When scanning through a list of beers from Brooklyn’s Freethought Brewing Co., the first thing I noticed was the unusual ingredients and flavor combinations in many of them.
Levitate is a sour ale with pineapple, turmeric, makrut lime and lemongrass. Museum Dose blends strawberries with birch and sarsaparilla in a sour ale. I would have loved to try Madcap, which featured adjuncts like lapsang souchong (my favorite smoked tea), cocoa and tamarind.
Co-owners Benjamin Clayton and Ryan Jorgenson began their homebrewing journey in 2010 and bring their personal experiences to the brand; Clayton runs the bar program at Greenwich Village’s Blue Hill, a farm-to-city dining establishment with its own interesting flavor fusions. At the moment, one can find on its tasting menu: grapes with ginger and milk; celtuce with crab, lobster, peanuts and ground cherries; Brussels sprouts, smoked grapes, horseradish and goat cheese; and monkfish with puntarelle, saffron and grapes.
It seems clear where some of Freethought’s inspiration is coming from when reading these beers next to this tasting menu.
Freethought is crafting recipes in small-house batches and they’re then sending off the recipe for contract brewing with larger-scale production. In the case of June’s release of Shibumi, it was brewed at Long Island’s Great South Bay Brewery. The beer then was distributed by Twelve Percent Beer Project, a group that handles distribution details for quite a few other nomadic breweries that have no permanent home base of operation.
For a brewery starting out that doesn’t want to take on investors or get strapped to a million dollar-plus loan, contract brewing and channeling beer through a distribution middleman can make a lot of sense, especially when the contract brewer allows for a hands-on approach.
When I saw Freethought’s Shibumi, a style it calls an IPA Cuvee, it immediately piqued my interest. It had miso added at the end of the boil at whirlpool, cherries added to the fermenter and was finished on chamomile flowers. Then it was blended with a golden sour ale base and canned with a label featuring cherries and colorful arrays that I’d honestly like to have as wallpaper on my kitchen wall.
On the IPA end of things, it had a Pilsner malt base along with malted and raw wheat, malted and flaked oats and with El Dorado, Amarillo and Ekuanot hops added in various forms and at various times.
It poured a bright peachy orange from the can, super hazy and with absolutely no head.
The aroma offered cherries, grapefruit, orange, floral softness, vanilla and a super juicy center. In flavor, chamomile was more pronounced here than in the nose and it had a soft, dreamy character. There was luscious citrus, sour cherry juice, pithy bitterness and maybe just a hint of earthy umami whispers of miso — honestly, miso was hard to pick out in both the nose and mouth and it’s an ingredient with which I cook regularly in my kitchen. It ended quite dry, yet lingering cherries and flowers happily stayed on long after every sip was finished.
Shibumi was a fascinating and complex beer and one that I definitely wish I could have tried fresh. According to Freethought’s website, it was born in June, and I’m sure many of the vivid aromas and flavors have mellowed and melted into the rest of the beer. Also, the can was lower on carbonation than I think it should have been. When looking at Freethought’s Instagram feed on this beer, it shows a dense, pillowy, pale tangerine colored head that they describe as “light” and “wispy,” which wasn’t my experience at all.
Still, it has aged well enough that I’d absolutely purchase a can of this again and I’ll for sure be buying more Freethought Brewing Co. beers in the future for both the imagination and creative nuanced blending of unique flavors.
Contact Amber DeGrace with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on Twitter at @amberdegrace.