10 Barrel Brewing Company’s latest limited-release beer, Pyka, is a blended harmony of fruit, mixed fermentation sour ale and wine barrels that eschews hops and high alcohol for a delicate, puckering snap of berries and apricot. Released earlier this month, bottles are available exclusively at the brewery’s pubs in 750 milliliter format.
Pyka is the creation of brewer Bryon Pyka, who works in the company’s sour barrel program. Pyka — the brewer, not the beer — is responsible for a number of experimental sours that have been gracing the brewpub taps over the past year. He manages the brewery’s Brettanomyces sour beers and blends.
Pyka the beer is a version of the brewery’s kettle-soured Berliner weisse, a similar base beer that comprises many of its best-known sour ales, including the Crush line. “Kettle souring” is the method by which brewers pitch a culture of lactobacillus bacteria into the wort (the pre-fermented beer) to sour it before boiling and fermenting.
This method of souring a beer is less biologically risky than traditional methods and does not require any specialized or separate equipment. It’s a method that 10 Barrel’s R&D brewmaster Tonya Cornett explored and mastered while still at Bend Brewing Company (the best known example of which is Ching Ching, a pomegranate and hibiscus Berliner weisse).
Such beers typically undergo a traditional fermentation with regular brewers yeast, Saccharomyces, after souring in the kettle. However, with Pyka, it was fermented entirely with Brettanomyces yeast.
Fermenting a beer solely with Brettanomyces is a relatively new practice in the beer world. Typically considered a “spoilage” organism, this “wild” yeast is nevertheless a crucial fermentation component in certain traditional styles, such as lambic from Belgium. In such beers it is one of several types of yeast and bacteria used, and usually the primary fermentation is still conducted by common Saccharomyces yeast. Only in recent years have adventurous American brewers begun experimenting with 100 percent brett fermentations.
Brett by itself ferments at a slower pace that regular yeast, and despite its reputation as a spoilage yeast, in the right circumstances it yields clean, bright, fruity results.
Pyka is just such a beer, which subsequently underwent additions of fruit and barrel aging. The kettle-soured base beer fermented for six months with Brettanomyces, and then was transferred to wine barrels to age further. To the barrels were added blackberries and apricots — 1 pound of blackberries and 2 pounds of apricots per gallon of beer (or a staggering 93 pounds of fruit per barrel).
Pyka himself processed much of the fruit, as well as hand bottling the majority of the beer on a four-head bottle filler. “You can (bottle) like two barrels a day, maybe, on it. And that’s all day,” he said in a recent interview. “I think I ended up bottling six or seven barrels worth. So it was three or four days.”
He continued, “That’s one of the cool things about it, is that I had my hands on every step of the process.”
The end result is a delicately fruity sour ale that’s rose-pink with a tinge of lavender in color. The aroma bears the lemony, tart lactic character typical of a Berliner weisse, with a bright fruit note reminiscent of berries and raspberry tea.
The flavor is puckeringly tart with a bright, abundant fruit presence. To my taste, it has a jammy quality of slightly under-ripe berries, with subtle stone fruit sweetness and an herbal tea quality that reveals a bit of astringency. It’s light-bodied and finishes clean and refreshing without overpowering with acidity.
The beer is a recipe that Pyka has been working on since his days brewing beer at home.
“Essentially this beer got me my job,” he said. As a homebrewer, he became accomplished at brewing sour ales (not an easy thing to master at home), experimenting with a number of techniques and styles. While working as a temp at 10 Barrel for a special bottling project, Pyka introduced himself to Cornett, known for her sour beers.
Striking up a conversation on the subject, he mentioned his own creations.
“I’d been homebrewing a lot of sour beer, and I said I’ve been doing this one beer where it’s a Berliner weisse that I kettle soured, but then I fermented with 100 percent brett,” said Pyka.
Cornett had been wanting to do the same thing, and he happened to have a bottle of the beer on hand. “So I gave her a bottle of this, which had the same fruits in it, at the same proportions, and the same yeast,” he said. “She took the bottle home that night and drank it.”
Cornett was highly impressed with the beer, and helped Pyka to get hired at 10 Barrel.
“She pushed for me to run all the brett sour beers,” he said.
Since that time, a variety of his experimental creations have appeared on tap at the pub; Pyka is the first of his beers to be bottled. Pyka (the brewer) is humble yet happy with it.
“It wasn’t my decision to call it as such, but my name is on it, and it’s something that I’m proud of,” he said.
— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!