Thursday, November 15, 2018

So How Did We Make ‘Let’s Try Apple Pie’?

Welcome to the first blog post from Mad Dog Brewing Co. We hope that you get to enjoy some of the upcoming posts as much as we enjoy writing them.
As ever, if you have any questions about this article, or if you have any recommendations for topics that you’d like to see covered in future editions, then please feel free to contact us.
For the first article, I thought that I’d speak about our recent beer ‘Let’s Try Apple Pie’ – after all, it’s one which seems to have prompted the most questions and sparked a lot of interest since first being announced. We appreciate that it may not be a beer which everyone likes, but it certainly seems to be one which everyone wants to try at least once. We’ve lost count of the number of times that someone has said “I don’t normally like Sour beers...” or “I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it at first...” only for them to order a second glass, or ask for bottles to take home.
The idea for ‘Let's Try Apple Pie’ came after several discussions between Al and me, about making a sour beer. It would be the first one produced on the current 6BBL equipment so we felt that it needed to be something memorable. We couldn’t decide what kind of fruit to use, or whether to use fruit at all!?! Though, in keeping with many of our other one-off beers we knew that we had to source any ‘special’ ingredients locally, and the beer had to be a bit different.
Each time we named a type of fruit, we came up with a different beer style which we thought it would be better suited to. Or that a recipe idea just wasn’t different enough.
The initial concept came from a comment of “I wonder if we could make an Apple flavoured beer?” (In all honesty, it was after a couple of Ciders and the thought was actually “I wonder if we could make a Cider flavoured beer...?”). We must have had the thought of sour beers in mind, because we quickly linked the ideas of ‘Cider flavoured’ and soured beers. 

Now that we’d decided that the first sour beer would be Apple flavoured, we had to decide how to achieve the desired sourness and fruit flavours. We quickly ruled out fruit concentrates or additives as we aim to use only whole fruits and other natural ingredients in our beers. This led us to think about using cider yeast during production of the beer!
Thanks to our friends at Palmers Uplands Cider (located in Risca), we’d got a sample of their spent yeast so that we could run some tests. pH of the sample was 3.8, which happened to be the target pH we had in mind for the eventual beer. Microscope analysis showed some VERY active wild yeast, but most importantly for us lots of healthy Gram-positive Lactobacillus bacteria were also present. 

We got straight to work designing a recipe which would provide plenty of sweet malt and biscuit flavours ... the finished beer which we now had in mind would resemble an apple pie or apple crumble with a slightly sharp finish!
We’d decided to use a ‘kettle souring’ process during the production of the beer. This meant using the spent yeast from Palmers Upland Cider to do the initial fermentation. The ‘kettle souring’ step meant that we could monitor the pH of the wort until the target of 3.8 was achieved. It’s then boiled for a second time to stop all wild yeast and Lactobacillus activity. A compromise of having the wild yeast present at this stage was that some of the sugars present in the wort were converted to alcohol (woohoo I might hear you say), but boiling for a second time meant that this alcohol was lost to evaporation, booooo! The finished beer is 3.6% abv, but if this alcohol hadn’t been lost during the boil step then the beer would have been around 4.2%.
To our surprise, the kettle souring step took only 18 hours to reach the target pH – that was some bloody active cider yeast!! When it came to boiling the now soured wort, there were some of the worst smells coming off a beer which Alex and I had ever experienced during a brew day... a mix of sour milk, cider vinegar and wet horse blankets (aka ‘Barnyard funk’ as some readers may have heard when describing beers with wild yeasts). For a short while, we looked at each other thinking that the batch might have to go down the drain, but fortunately those awful smells didn’t last long! Soon we had the caramel, apple and biscuit aromas which we were aiming for, backed up with a little spiciness and citrus from the UK Cascade hops added during the 30 minute boil... yum!
As soon as the boil was complete, the rest of the brewing process started to resemble a normal brew day; chill to 24°C, transfer to the fermenter and pitch a normal strain of brewers yeast to finish off the fermentation. We found though that fermentation took a little longer to get started than normal. We put this down to the acidity of the wort slowing the yeast from doing its thing – normal beers would have a pH around 5 at this stage, so the ale yeast wasn’t in its optimal environment.
During the fermentation and conditioning of this beer (8 weeks in all) we’d take fairly regular samples from the tank to see how the flavours were coming along. Initially, the beer tasted like a rough scrumpy cider with a small hint of beer / malt flavours in the background. Again, we had a small fear that this batch might be heading down the drain if the flavours didn’t change, but change they did! The impression of strong scrumpy faded by week 3, and the malts were becoming much more balanced with the fruit. The previously harsh sourness had mellowed out as well, but we couldn’t help but feel that there was still something lacking from that ‘Apple crumble’ or ‘Apple pie’ which we had in mind when designing the recipe. So, the thinking caps went on again, and we started to look at other flavours which could be introduced to the beer. Using small samples from the tank, we trialled some other fruits; blackcurrants, rhubarb and blackberries – all fruits that we thought would make a great apple crumble. None of those flavours seemed to work in this beer though so we started trying various spices too; nutmeg, all-spice and cinnamon.
Cinnamon... that was the one which had enough of a punch to balance the tart apples, it was also the one which best resembled the ‘Apple pie’ we were aiming for.  To the 500 litre batch of beer, we’d added 200g of cinnamon sticks to get the desired amount of spice flavour. It’s a very strong spice, so didn’t want it to overpower the other flavours. By adding only 200g, we could let the flavours develop slowly, and when they were at the correct level we’d package the beer into 330ml bottles and 30L Ecokegs. The cinnamon sticks were soaked in 3 litres of boiled water to sanitise them, and to help extract their flavours. The mix was allowed to cool to room temperature over night before being added to the fermenter.
The finished beer we feel is has a balanced flavour of apples, spice and sweet biscuit which we’d been aiming for from the start – all backed up with an underlying sourness which we hope doesn’t distract from the intended ‘Apple Pie beer. I hope that this article demonstrates some of the process involved with the design and development of a new beer. For those of you who have tried ‘Lets Try Apple Pie’ we’d love to hear from you to get your thoughts.

Head Brewer


  1. Great blog and a great beer too, keep up the good work.

  2. Haven't been over in a while, but after reading this blog a little trip is definitely on the cards ready for Xmas. Just praying you'll have some left lol!
    Ps definitely best local brewery 👍

    1. Well, thank you very much. We look forward to seeing you very soon.

  3. Super interesting blog Stu. Great insight into the technical process balancing the known with the experimental. Look forward to future blogs.