He used to laugh about being thrown out of every hotel down around Trenton—but I don’t know about that. I asked him once, when he was here in the post office, ‘Gene,’ I said, ‘what do you do, anyhow?’ And he answered, ‘Oh, I try a little writing—but I wouldn’t tell anybody.’
— Henry Charlton Beck, The Jersey Midlands

If you're inclined, like myself, to look for that house, it isn't there. It was torn down in 1939, the year The Jersey Midlands was published, the year The Iceman Cometh was written.

It still stands in service of the long, storied history of The Sourlands, as do we, as does this beer.

Failing at Jung's admonishment, "Do not be greedy to gobble up the fruits of foreign fields. Do you not know that you yourselves are the fertile acre which bears everything that avails you?" while picking up icewine juice in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada.

Failing at Jung's admonishment, "Do not be greedy to gobble up the fruits of foreign fields. Do you not know that you yourselves are the fertile acre which bears everything that avails you?" while picking up icewine juice in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada.

The Madeleine: A Referend

“We think life is not beautiful because we don’t remember it, but once we smell a fragrance out of the past, we are suddenly intoxicated!” 

                                                                  -Marcel Proust

Somewhat predictably, two of the most frequent questions I receive are: "what’s up with the name?", and "what’s up with the shell?"

The front door madeleine signage spontaneously projected upon the rear wall on a hot day

The front door madeleine signage spontaneously projected upon the rear wall on a hot day

The shell is not just any shell, it’s in fact no shell at all, but a small French pastry called a madeleine. Apart from the fact that it loosely resembles a barrel and all of our beers are aged in old, predominantly French oak barrels, I am only concerned with the secondary definition of “madeleine” which can be found in almost any dictionary as a variant of: “one that evokes a memory.”

Marcel Proust earned the madeleine this more poetic attribute, by making it the central illustrative epiphany of his theory of involuntary memory in his epic novel À la recherche du temps perdu. In it, the narrator is enjoying his tea and madeleines when the flavor of the tea and floating madeleine bits therein immediately recall some unplaceable sensation before remembering their source: a scene from his youth in his aunt’s house, previously forgotten, and here involuntarily remembered and regained.

(page 34 of two thousand-something)

(page 34 of two thousand-something)

The general principle may be at its most familiar in the scene in Ratatouille in which food critic Anton Ego is rendered speechless by his involuntary memory toward a scene in his youth, via the referend of this particularly fine ratatouille.

Gilles Deleuze, former greatest living thinker, notes of Proust’s madeleine concept, that “flavor, the quality common to the two sensations, the sensation common to the two moments, is here only to recall something else.” It seems at once denigrating and laudatory to our favorite foods and beverages for them to stand primarily in service of some intangible extratemporal essence, but for Proust, “it is involuntary memories practically altogether that the artist should call for the primary subject matter of his work,” and for us, it is the generation of such a sensory event that is our highest aim.

Rob Tod (the founder of Allagash Brewing Company, the man largely responsible for bringing spontaneously fermented beer production to America, to whom we owe a good deal) picked his dream six-pack for Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine last year, and it’s not so much the selections as the reasons for the selections that hold relevance here:

When I was living in Boulder, Colorado, before I started brewing, a friend gave me a bottle of McEwans Scotch Ale. I was blown away. I didn’t know beer could taste like that. It has a huge flavor, deep dark color, and loads of sweetness, but it balances that with tobacco and oak notes. If I were to drink a McEwans Scotch Ale right now, I’d be transported back to one of those first revelations of what beer could taste like.”

“I’ve been to the monastery a few times, and every time I’m impressed with just how amazing a place it is. When I drink Orval now, it transports me back to that setting.

Our favorite beers then, are often so for their ability or propensity to refer us elsewhere, to former times and places and sensations, to the warmth of happily ordinary memories otherwise forgotten. "Referend," as a word, is most simply the instrument or act of reference, it is the drink and the drinking that prompts the involuntary memory and all its associative delight; it is the madeleine with tea and the recursive epiphanies of returning to an old favorite.

As one might, post-Proust, place dough in a madeleine pan with greater intent toward its future enjoyment, so we fill our own Pan- with a watchful eye toward its eventual service as referend.

As one might, post-Proust, place dough in a madeleine pan with greater intent toward its future enjoyment, so we fill our own Pan- with a watchful eye toward its eventual service as referend.

In the American Grain

Hand Harvesting Local Organic Spelt in Princeton, NJ


Harvesting one's own grains for brewing is a little like stretching one's own vellum with aims to later write poems or illuminated translations upon it. We have prior firsthand experience of neither.

Still, if we—with the help of local farmers, maltsters, and hop growers—can pull it off, we'll brew an exclusively Garden State-grown spontaneously fermented beer this winter. That beer, perhaps two or three years later, will serve the analogy as our own sort of Book of Kells.

Our grain needs at The Referend are scant: we could get by on nothing more than pilsner malted barley and raw wheat. But when we encountered a plot of organic spelt at a local Princeton farm (Great Road Farm), we found a way to out-antiquate ourselves, sourcing the chief predecessor to wheat and—lacking the modern combine—harvesting by hand.

Spelt fell out of favor as cultivar of choice in the 19th century as wheat hit its ascendancy. Wheat was processed for food production more easily, lacking the hull that lends the name to spelt of "hulled wheat" (also farro, epautre, dinkel, depending on the language/origin).

In the 12th century, Hildegard von Bingen exalted the grain, saying, "The grain of spelt is the strongest and best of all the fruits there are; it has in its stalk no sap nor pith like other trees, but its stem rises to a spike that leads to the fruit, and it never produces bitter juice in either heat or cold, but yields dry flour." The rediscovery of her spelt worshipping has helped enshrine the ancient grain, which has not necessarily helped advance knowledge of the grain itself. A recent scientific publication on ancient grains found "information on this hulled wheat is still incomplete and frequently contradictory." 

From what we've been able to glean, wheat and spelt have similarly high tannin levels, which we prize and prize out in the brewing of wort capable of long fermentations, but spelt has twelve times the sugar of wheat. Further, we'll brew with the spelt hulls (or chaff), adopting the old continental process discussed in an 1829 technical brewing book: 

"It is believed that the chaff possesses the property of facilitating the saccharification, as well as promoting the purity and fluidity of the extract."

We quickly realized the three of us dilettante farmhands were too green to harvest the half acre allotted us, but we went to work breaking stalks with hands and scythes, decapitating the spelt heads with a sickle, bundling the sheaves with twine, and loading it all up in the mobile coolship at the end of the day to bring back to The Referend.

Exactly one week later, after the grain had time to lightly bake and dry and loosen up, we threshed the grain with wiffle bats and a frantic stomping dance technique. An Albanian doctor, hearing of our plans, recommended a donkey or two to stomp the threshing floor, recalling how it had been performed back home. We are extremely amenable to this method if anyone local has a donkey to spare for a day.

After winnowing off the loose chaff and hay with a fan, we determined that this effort yielded us about 200 pounds of grain, enough for a 10-15 barrel batch of beer, destined for two to three puncheons (500L neutral oak wine barrels, as pictured above on the right), and possibly a thousand or so 750ml bottles.

Was it worth it? We were asking this to each other all day, having no idea of the weight of the grain we were collecting, no appreciable metric with which to mark our progress. Jean-François Lyotard rebuts these questions of value and efficiency, asking: "What is your 'what is it worth' worth?"

And surrealist painter and writer Giorgio de Chirico wonders:

"what of all those sublime and stupid resolutions of going back to the land, of folk art, of sincerity, of abnegation, of honesty, of probity, of simplicity, of bowing down before nature, of the cult of the beautiful, of health in art, of good work done in the morning after rising early, of the Mediterranean spirit, of victory over oneself? Twaddle and utopias?"

In truth, we won't know until we taste it.