Eight months ago, brewery co-founders Ross Fickenscher and Garrett Shifflet transformed an abandoned, 19th-century tobacco warehouse into a spacious and rustic tasting room. The exposed brick walls of Ballad Brewing in Danville are now adorned with shiny new taps serving guests an assortment of featured brews at a long, refined bar. Looking to expand their taproom menu beyond classic pale ales and stouts, Ballad Brewing is introducing a line of sour beers crafted by the adventurous hands of scientist and Brewery Operations Manager, John Andorfer.
Andorfer, or Dr. John, spearheads beer production at Ballad Brewing and focuses intently on the proper fermentation and flavor development of high quality brews. Andorfer’s brewing talents were not cultivated by formal training, however, but by the creative use of his expertise in biochemistry, molecular biology and general biology.
Andorfer holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology and a doctorate in marine plant physiology. While beer making wasn’t an obvious career choice for Andorfer, it is an art he has learned to love, and Ballad Brewing has served as the ideal space for him to explore his untapped talents.
Andorfer’s most recent experimentation involves the creation of sour beers using a fast souring method. In short, a sugary wort made with little to no hops is combined with various bacteria strains in a warm and oxygen-free environment. The mixture then undergoes lactic acid fermentation and creates a base sour that boasts a variety of flavor profiles ranging from tangy to mouth-puckering.
Ballad Brewing currently produces two core bases—apple and citrus. Rather than overwhelming the bases with additional flavorings, Andorfer simply adds bacterial strains and fresh produce, such as crushed Granny Smith apples or mashed berries, to enhance the natural fruit flavors. From the citrus base, Andorfer created their Strawberry Lemonade Sour brewed with mashed strawberries, lemon zest and fresh lemon juice. In the works are sours infused with mint, mango and pineapple purees and a ginger-lime hybrid, all of which are produced in small batches using the brewery’s English cask system.
“For a research scientist like myself, the interest is in the bacteria and how to propagate them and [monitoring] their initial effects on the beer,” says Andorfer. He further explains that the interaction between the base and bacteria strains is hard to control, thus requiring significant experimentation and frequent tastings.
Taking further interest in the complexity of variables, Andorfer hopes to experiment with the sours’ aging process. Andorfer first attempted an aged sour early on nearly a year ago when he combined whole white peaches from a local Virginia farm and a sour in a barrel. The sweet libation has been aging since the brewery’s opening in June 2017 and will be released at Ballad Brewing’s one-year anniversary party this summer.
Andorfer notes that guests’ feedback has been paramount to the creation of sours. “We have a very diverse market here and we are trying to feel it out,” says Andorfer. “Our early sour went over well, so now we’re modifying and learning from that [release], which has been a lot of fun.”
Ballad Brewing is located at 600 Craghead St., Danville. Visiting Ballad Brewing’s website for the most recent updates on sour releases.
Photographs courtesy of Ballad Brewing