Redheads have long suffered torture and ridicule because of their autumnal hue. I was a “ginger” from day one – born with a wild shag of orange hair that shot out from every which way. Freckles didn’t emerge until around second grade, but once they surfaced they did so with a fury. Red hair and a body full of freckles were grounds for harassment on the school playground. But like many of my fellow gingers, I quickly developed a wry sense of humor to cope with the bullying. I was not only able to diffuse hostile situations with my wit; I was able to convert many of my antagonists into friends. Gingers grow thick skins and then they make you laugh. These are unwritten rules of the ginger experience.
It’s no surprise then that the Soulless Ginger Ale caught my eye while recently looking over the Apple Blossom Brewing Company beer menu. Here’s what the description says about the beer:
Brewed in honor of ABBC’s resident red-haired owner, Daniel. Rye beer base fermented on our Belgian strain. This beer uses fresh grated ginger in place of hops to provide bitterness and extra flavor. Tangy rye flavors blend well with the fresh ginger zing/spice. Adapted from a secret 200-year-old recipe that was once brewed by our founding fathers. This beer will definitely help keep you warm. Stats: 20 IBUs, 5.0% ABV
I sure hope Daniel has a sense of humor!
Before I get to the beer, let me say a few words about the brewery. Apple Blossom is perhaps the most anticipated brewery to arrive on the local craft beer scene since the industry started heating up a few years ago. The buzz surrounding its July 2013 opening was loud, especially within the local home brewing community. The fact that the guys from Smoke & Barrel Tavern were involved was a comfort given their penchant for the finer things in life – be it bourbon, beer, or good food. The hiring of brewmaster Nathan Traw was also encouraging based on his professional experience and interest in brewing traditional Belgian and German styles. Above all – folks were excited to have another player in the local beer game.
Now, back to the beer.
The Soulless Ginger Ale poured a medium orange color with a bright white head. It was somewhat cloudy, possibly because the keg had blown just before my arrival. Mine was the first pull from a fresh tap. I don’t have a very good sense of smell – especially during this frigid Fayetteville winter and its sinus-drying air – but my first impression of the Soulless Ginger was dominated by the Belgian yeast in the nose. The aroma was pronounced, much like a Belgian Tripel. The yeast character carried over into the flavor. Underneath all of that big Belgian yeastiness was an interesting rye malt base. Spicy and round, it intertwined with the yeast in a unique way. Rye is common in pale ales and IPAs, but not in beers like this. The bitterness was firm, but short-lived. Ginger was used instead of hops to bitter this beer, and there was a noticeable difference in the overall effect. All-in-all, it was a very nice beer – refreshing, thirst-quenching, and interesting in its composition.
Q&A with brewmaster Nathan Traw
I was curious about the 200-year-old recipe mentioned in the beer’s description. I was also interested in the local redhead community’s reaction to the beer’s name. So I contacted brewmaster Nathan Traw and asked him a few questions.
Tell us more about the Soulless Ginger. The menu says it was adapted from a 200-year-old recipe brewed by our founding fathers. What ingredients were used and what tweaks did you make?
Yeah, Soulless Ginger is adapted from a recipe I’ve seen thrown around the internet and several paper texts that calls for malt extract and freshly grated ginger with brown sugar. Ginger contains a naturally occurring Aspergillus fungus, so after the brewer’s yeast was added, this wild yeast would further convert the starch in ginger to sugar resulting in a slightly more acidic and sour beer. Recipe is dated as 1790 and most likely was used as a carrier for the believed medicinal properties at the time of ginger. I changed the recipe by utilizing our pale malt with malted and crystallized rye. The wild yeast was preserved – and as this beer ages, a slight acidic “funk” should develop. The recipe was fermented on our Belgian yeast. I thought the floral and spicy notes from the yeast would complement the tangy rye flavors and ginger. A small amount of Northern Brewer hops (less than 2 ounces) was added to provide a mint tea “flavor bridge.” Considering 2 ounces is typical for a 5-gallon batch of beer (ABBC brews 310 gallons at a time), the ginger carries most of the bitterness of this beer.
We noticed rye in a few of your beers. What characteristics do you get from rye?
I find that rye adds a malty complexity that’s different than wheat or oats. Crystallized rye adds a nice spicy kick to IPAs or anywhere else where medium crystal malt is required. I started using it at my time at Yellowstone Valley Brewing where I was producing a beer under contract for Eric Bishop’s brewing company. I am particularly fond of using it here at Apple Blossom because Arkansas produces most of the country’s rye. (Editor’s note: According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, much of the country’s rye production takes place in Oklahoma and Georgia.)
Do redheads get offended by the name of the beer?
No redhead has expressed offense as of yet. One of the owners is, in fact, a redhead and after whom we named the beer. He is greatly honored to have a beer made in his image. If someone does take offense, we apologize, but that was not the purpose of naming the beer what we decided to name it. We just wanted to have a fun name for a fun beer.
OK, I guess I won’t hold a grudge because of the name. Chalk another one up to ginger tolerance!
What’s next for Apple Blossom?
Traw has been at the helm of Apple Blossom’s brew house for almost a year now, so he is beginning to get a sense of Fayetteville’s appetite for craft beer.
“I think the local beer culture here has tons of potential,” he said. “Out west it was slightly larger and more developed. The breweries and distilleries had been open for over a decade in Montana [at the time Traw was working in the state], though the home brewing club was new during my time there.”
Reaching out to hobbyists is important for commercial brewers, Traw said.
“In the future, we hope to facilitate home brewing competitions where the winner gets to brew his or her winning recipe on our system.”
So what’s ahead for Apple Blossom Brewing Company? Traw said he is experimenting with the Belgian yeast strain to produce different styles of beers.
“It’s by far the most adaptable yeast I’ve worked with,” he said. “Currently, I have a Belgian dark strong ale and Trippel fermenting. We have an ESB and Belgian IPA ageing on hops as well. Expect three of those (Trippel, ESB, and BIPA) before the end of February.”
And by the sound of it, there is plenty to look forward to beyond February as well. A brewery expansion is in the works, adding capacity in order to brew bigger volumes of Apple Blossom’s core lineup – and allowing for more experimentation.
“We hope to extend our ageing abilities by adding lagering tanks and a lager yeast,” said Traw. “Our baker’s wild sourdough yeast has been allowed to ferment on wort and [has been] sampled. Chamomile Belgian Wheat is on the brew schedule this month. Farmer’s Market Cucumber Wheat is a beer creating a bunch of buzz with the staff for this summer.”
So far I haven’t even mentioned the food! The menu is diverse and ever-changing, with impressive portions of favorites such as prime rib and fish and chips. As mentioned in a previous Flyer article, the owners place an emphasis on sourcing local ingredients. Localvores can rejoice in the fact that the prime rib may have come from a Northwest Arkansas farm, just as the rye in the Soulless Ginger Ale was quite possibly produced near the state’s borders. I personally had the mole chicken sandwich on a recent night out with good friends Kevin, Jason, and Jake. It was excellent – as most dishes at Apple Blossom are based on reviews I’ve either heard firsthand or read online.
Apple Blossom Brewing Company and brewmaster Nathan Traw have been a welcome addition to the Northwest Arkansas craft beer community. The beers are increasingly delicious, and the level of creativity is high. The brewery even serves as a craft beer ambassador by hosting the monthly meeting of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds (or FLOPS for short). So whether you are a blond, a brunette, or a ginger like me – find your way to Apple Blossom and get yourself a Soulless Ginger Ale before it’s gone.