What would Thanksgiving dinner be without cranberries? Their tart acidity is bright enough to cut through all of the turkey, gravy and decadent sides served during the holiday meal.
This year, consider adding an unexpected cranberry component to Turkey Day: cranberry beer. The Garden State is one of the few places where cranberries grow naturally, and it is among the country’s top producers of the perennial fruit. As craft breweries in New Jersey continue to increase their focus on locally grown ingredients, more are seeking inspiration from cranberries, which thrive in the Pine Barrens’ acidic, boggy soil.
Ocean County’s Toms River Brewing is one brewery that sources ingredients locally as much as possible. Around this time of year, their focus shifts away from blueberries and peaches—top summer crops in New Jersey—toward cranberries. They use the red berry to brew Winds of Change cranberry gose, a tart and light-bodied beer that is traditionally seasoned with salt and coriander.
“We try to keep this one as close to home as possible,” says Matt Hynes, vice president of brewing operations at Toms River Brewing. How close is close? The brewery is located just 20 minutes away from one of the state’s largest cranberry producers, meaning the team can pick up a freshly harvested barrel of cranberries from Jersey’s bogs and have a batch of the beer brewing the same day.
But the process of brewing beer with cranberries can involve a delicate dance. “It’s already a bitter product, so it can ruin a beer,” says Hynes. “Cranberry is a touchy ingredient because of that tart character. You can way overdo it, or it can be underwhelming if you don’t put enough. So it’s all about figuring out that fine line of where to go.” Whether it’s cranberry, blueberry, blood orange or peach, Hynes wants to make sure the essence of the fruit is present in the product.
A lot of breweries that work with cranberry might buy it in concentrated juice form, resulting in sweeter shandies or high-alcohol bombs that resemble cranberry wine. But for Toms River Brewing’s cranberry beer—of which only 75-100 cases are produced each year—Hynes keeps it simple. He takes fresh cranberries, crushes them, and then adds the fruit at peak boil to preserve its naturally sour flavor, adding a unique layer of complexity to the beer. “It kind of brings out a different character, not just being tart for tart’s sake,” he says.
Hynes says Winds of Change is “a very approachable beer for a lot of people.” And could you ask for anything better than refreshing and approachable when it comes to drinks for the Thanksgiving table?
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