At the end of August, a few weeks before the long-awaited premiere and subsequent worldwide ban of my debut film, Sour Beer Snowbeasts from Outer Space!, we previewed a forthcoming collaboration between Threes Brewing and Mikkeller. The resulting beer, both unique and lightheartedly misleading, was unveiled within the former’s portfolio recently, thus our concluding this two-part series today. Its name is Fruit of the Canal.
The brewing of Fruit of the Canal, on the morning of September 02, was enabled by a mothershuckin’ event at Threes’ sinuous 8,000-square-foot headquarters in Gowanus less than 12 hours prior. The preceding soirée featured oysters from Harvest Moon Shellfish and an impressive lineup of draft beers made by Mikkeller, the renowned Copenhagen, Denmark-based gypsy brewery helmed by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, who was in attendance, and had traveled to Brooklyn primarily to partner with Greg Doroski, Threes’ head brewer. (“I really like Greg’s style. He’s not just making the regular kinds of beers,” the Danish innovator told me.)
The oysters were dutifully consumed by patrons packing the brewpub’s recently completed backyard that evening, and two buckets of the leftover shells were later employed by Doroski and Bjergsø to brew Canal, an unconventional, visually deceptive saison.
Since the brewery component of Threes began operating last October (weeks prior to the business’s opening to the public two months later), Doroski has partnered with several respected brewers to make limited beers. The most recent—aside from Canal, and aside from Tres Equis, a new Mexican-style lager brewed with Other Half being unveiled this weekend—was a saison created with Brewery Ommegang (one recipe was brewed both in Brooklyn and Cooperstown, where Ommegang hails, and fermented with the breweries’ respective house yeasts; the two versions, pouring at Threes’ long bar now, are noticeably different.)
Doroski has expressed his affinity for brewing and drinking saisons to us before, so it’s fitting that he paired with one of the U.S.’s most notable Belgian-style brewers to craft arguably the most popular Belgian-born beer style. It’s also fitting that the liquid he designed with Bjergsø, Canal, is a saison, though less traditional than that effort, which is called Was It Good For You?: Canal is labeled as a black saison made with oyster shells.
We chatted with Doroski before Canal was made, so it was crucial to taste the finished product with him. I did that yesterday, and an edited, condensed version of our conversation is below.
Niko Krommydas: Okay. We’re drinking Fruit of the Canal now. It’s a saison, but it’s dark. Almost all saisons are not dark.
Greg Doroski: Yep. The beer started completely blonde and now it’s black. Well, it’s actually not black-black. When you put the beer on our bar top it looks black, but we missed the color by a bit. It’s definitely dark, though.
NK: It’s deceiving, though, because the beer doesn’t have any roast character.
GD: Right. That’s because we didn’t use any dark malts to make it. We wanted to keep the beer soft, with minimal roast, so we got the dark color from a brewing agent called Sinamar. It’s basically a malt-derived extract commonly used to brew a Reinheitsgebot-compliant swartz beer. The beer was originally blonde like I just mentioned before we moved it to the serving tank. That’s where we added the Sinamar.
NK: Does it effect the flavor of the beer?
GD: It’s promoted as flavorless, but I honestly think some of the berry, plumy character in Canal is clearly derived from it.
NK: I get that. I see that you added “Berry” on the menu for one of its tasting notes.
GD: We did. Looking back maybe that was a bad idea because now everyone is commenting on Untappd and applauding our use of fruit in the beer. [Laughs.] But there’s no fruit in it.
NK: So, just to reiterate, you added Sinamar just to color the beer.
GD: Right. We brewed this saison just like any other we would do, using mostly pale malt as the base. A lot of friends who come by the brewery joke around that all of our beers are the same color, a pale-straw color. That’s mostly true, but we did make a stout. And we were toying with the idea of brewing a black saison for a while. So this is it. I’ve wondered if it may seem somewhat gimmicky that we colored it, but we felt that the dark color was an important reference point to contextualize it vis-a-vis an oyster stout.
NK: Yeah. Because almost any beer made with oysters is a stout.
GD: Right. And they’re usually roasty. This has no roast.
NK: What do you think of it? I like it. It’s not too salty. Not too oystery.
GD: It’s balanced. Right. I’m really happy with it. The beer tastes great and people seem to dig it. If anything, I would have added more sea salt but I think it’s best we went conservative on the first try.
If I can get cerebral for a second, I also think it can be understood both through the lens of our portfolio as a saison, and also as a conceptually experimental recipe like a lot of Mikkel’s beers.
NK: How was brewing with him?
GD: It was cool. We hung with Mikkel and his crew at the party the night before and during the morning of the brew they came and helped with what Joel [Ford, Threes’ assistant brewer] and I were doing. We all got pretty banged up the night before, honestly, so we needed the extra hands. Too much whiskey and High Life.
NK: I taste some funk in this, too.
GD: Yeah. We fermented it with a blend of Belgian saison yeast and Brett[anomyces] c[laussenii], which has pretty much become our house saison blend these days. We just posted a picture on Instagram about the Brett in this, actually. It’s interesting because we really do notice a change since it debuted last week. That’s the great thing about using Brett: It evolves. It’s also one of the great things about brewing in a pub setting. You really get to experience beer through its entire life cycle.
NK: Do you plan on making it again?
GD: I don’t know if I see us brewing another saison with oysters, but you never know. We don’t have another black saison on the production schedule, but I do think they’re a great style for the fall and winter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see us brewing another one within the next few months, or at the least next fall.
NK: What’s up with the name?
GD: The salt marsh that became the Gowanus Canal used to be filled with oysters. That was obviously before Whole Foods came in. Now the canal is black on its best days.