Residency has its privileges. Starting today, Za’Tart Spiced Sour Ale – a new collaboration brew from the Boulevard Brewing Company and Cambridge Brewing Company – will start appearing on local taps. The Recommended Daily spoke with CBC Brewmaster Will Meyers (not the former Royals’ prospect) about how the collaboration came into existence and the beer that will only be available in glasses around the Kansas City area.
“[Boulevard brewmaster] Steven [Pauwels] is an excellent and talented brewer and he has taken Boulevard to some pretty extraordinary places. I was flattered that he asked me to brew together,” Meyers says.
Pauwels and Myers began talking about a possible collaboration at the Big Beers Festival in Vail, Colorado, this January.
“Anything that sounded kind of fun and that neither of us had done before was fair game,” Meyers says. “With both groups, our palates at the time were really gravitating toward lower ABV beers that were super dry and slightly tart.”
Meyers, an avid cook, had been playing around with Za’atar – a traditional Middle Eastern spice blend of dried sumac (a sour berry), oregano, thyme, sesame seeds and salt. Boulevard’s brewing team was intrigued by the idea of bringing in some savory elements to the brew.
“Will Meyers and the brewing team at Cambridge are widely recognized for their use of herbs, spices and other unique raw materials,” Boulevard brewer Jeremy Danner says. “[They are] really great at thinking about flavors and flavor combinations and the Za’atar blend adds a really cool, subtle complexity to the beer.”
Meyers and CBC head brewer Jay Sullivan visited Boulevard in the week before this June’s Boulevardia. For the malt bill (the grains used in the brew), Myers recommended raw buckwheat, malted spelt and Danko rye from a Massachusetts grower.
“Those grains add some body, but also a bready profile to the beer. Ideally it would compliment the acidity and make sure this beer was dry the whole way through,” Meyers says.
The first batch of the brew was inoculated with lactobacillus and allowed to ferment for two and a half days in a holding tank. That lowered the wort’s pH. The wort was then boiled to stop the beer from becoming more acidic. During the boil, the brewers wanted to add spices that would give the essence of Za’atar without overpowering someone’s palate.
“My first interaction with Will was at a Craft Brewers Conference in Boston where he sat on a troubleshooting panel for brewers,” Danner says. “We were working on formulating Two Jokers at the time and I brought up our use of lavender and asked Will if he had any advice for determining how much to us. He responded, ‘there are two methods: trial and error.’”
In order to perfect the spice blend for the beer, members of both breweries gathered in Boulevard’s sensory lab. The spices were steeped in hot water, and then the infusions were judged on taste and aromatics.
“We looked at whether the herbs got bitter and then picked what we thought would contribute to the subtle character of the beer,” Meyers says.
The final blend contained sumac, which Meyers says gave the beer a “fruity, tart acidic note,” as well as Turkish oregano and French thyme.
“We thought the oregano and thyme would be complimentary, something to lend subtle complexity,” Meyer says.
Once it had been boiled, the soured wort was then fermented with the Massachusetts brewery’s house Belgian yeast. The final step was blending the first batch with a second batch of wort, which had not been soured.
“The Za’Tart is tart or sour, but not in a really complex, weird barnyard way. We wanted to turn people on to a beer with acidity, not just bitterness,” Meyers says.” I’m jealous that people in Kansas City get to try it this week. I haven’t even had the finished beer yet.”