Graduate student Margaux Mora, front, Derek Edinger ’94 of Brewery Ardennes, and graduate student Andre Kalenak start the process of making Big Red Cranberry Sour ale.

Cheers to an ‘approachable’ Big Red Cranberry Sour beer

Cornell’s fingerprints are all over the new Big Red Cranberry Sour beer, developed by the Big Red Brewing graduate student group and an alum-owned brewery. It uses a Cornell-bred variety of spring malted barley and hops grown by another Cornell alumnus on his upstate New York farm.

The ale, which tastes fruitier than trendy hoppy beers, will debut April 22 at the upcoming Hotel Ezra Cornell 97 and at the Big Red Barn on April 29.

Normally, a brewer will sour the beer with lactic acid, but the graduate students and Brewery Ardennes, in Geneva, New York, replaced the lactic acid by adding in softer tartaric acid.

Big Red Cranberry Sour ale, developed by the Big Red Brewing graduate student group and Brewery Ardennes, debuts at the Hotel Ezra Cornell 97 on April 22.

“This Big Red Cranberry Sour ale is brewed to be more wine-like in flavor,” said Andre Kalenak, a doctoral student in the field of food science and a member of the brewing group. ”As far as we know, it will be the first commercial example of a beer soured this way.”

The mouth feel is less sharp – more mellow – than a conventional sour beer, Kalenak said. “It’s still pleasantly astringent and refreshing, pairing well with the cranberry addition,” he said. “We think the beer is more approachable, appealing to both beer and wine drinkers.”

The beer features the state-sourced Excelsior Gold, the first variety of spring malting barley bred by Cornell to succeed in New York’s wet climate – and expected to help support the state’s $5.4 billion craft beer industry. The Chinook hops were grown by Rick Pedersen ’81, of Pedersen Farms in Seneca Castle, New York.

Brewery Ardennes is owned by Derek Edinger ‘94 and Stacey Edinger ’95; in addition to Kalenak, the brewery worked with food science graduate students Margaux Mora, Austin Montgomery and Glycine Jiang, who suggested using the new souring method. 

But what does it taste like?

“It’s like a light cranberry juice, similar to a wine or a cider,” Derek Edinger said. “Sour fruit beers are becoming kind of a popular thing. When we have new craft beer drinkers who aren’t sure of what they prefer – like a wine or a cider – they might want a tart fruit beer.”

Edinger said that when measured in international bittering units – IBUs – this beer has a very low range. “This is not a hoppy beer. It’s about six to eight IBUs,” he said. “An India pale ale would be in the 30 to 60 IBU range.”

Montgomery credited the team for the work poured into this brew. “Big Red Brewing really cares about the future impact that we can have on the brewing industry,” he said. “This is the first time where we have been a part of an idea that could be beneficial to a lot of breweries.”

Last fall the Big Red Brewing Club introduced “Gorges Libe-ation,” a red ale produced with New York ingredients, in partnership with Lucky Hare Brewery. It featured Finger Lakes hops, malt and cherries. The lines to taste it at the Big Red Barn introduction on Oct. 22 lasted two hours.

Big Red Cranberry Sour will also be available at Ardennes.