Bier Mash Amaro
- Wunderkammer Bier Mash and Matchbook fortifying spirit made from Northeast Grain Shed grains
- Foraged ingredients: rose hips, beach rose petals, crabapples, sumac, chokecherries, yarrow, pears, plums, and quassia
- Other ingredients: Rare Tea Cellar Quassia, Sugar
- 25% Alc by Vol
- Made in VT + NY
The Johnny Weekly
1.5 Oz My Bitter Earth
.75oz Sweet Triumph Peated
.5 oz lemon
.5 oz simple syrup
Build in a collins glass over ice.
Lemon Wheel Garnish.
1.75 Oz My Bitter Earth
.75 oz Late Embers Smoked Sunchoke
.75oz Lemon Juice
.75 oz 50:50 honey syrup
The honey syrup is made by mixing equal proportions honey and warm water and chilling.
Add ingredients to a shaker tin and shake with ice.
Strain into a coup glass.
Into The Bottle
Last spring, we journeyed off the North Fork and up to Vermont's scenic Northeast Kingdom to collaborate with one of our favorite brewers, Vasilios Gletsos of Wunderkammer Bier. Our goal? To craft a beer mash that would pair with the grain distillate we'd collaborated on the year before, serving as the base for our bier amaro.
Our collaboration began in August 2021, and today, on Friday, October 6, 2023, we introduce "My Bitter Earth," affectionately known amongst ourselves as "Amara Terra Mia."
Vasili foraged around his brewery while Scotty and I gathered botanicals from our sister property, The Lin Beach House. These botanicals were macerated in the distillate for a year before being strained. We then used this floral, herbal, and fruity infusion to fortify the Springs bier mash, finishing with a bit of quassia and touch of sugar. The mash bill for the beer and the distillate were crafted from virtually identical mash bills, using the same grains but sourcing from varieties and growers local to each of us.
Contrary to its name, bitter isn't the foremost descriptor that springs to mind when tasting My Bitter Earth. It's herbaceous and grain-forward; a rich beer where a medley of botanicals takes center stage. The interplay of malted barley, hops, and sugar manifests as a candied character in the middle, concluding with a subtly bitter aftertaste. This comes from a gentle infusion of hops and quassia. I considered augmenting the quassia in the maceration, but realized that all the foraged botanicals served to express our collaboration, and the essence of our environment. On paper, and in our containers, we saw the amaro forming. In its totality, our bitter earth emerged as not merely bitter, but complex.
This two-year adventure entailed milling grains, covering 1,288 miles on the road, and vigorous foraging. We shook pear trees for fruit, mashed a beer in a coolship, discussed collaboration, contemplated amaro, and engaged in lively discussions with federal regulators—some of whom were perplexed and even slightly irritated by our approach, which drew on vermouth and pineau de charantes as the template for our project.
Our fortifying spirit boasts a rich blend of ingredients: rose hips, beach rose petals, crabapples, sumac, chokecherries, yarrow, pears, plums, and quassia. All are distilled from organic malt, oats, and red wheat grown in NY, and then milled, mashed, fermented, and distilled at Matchbook. A year after our initial collaboration, we returned to the brewery to brew the mash. Vasili pours water into the mash tun/coolship, milling in the grain as we assist in raking and agitating the mash. Such a brewhouse is quite unique in this era of high-tech brewing.
The mash tun/coolship previously functioned as the cheese vat for the cheese cave, which is now the Wunderkammer cellar. Its standout features are the high-quality hygienic welds and the lack of automation. We often discuss the merits of simple design executed flawlessly over complex, highly automated systems at Matchbook. We acknowledge our methods are inefficient by today's standards, but our approach provides us with a versatile tool. This flexibility lets us work with ingredients and processes that wouldn't be feasible in a rigid, highly automated setup. Our priorities stem from the seasons, the farms, and the process, rather than being constrained solely by the capabilities of the system.
In our email exchanges compiling these production notes, Vasili added a postscript, saying, "I had one more thought I wanted to express. I like the concept of questions that take time to form, problems that take time to define and ideas that take a longer time to think and resolve. I felt like once I started thinking about [production], it started a process of questions and answers that still goes on today; always seeking elegant solutions that fit into and become part of the philosophy of this project."
The bier mash comprises malt, wheat, naked oats, and hops. It's combined in the mash tun/coolship, transferred to the kettle for boiling (powered by a wood-burning furnace), and then returned to the coolship for cooling. In regular operations, the wort (unfermented beer mash) moves to the cellar and is pitched with a mixed culture.
Arriving at Vasilios' brewery is always a joy, its heart nestled inside one of Vermont's many rolling hills. On my first visit, it took several passes down a familiar dirt road before realizing that a solitary pallet off to the side was a stack of beer bottles, marking the trail to the entrance of the brewery's cellar. Through the double doors we walk into the cheese cave turned Wunderkammer, filled with oak barrels, demijohns with botanicals and tools of the trade. The walls of the cave are a warm off-white clay that casts off a glow. There's a mural on the back wall painted by Vasili -- a winged deaths head. It sounds dark but it's got a paradoxically lively energy. "The figure represents a rebirth of the spirit, and I made it to reflect the rebirth of the space, a former cheese cave and my craft."
I think Vasilios knows more about brewing than anyone I've ever met. You wouldn't necessarily know that from talking to him -- preferring to learn about his guests or steering discussions into art, family and community ahead of anything else. Anyway, his beers do the talking. Mixed culture, barrel fermented and aged, lower-ABV beers often with rich botanicals -- yarrow, pine, lichen. He writes, "I feel that foraging for local ingredients specifically, but my use of raw materials generally, are my attempts to recontextualize and reconstruct the materials from my corner of the world and elevate them to the level of Art."