Tale of the Dark Swan
Jeremy is swirling beer. Violently. It's eddying outside the glass and all over his hand and arm, dripping onto the bar top below.
"I've heard you're supposed to swirl it," he says with a grin.
We're sitting with the newly bottled Dark Swan sour ale. It's a strange brew, to say the least, but we'll get to that later.
"Wine is up here... something to be held." He holds the glass of the uniquely purple brew above his head and into the light to see its purpleness. Beer runs down his arm. "And beer," he lowers the glass back to the bar. "Beer is down here... with the guy with his crack hanging out. So why not bring the two elements together in something that, at the end of the day, is still unequivocally beer."
SONOMA COUNTY CONNECTION
Sonoma County is known as much for its wine as it is for its beer, and we began to learn from our winemaking neighbors and friends about the world of wine. "And in this case, it was quite literally a neighbor," Jeremy notes.
A new neighbor showed up at the Petaluma TapRoom and he struck up a conversation with Jeremy. He had just moved in next door with a few racks of red wine barrels. His name was Garrett, and he was the winemaker at Adobe Road Winery.
Garrett and Jeremy started talking about the similarities and differences in their adjacent industries, quickly sparking an idea about how to combine the parallel elements into one liquid. That liquid would eventually become the Dark Swan.
SO YOU'RE SAYING IT'S WINE?
Garrett and Adobe Road grow their grapes along the eponymous Adobe Road, just south of Petaluma on the way out of Sonoma County. They grow a number of varietals, but Garrett and Jeremy both knew that they needed something that imparted a subtle red wine-iness and, mostly, a big, dark red color.
"We make this beer dark by a healthy dose of Petite Sirah juice, which is a deep, dark purple grape. And then it also gets a ton of color from some sort of weird, wild American grape that I don't even think has a name."
Jeremy is always a firehose of information.
"Then, it gets its tartness from natural lactic acid fermentation. That's what makes it tart."
WHAT'S IT GOT TO DO WITH BEER?
"Dark Swan lives up to its name: It's dark, and it's made with pureed waterfowl."
Not quite, but despite its purple wine-y appearance, a beer lies underneath this strange liquid. "It's a wheat-based pale ale," Jeremy says. "I know you're looking at this and saying 'Well, that's not a pale ale.' Well, it f***ing is." Jeremy shoots a glance. "You'll edit that out, right?"
The malt bill is light on the Dark Swan. "2-Row and Wheat," Jeremy says. "Virtually nothing that would stand in the way of the grape juice. We wanted the focus to be on the acidity. And, of course, the hops.
"It's hopped very heavily with a hop called Pekko. It's a relatively new varietal. Very spicy." Pekko accounts for 100% of the boiling hops, so all of the beer's bitterness. Pekko is also used in the dry-hop, along with an experimental varietal from the Yakima Valley, HBC 344. "It's best described as smelling like bilberries or blueberries," Jeremy says, which adds to the wine-like flavors and aromas in Dark Swan.
"You smell it and you get some of those children's vitamin notes." Jeremy likens these notes to bil-, marion-, black-, and blueberries. The lactic acid tartness, wine juice, and the experimental hops provide this plethora. Then Pekko follows up with an earthy spiciness. "There isn't really anything else like it under the sun," Jeremy adds.
"I almost have to talk seriously about this one, don't I?"
Let's not start now.
MUMBLEPHONE: THE SECRET OF THE DARK SWAN
Our friend Honus Honus likes to drink the Dark Swan, so much so that after hearing a mysterious Dark Swan-related voicemail message we received he was inspired to write a little ditty about it. Hear both in the video below.