Funky Blond — Ode to Jolly Pumpkin

Funky Blond, my take on Bam Biere

I first came across the name about a year ago when my wife sent me a article where their Oro de Calabaza won first in a blind tasting of 20 different Belgian or Belgian style beers (half were brewed in the US and Canada, the other half were from Belgium).  I read this brewery was from Dexter, MI, right outside of Ann Arbor, where I spent a few years tipping pints in college.  However, I had never heard of Jolly Pumpkin.  I had moved away from Michigan over 10 years ago, and the brewery opened in 2004.  Intrigued, I looked further into this, and found a bottle at one of the better beer stores here in Maine.  I brought it home, and had Oro de Calabaza for the first time.  It was funky and spicy, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  So, I did some more digging, and found out that Ron Jeffries, the owner and head brewer for Jolly Pumpkin, In this interview, they talked about his Bam Biere, which is sort of his version of a saison, but kinda not.  He called it a farm house ale, because, well, that is pretty open to interpretation.  I listened to the interview, and decided to give it a go with what I had on hand.  I liked that he mixed base malts, particularly as I had a few pounds of this and that left over from prior batches.  His rationale was to go for a more rustic style beer, more like what was brewed in small towns before beer was widely distributed.  Sounded like fun.

Jolly Pumpkin uses as their house yeast.  However, he uses open fermentation tanks.  Most fermentation now is done in conical cylindrical tanks.  Basically, they are large vertical silos, that have a cone at the bottom.  This lets the brewer remove the spent yeast from the bottom easily, and they can keep the tanks sealed and pressurized.  This is the way most beer is now fermented.  However, open fermentation is done in smaller, more shallow tubs, usually with a flat bottom.  Still used extensively in the UK, these tanks are open to the air, allowing oxygen to stay in contact with the beer.  Brewers who use these systems swear by them.  They are harder to clean and maintain, but they are supposed to give you more flavors from the yeast.  Once the beer is done with the primary fermentation, it is pumped to storage containers for aging and conditioning.  One twist at Jolly Pumpkin is they pull outside air into his brewery to help cool it at night.  This has the side effect of drawing in all those wild yeasts on the wind currents, and settling them into his beer.  Once primary is done, the beer is moved to oak barrels, another twist, and allowed to age for a few months to a few years, depending on the brew.  Over time, these barrels become the home turf of the wild yeasts, and you get a distinct taste from them.  It is this wild yeast and barrel aging that gives Jolly Pumpkin beers its serious funk, so I bought a bottle of  Bam Biere, poured the dregs from the bottle into a starter, and grew some yeast on a stir plate for a few days, then used that as my yeast for the beer.  So, on to the beer!

2.00 lb       Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM)
2.00 lb       Pilsner (2 Row) Ger (2.0 SRM)
1.50 lb       Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (3.0 SRM)
1.00 lb       Barley, Flaked (1.7 SRM)
1.00 lb       White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM)
0.25 lb       Caramel/Crystal Malt – 10L (10.0 SRM)
1.00 oz       Mt. Hood [4.70 %]  (60 min)               Hops         17.9 IBU
0.50 oz       Mt. Hood [4.70 %]  (30 min)               Hops         6.9 IBU
0.50 oz       Mt. Hood [4.70 %]  (0 min) (Aroma Hop-Steep at flameout)
1 Pkgs        Jolly Pumpkin Bam Beer Dregs [Cultured]   Yeast-Ale

OG: 1.051, FG: 1.009, 24.8 IBU’s, 60 minute infusion mash at 154F.  This beer was so high in gravity for such a small malt bill because I boiled it for 80 minutes instead of the usual 60, and I got 4.75 gallons of beer instead of the usual 5.25 gallons I shoot for.  I did this because I typically boil beers with pilsner malt 20-30 minutes longer to drive out some of the corn, grassy flavors that come with that malt.  In retrospect, that was not really necessary.  Primary fermentation of 13 days, gravity dropped to 1.013.  This was racked, and kept in secondary in a Better Bottle, with 1/2 oz of french oak cubes that had been boiled added to the fermentor.  It grew a pellicle, with large bubbles, and I bottled it after 2 months, and let it age in the bottles another month.

Tasting:  The beer pours as a hazy, golden color.  The head quickly disappears, but small bubbles continue to rise from the bottom of the glass.   The aroma is a mixture of lemon with cherries and what I would call a “barnyard” smell and some acidity.  The first thing I think when I taste this beer is lemon, with cherry, lots of brettanomyces flavors here,  and what I would best describe as a grassy “funk” in the background.  I really don’t taste any hops, but the beer has a slight bitterness.  The mouth feel is light, and the acidity from the beer covers and cleanses the palate, leaving you with a tart, very clean and dry finish.  This beer screams Brett.  I love it.

Critique:  Maybe my favorite beer I ever brewed.  My only concern is that this maybe a “snow flake” beer, where you can not duplicate the final product.  The real mystery is the yeast, because that is what completely drives this beer.  I want to figure out how to capture and reuse these guys.  I have gone so far as to purchase the book “” and have made some plates to find out what is in this guy, more to come on that.  I have gotten more complexity and wild brett funk in 6 months then I have out of my first try at a lambic that aged for 18 months.  I also entered this beer this past fall in the New England Regional Homebrewers competition and it came in 2nd in the specialty beer category.

Judge Sheet #1 for Funky Blond

Judge Sheet #2 for Funky Blond

I was in Ann Arbor over the Thanksgiving Holidays in 2010, and ate at the Jolly Pumpkin brewpub (hence the pint glass) and Bam Biere on tap is nothing like what I had originally in their bottle, nor what I made.  It was much less funky and sour, with more hops character.  You get a hint of wildness, but nothing like what I brewed.  I suspect being on draft at their brewpub, they go through the kegs quickly, and nothing ages for very long.   I believe my bottle which I cultured was old, and the brett had time to really work, so there was much more of the wild yeast in the beer then you get in the fresher beer.  It is good either way, but these beers act much like wines, in that they change dramatically over time.

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