When I told friends I was planning to visit a brewery to taste a sauerkraut beer, I got more than a few skeptical looks. Sauerkraut, a tart dish made with fermented cabbage, is certainly not a common beer ingredient. It is, however, traditional fare to serve alongside pints of lager, sausages and pretzels at Oktoberfest celebrations.
But when James Gammon, owner of Morse’s Sauerkraut & European Deli in Waldoboro, came to Odd Alewives Farm Brewery with the idea for a collaboration – a beer brewed with Morse’s sauerkraut – something clicked. The bacteria and microorganisms that are used to pickle the ingredients in sauerkraut are similar (and, in some cases, identical) to those that are used to make sour styles of beer. Lactobacillus, in particular, is known to produce the tart, tangy flavor that the pungent food is known for.
Brewers and owners Sarah and John McNeil decided that brewing a beer with sauerkraut would be perfect to debut at their upcoming Oktoberfest celebration, planned for Saturday at the brewery in Waldoboro. Morse’s, a Maine institution in and of itself, is celebrating its 100th year in businesses this year, which is certainly an accomplishment that deserves a toast. In those 100 years, the process for creating sauerkraut has barely changed, down to the rocks used to weigh down the covers on the vats while fermentation is occurring, which are the same as the ones first used 100 years ago.
To complement the flavors already found in the sauerkraut, the McNeils decided on a gose as the base beer style. Gose-style beers are tart German wheat ales that are low in alcohol and usually brewed with a bit of salt to provide a slight savory bite. The beer, called Odd Idea, was brewed on the one-barrel pilot system at Odd Alewives, and Morse’s sauerkraut was added twice during the brewing process, which provided the salt and many of the organisms that would be used to ferment the beer. It was finished off with coriander grown in the farm’s garden.
I know what you’re wondering: How did it taste?
The beer was a pale yellow and, at first, nothing seemed “odd” about it at all. The aroma, though slightly tart, was not out of the realm of what a normal gose would smell like. The first sip was deceptive. It is a light-bodied beer that has a perfect level of tang near the end of the sip. It also carried a recognizable wheat character towards the finish of the beer, which is expected for the style.
But given a few moments to warm up, the contributions from the sauerkraut began to hit my senses in the most delicious way. The vinegar-like tartness was present but not overwhelming, and the nod of sauerkraut flavor that came through in the beer made me smile. Then, at the end of each sip, came the best part. Combining with some of the wheat character of the beer, I got the sensation as if I had just eaten the last, juicy corner of a terrific Reuben sandwich. It’s effect was far from heavy handed; the beer was not a liquid version of sauerkraut (as my concerned friends feared) but rather a beer that gracefully dances in step with a distinct flavor profile.
The small batch of sauerkraut beer is only available at the brewery during Oktoberfest, but there are many other reasons to make the drive to Waldoboro if you miss the fest.
Odd Alewives Brewery is no stranger to using ingredients that go beyond the typical malt, hops, yeast and water. As a true farm brewery, the fruits of their labor (literally and figuratively) have made their way into their beers. A pumpkin beer, made with pumpkins grown and roasted at the farm, is currently fermenting in the tanks.
The name of each Odd Alewives brew begins with the word “odd,” and many incorporate ingredients that are unique, yet flavorful. I particularly enjoyed Odd Night, a black ale that includes a trio of herbs: lavender, horehound (an herb related to mint) and anise hyssop. Unlike some other herbal beers I’ve tried, the added ingredients contributed complexity to the base beer but did not overwhelm it. There were spicy, anise notes but also softer minty tones, backed up by the beer’s own bitterness. It is the kind of beer you could sip around a fire or drink while working on fall gardening chores, preparing for winter.
Waldoboro’s neck of the midcoast has been a bit quiet on the brewery front, with only Oxbow brewing tucked away in the woods of Newcastle for many years. But in that time, the area has become a haven for artisans, crafters and unique small businesses. People connect and meet each other in the Odd Alewives tasting room, finding partnerships, collaborations and new neighbors, and the area is growing. It’s worth a visit to discover what odd and wonderful ideas (and beers) are afoot.