Concept comes full circle with rhubarb brew
By Steve Graham
Jay Shambo last ate rhubarb as a child, but the taste memory of a neighbor’s pie inspired him to brew with the tart vegetable.
“It seemed like a cool ingredient and a challenge,” said Shambo, head brewer at Soul Squared Brewing Co. in Wellington.
Rhubarb is also the perfect ingredient for the Soul Squared experiment in community-supported beer.
Like many small farms, Aaron and Mary Gray’s family farm outside Wellington has a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, but instead of funding seeds and tractor maintenance, it pays for kettles and barley for the in-house brewery, Soul Squared.
Shortly after opening the farm, the Grays started collaborating on beer with Shambo, a longtime friend and an award-winning homebrewer.
“You can’t have beer without agriculture,” Aaron Gray said. “You can have agriculture without beer, but why bother?”
Soul Squared CSA members pay an annual membership fee for the opportunity to go to the farm or a boutique Fort Collins craft beer store to pick up their monthly share of beer bombers — and even offer suggestions about future selections.
And in the case of the June selection, some of the members contribute rhubarb.
“We will grow a bunch of it and also get some from our CSA members and neighbors,” Shambo said. “We source a lot of our ingredients from the farm and local growers.”
Shambo is adding the rhubarb to a kettle-soured pilsner. “Since we want just a bit of tartness to compliment the rhubarb, this is the best process since we can control the finishing pH of the beer as well as the balance of sourness to other malt and fruit aspects,” he said.
Shambo dreams up at least one new beer every month for CSA members, and he admits not all his experiments have been really successful.
“As a brewer, having the ability to produce one-off beers is a great way to scratch that creative itch that brewing the same beers day in and day out can’t satiate,” he said. “It’s always a new recipe, though the process is always the same: Figure out what the end result will be, and then figure out the ingredients and process to achieve that end.”
In this case, the result will be a light-hued and mostly clear pilsner with a touch of pink from the rhubarb.
“The flavor is light bodied with a grainy malt base,” Shambo said. “There is no hop flavor or aroma. The tartness comes from a combination of the rhubarb and lactic acid from the kettle souring process.”
He said it will only clock in at about 10 international bitterness units, although the souring and the rhubarb may make it seem slightly more bitter.
“It will be balanced, but towards the tart side,” he said. “It’s definitely not puckering or off-putting.”
The rhubarb ale will be the June offering for CSA members, who have been treated to two years of creative new flavors every month, including an acorn squash amber ale and a beet saison.
“We love incorporating ingredients that we grow and ingredients that someone could find growing locally,” Shambo said.
It will also be available at select liquor stores in northern Colorado, and at the Soul Squared taproom that opened in March.
Steve Graham is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor who likes taking his two young boys biking, hiking and brewery-hopping in northern Colorado.