Abundance, Mixed Fermentation Saison: A Lesson in Patience
Ahead of the release of Abundance, a slow-matured Mixed Fermentation Saison brewed with elderflowers foraged from our own orchard, our founder Michael Wiper reflects on the beer’s lengthy journey from concept to release - including its top score as our best ever internally-rated beer during quality control. Abundance will be available via Build A Box and bottle shops across Bristol and beyond from Monday 23rd May, or you can nab a bottle at our St Werburghs Taproom this weekend.
We are lucky enough to own a small 50-tree traditional cider apple orchard that my wife Francesca and I planted up together a few years before Wiper and True was even a fledgling idea. Rooted in rural Wiltshire, we use the apples that eventually grew in the orchard to make a delicious oak-aged, spontaneous fermentation apple beer called Old Twelfth Night. You can read more about both the history of the orchard and that beer here.
Now that the orchard is more developed, we head out to check on the trees regularly. With a lot of help from our horticultural friends Joe and Lou (who are currently designing and planting up the garden at our new brewery and taproom in Old Market), we manage the orchard in the most natural, low-intervention way possible - avoiding pesticides, weeding and generally keeping things light-touch. It’s around this time of year, as the apple trees are in full blossom, that we notice the abundance of elderflowers emerging from the trees that surround the orchard. They completely change the landscape with their soft white flowers amongst the vibrant, vivid spring greenery, and add a honey sweetness to the air. Every year we think “we should do something with these.”
Last year, we did. As part of our mixed fermentation programme, run from our Barrel Store, we created a foraged saison, using mixed yeast cultures and elderflowers picked fresh from the orchard. It’s been ageing for nearly a year now, and over time has developed into a team favourite of which we are incredibly proud.
The concept behind the beer was to take the essence of a complex, crisp, ester-filled Saison and blend this with delicate fresh elderflower. We wanted some of the flavour to come through from the flowers but also to introduce some of the wild yeasts and bacteria that are naturally present on the plants. We hoped that this would add a complex and unique take on the beer that is distinct to our orchard - similar to the concept of terroir that’s so popular in the wine world.
The key to using the elderflower fresh was to harvest it on the morning of the brew day, so that we could utilise it in the purest form, so I set off from Bristol bright and early and was picking before breakfast time. I brought back a truckload and we de-stemmed and added the flowers directly to the beer in tank, creating the most amazing aromas throughout the Barrel Store.
And then we waited. We were hoping for a fairly quick six-week turnaround from brewing to releasing this beer, but often that is just not nature’s way. With wild foraged ingredients there's always uncertainty and an element of playing a waiting game, but with patience comes great reward.
Here’s a couple of extracts from the archive of tasting notes kept during the beer’s first few months while we monitored its development:
July 2021: in pack 5.5 weeks. PG: 1001.9 pH:3.78. Definitely still changing. Nose is getting more apple like, still elderflower floral but some real funk coming through, slightly minty.
August 2021: doesn’t feel like a balanced finished product yet, needs more time.
September 2021: Cidery, dry, sour, cloying, oily, harsh
From there I’d say the beer took a turn for the… boring, with a good few months of being quite plain and difficult to pin down into anything worth writing home about.
At this point we didn’t know where the beer was going to head next, but it was safe to say things weren’t looking great for this beer. Every single brew we make at Wiper and True is put through a sensory evaluation process, as part of our stringent quality control measures. A trained panel of team members from every department participate in a weekly session where we score our beers against a strict set of criteria in order to keep our product quality at its finest. When they hear about this our customers often volunteer to be part of the panel, but it’s a little more formal (read: less fun) than you might imagine. We sit in silence (so we don’t influence each other), usually early in the morning (when tastebuds are less corrupted); we are highly critical (as we strive to be objective and honest with ourselves on a mission to constantly improve) and we concentrate on filling out a rigorous checklist that investigates every part of the beer, from the colour, the way the head leaves a lacing on the glass, the bitterness, the mouthfeel and many more important aspects.
In its first pass at a sensory evaluation panel, this beer scored 72 out of 100. By Wiper and True standards this is an out and out fail; no beer would ever be released to market with a score like that.
However, we kept the faith and let the beer keep maturing and developing, leaving it well alone with no intervention to do its thing.
Fast forward to a sensory review session in April 2022 and the results are entirely different. This beer had turned from a lacklustre, faulted affair into our highest ever scoring beer. It hit an astounding 96 out of 100, and has been talked of ever since as potentially the best beer we’ve ever made.
In the high octane pace of everything else we do at the brewery and in the midst of the biggest project we’ve ever undertaken (moving to our new headquarters this summer), it’s so rewarding to see a slow beer develop so beautifully, simply thanks to time and patience.
Abundance, Mixed Fermentation Saison, will be available online from Monday 23rd May, as part of our Build a Box mixed case. Find it in bottle shops and bars from this week, too, or visit our taproom to buy a bottle or two, from this Friday 20th May onwards. The beer will no doubt continue to evolve over the coming months and years; we can’t wait to see where it goes next.