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In bloom: Hibiscus beer

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Taste the flower power of these seasonal brews made with petals in the kettle.

Every two weeks, the team at Boston’s Night Shift Brewing gears up to make JoJo, its spin on an American IPA. Before they start, co-founder Rob Burns needs to ensure the beer’s headlining ingredient, hibiscus, is in stock. He sets off a chain reaction that connects the beer all the way to Burkina Faso, a small nation in western Africa.

The delicate flowering plant seems an unlikely ingredient for an IPA, though brewers have already harnessed the tropical pink petals to add floral and fruity notes into their farmhouse ales: Bison blended hibiscus with other botanicals for its Saison de Wench, while Oregon’s Double Mountain teamed it with peppercorns for LuLu saison.

While the flower’s relatively new to brewers, people around the world have long sipped hibiscus drinks. Northern Africans drink karkadé, a tea served hot or chilled; Jamaicans use the blooms in a punch called agua de Jamaica, often flavored with cinnamon, ginger and allspice, and served over ice.

But back in Boston, it’s dropped in beer. Burns and company dreamed up JoJo in a process they call “shifting,” which is taking a traditional brew and just tweaking it. “We wanted to create a style that’s fun to market, and enjoyable to drink,” he says. That’s how the pink IPA (it’s actually pink) was born.

To get the flowers in Boston, Burns puts in an order to Frontier Co-Op, a natural products cooperative based out of Iowa. Frontier sources its hibiscus from a supplier in Germany, which, in turn, sources the flowers from Burkina Faso. Working forward, it goes something like this: Workers pick the plants in Burkina Faso, and send them to Germany where they’re cleaned and dried. They’re then shipped to Iowa, where Frontier performs organoleptic testing, steam-pasteurizes and packages them. Eventually, they arrive at Night Shift, 80 pounds at a time.

JoJo starts out like any other IPA before the brewing takes a few turns. Burns adds a portion of the dried hibiscus petals at the end of the boil, when the wort’s transferred into the whirlpool (a process that filters out solid particles). Then, he stuffs the remaining petals in tea sacks and steeps it in the beer for about 24 hours, which adds the majority of flavor and aromatics, and lends the drink its pinkish hue. In the end, the beer contains about 1 pound of flowers per barrel.

“With hibiscus, just the right amount adds a tropical fruitiness, but too much, and the beer tastes like herbal tea,” Burns says. “We try to strike a balance between the two.”

FOUR TO TRY

1. Blue Moon Short Straw: Floral hibiscus and white pepper weave through this tart “farmhouse red ale,” which falls between a Flanders red ale and a saison.

2. Bison Saison de Wench: Brewed with rose petals, hibiscus and lemongrass, this vibrant saison’s packed with floral flavors and laced with a spritzy citrus zing.

3. Prairie Spectrum: Barnyard funk and slight smoky notes hang in balance with tropical, floral hibiscus flavors in this farmhouse-style ale.

4. Night Shift JoJo: This IPA connects the tropical and herbal notes of hibiscus with the beer’s citrus and pine hop tones.

 

 


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