Capital Brewing, also known as Jing-A and a key part of the burgeoning Beijing craft beer scene, will create a unique beverage for this year’s World Baijiu Day. The brew crew will use qu, the fermentation agent that is crucial to the production of baijiu, to create a new beer. I asked co-owner Alex Acker a bit more about the project.
Could you explain more about qu?
Qu is the magical ingredient in baijiu and Chinese rice wine that converts grains and sugars to alcohol, just as brewer’s yeast in beer brewing converts sugar extracted from malt barley into alcohol. While brewer’s yeast these days is carefully controlled, with strains isolated to create different varieties of ales and lagers, qu often contains wild yeasts, bacteria and other airborne microorganisms that create a whole different world of flavors.
Qu can thus contain many varying strains of yeast, bacteria and so on. Wouldn’t that make it more difficult to get consistency in the beer?
Bringing qu into our brewing process definitely adds an unknown and experimental factor! We love that though, to see what happens when we blend ‘East’ and ‘West’, when we add completely new ingredients to beer that have to our knowledge never been added before. That’s especially true when you’re messing with the fermentation, and pitching something akin to a wild yeast, and not just adding Chinese fruits and spices.
That being said, there are commercial varieties of qu available that should be consistent, and I would think would create a consistent result from batch to batch as long as we keep other factors the same. Brewing, whether it’s with brewer’s yeast or qu, is all about creating a consistent environment for the yeast or qu to do it’s thing. We’re used to doing that already.
You guys already made one beer using qu. How did it taste and what will you do differently this time?
We worked with Derek Sandhaus, author of Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits, last year to brew a tiny batch of Belgian farmhouse ale with a blend of brewer’s yeast and Guilin Sanhua rice qu. The results were intriguing — definitely more of a funky wild yeast tartness that I thought showed a lot of promise paired with the fruity, spicy quality of our base farmhouse ale yeast. It wasn’t like anything I’d had before, which was awesome.
That batch was a complete side project, but World Baijiu Day is the perfect excuse for us to get back at it and see if we can tweak it into something we love. The next time we brew, I want to play with the proportion of qu and brewer’s yeast, look at our grain bill, hops and fermentation schedule, and see if we can craft a baijiu beer that is really balanced and tastes great in an intriguing way — almost like a Chinese take on a sour ale.