Author Topic: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer  (Read 459 times)

Offline erockrph

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Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« on: July 22, 2014, 08:33:40 AM »
There have been a few mentions of currants and ribes floating around in a few posts. I have been growing several varieties over the past few years, so I thought I'd share my thoughts and experiences:

I have red, pink and black currants growing, as well as both red and green gooseberries. They are quite easy to grow. This is my third year and I'm getting about 2 pounds from each of my currant bushes, despite heavy pruning last fall. One thing to note is that most Ribes varieties are susceptible to white pine blister rust, so they are restricted or banned in many areas. Even if you are able to find an online supplier that will ship them to you (hint, hint ;) ), use good judgement whether it would it would be the best idea for your local flora to introduce Ribes plants.

My gooseberries aren't yielding quite as much, but I have been pruning them quite a bit until I figure out how I want to train the bushes. They grow a lot more like vines than the currants, which are well-behaved little bushes. Gooseberries have nasty thorns that put blackberries to shame.

Red/Pink Currants - these are like a cross between a tomato and a pomegranate aril to me, both in flavor and seediness. Pink currants are just a variety of red currants. They have less tomato and are sweeter than red currants. I find these suitable for eating out of hand (more so than red ones), but they are seedy enough where I wouldn't want to eat a mass quantity. I am planning on syrup from my red currants this season, and they make a decent jelly as well. For brewing applications, my best guess would be a Flanders Red, many of which have a touch of a ketchup thing going already (at least to my palate).

Red Gooseberries - I haven't been getting a lot off of mine, but they rarely make it indoors from the garden. The inner flesh is very similar to a blueberry - sweet, fleshy and mild. Then the skin has this great sweet-tart flavor to it. It does have a bit of muskiness, which I enjoy, but might not be everyone's tastes.

Green Gooseberries - more tart than their Red cousins. They're good for pies and jams. If I were making a gooseberry beer, I'd probably use the green ones. I think they'd be pretty good in a saison. Mikkeller makes an excellent gooseberry lambic.

Black Currants - this is the one that gets thrown around the most in homebrewing as a flavor descriptor for hops. All parts of the plant have a distinct musky/spicy aroma. To me, it is much closer to the aroma of tomato stems than cat pee, but I guess I can see where the descriptor comes from. I guess that is a perception issue that varies from nose to nose.

If you can get your hands on a fresh black currant, by all means try it. I find the fresh berries to be distinctly different than juices or jams. That musky note just isn't the same once they're processed, IMO. Don't get me wrong, eating a fresh black current is not a particularly enjoyable experience - it is bitter, tart and tannic. But it is certainly eye-opening of you haven't had one.

As far as brewing applications go, you see black currant in a lot of commercial meads, and it's a great fit there. It adds some tannins and tartness that rounds out a berry melomel nicely. I've also had a fantastic lambic from Hanssens Artisanaal that used black currant. Of all my ribes plants, this is the one I had more of. I'd really like to use quite a bit of these in my sour beers. I'm debating whether to store this year's harvest until next year in hopes of having enough saved up over 2 seasons to use to secondary a beer on, or to make a syrup to add to a Berliner Weisse (among other things).

One other idea is to use them in a Pale Ale or IPA. I've read from some articles in the perfume industry that the blackcurrant aroma pairs well with rose, so it seems like it would fit well with New World hops that already exhibit currant-like flavors, as well as sharing many of the essential oils that are present in roses.

Eric B.

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2014, 08:46:28 AM »
nice write up. Currants are common in Vermont where I grew up. I never really got into them though. Isn't kirsh black currant?
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Offline dannyjed

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2014, 08:47:43 AM »
Yes this looks like some nice sour beer experimentation.
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Offline Jeff M

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2014, 08:58:36 AM »
Excellent info, thanks Eric! I wonder if gooseberries would work in a mead.....
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Offline kramerog

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2014, 09:53:24 AM »
Any thoughts on using black currants in cider as a source of tannin?  Thanks for the info and the reminder for me to pick my black currants.
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Offline erockrph

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2014, 10:46:10 AM »
Any thoughts on using black currants in cider as a source of tannin?  Thanks for the info and the reminder for me to pick my black currants.

I think I might do the syrup thing and try tasting it in various things. That sounds like an interesting idea, but the currant flavor isn't exactly neutral. In something like a cherry or raspberry cider I'd imagine it would work quite well.
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Offline dmtaylor

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #6 on: July 22, 2014, 11:40:43 AM »
I'm glad you started this thread, Eric.  Here is a re-post of my comments from another recent thread:

Currants and gooseberries are very easy to grow.  They'll grow in the shade just as well as in full sun.

I have tasted red currants.  They are kind of like a cross between tiny tomatoes and a berry of some sort.  The only way I could eat them was in a coffee cake -- then they were good.  But to just eat a handful of them... yuck.

I have some black currant jam in the fridge.  It's not too exciting.  Sort of a cross between blueberries, blackberries, and raisins.  I'd much rather just eat blueberries, blackberries, or raisins.

Now gooseberries..... those are great.  I am growing a sweet variety right now called Hinnomaki Red, and will have my first harvest this year.  From what I've tasted from others in the past, they have the shape and size of grapes, but taste NOTHING like grapes at all.  They have a sort of mushy sweet inside that is very tasty and uniquely flavored, and then the skin is extremely sour.  Inevitably you end up chomping on them saying ooh this is good, very sweet, but then in the finish you get the sour skin.  Makes for an exciting taste every time.  Sort of like sour candy where it's sweet inside but then the lactic acid hits and you pucker up... and then do it all over again with another bite.  The Brits all make jam of them, but personally, I'll eat all mine fresh, they're much more exciting eaten that way IMHO.
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Offline Joe T

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #7 on: July 25, 2014, 04:42:40 AM »
Nice write up. I've been growing currants for a few years now so I'll share my experiences. I have black, red and pink currants. They are all productive and tasty. I plan on spreading them throughout my yard in the shady places where most other plants don't like. They're really easy to propagate too. After harvest, bend the canes to the ground and cover with soil. In the spring after it has rooted, dig up and transplant. Also if you prune in late winter/early spring you can stick the pruned-off canes in the ground and any(most?) will root.
Our favorite uses so far for currants are mead: black, red, or my favorite a blend of both. And red currant jam. I read somewhere that in England red currant jam is served with the Sunday roast. If you like cranberry sauce with your turkey, try red currant jam with a beef (or venison!) roast. It pairs amazingly well! I currently  :) have 6 gallons of lambic 18 months old and the pellicle has recently dropped. I'm going to split it up and rack some on currants. The only currant lambic I've had is Lindeman's cassis. I didn't really care for it but that won't stop me from trying!
I planted my first gooseberry this year. I put it on a new hugel and it's not happy. I plan on planting several more gooseberries next year.

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #8 on: July 25, 2014, 05:02:03 AM »
nice write up. Currants are common in Vermont where I grew up. I never really got into them though. Isn't kirsh black currant?
Do you mean Kirsch? That is German for cherry. There is a brandy called Kirsch, and Google says that is distilled from sour cherries.
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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #9 on: July 25, 2014, 06:41:24 AM »
One thing to note is that most Ribes varieties are susceptible to white pine blister rust, so they are restricted or banned in many areas. Even if you are able to find an online supplier that will ship them to you (hint, hint ;) ), use good judgement whether it would it would be the best idea for your local flora to introduce Ribes plants.
Most Ribes were wiped out in the 40's-50's by Departments of Agriculture who wanted to protect white pines from the rust, but regulations in many states are relaxing lately. White pine blister rust kills white pines, but requires nearby Ribes plants to complete it's life cycle. Therefore - no Ribes = no rust.

A few details that can help us be responsible Ribes owners.

Black and golden currants are the worst carriers, so if you can go with another currant or gooseberries, that's good. Black and golden currants are banned in Delaware while other Ribes sp. are allowed. The ban was recently revised according to recommendations from University of Delaware pathologists.

There are rust-resistant varieties of Ribes, but they are only resistant to SYMPTOMS. They can still carry the disease and transfer it to nearby white pines.

The disease does require some proximity to pines to transfer. So if you plant Ribes, plant them >500ft from white pines if you can manage it. If you have a grove of white pines on your property that you love and you can't plant far away - maybe you should just plant some blueberries or another small fruit.
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Offline erockrph

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2014, 07:02:25 AM »
One thing to note is that most Ribes varieties are susceptible to white pine blister rust, so they are restricted or banned in many areas. Even if you are able to find an online supplier that will ship them to you (hint, hint ;) ), use good judgement whether it would it would be the best idea for your local flora to introduce Ribes plants.
Most Ribes were wiped out in the 40's-50's by Departments of Agriculture who wanted to protect white pines from the rust, but regulations in many states are relaxing lately. White pine blister rust kills white pines, but requires nearby Ribes plants to complete it's life cycle. Therefore - no Ribes = no rust.

A few details that can help us be responsible Ribes owners.

Black and golden currants are the worst carriers, so if you can go with another currant or gooseberries, that's good. Black and golden currants are banned in Delaware while other Ribes sp. are allowed. The ban was recently revised according to recommendations from University of Delaware pathologists.

There are rust-resistant varieties of Ribes, but they are only resistant to SYMPTOMS. They can still carry the disease and transfer it to nearby white pines.

The disease does require some proximity to pines to transfer. So if you plant Ribes, plant them >500ft from white pines if you can manage it. If you have a grove of white pines on your property that you love and you can't plant far away - maybe you should just plant some blueberries or another small fruit.

Thanks, Jimmy! I wasn't aware of all the details, especially regarding the resistant varieties. I will definitely take a good look around before I decide to start propagating my currants to different areas of my property.
Eric B.

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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2014, 07:29:48 AM »
nice write up. Currants are common in Vermont where I grew up. I never really got into them though. Isn't kirsh black currant?
Do you mean Kirsch? That is German for cherry. There is a brandy called Kirsch, and Google says that is distilled from sour cherries.

yup. I was thinking that but i meant to be thinking of cassis which is used, along with champagne to make a kir royale. and thus is the rabbit hole that is my mind during the final pre-go live period of a new software package
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Re: Ribes (currants and gooseberries) for the homebrewer
« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2014, 08:25:01 AM »
One thing to note is that most Ribes varieties are susceptible to white pine blister rust, so they are restricted or banned in many areas. Even if you are able to find an online supplier that will ship them to you (hint, hint ;) ), use good judgement whether it would it would be the best idea for your local flora to introduce Ribes plants.
Most Ribes were wiped out in the 40's-50's by Departments of Agriculture who wanted to protect white pines from the rust, but regulations in many states are relaxing lately. White pine blister rust kills white pines, but requires nearby Ribes plants to complete it's life cycle. Therefore - no Ribes = no rust.

A few details that can help us be responsible Ribes owners.

Black and golden currants are the worst carriers, so if you can go with another currant or gooseberries, that's good. Black and golden currants are banned in Delaware while other Ribes sp. are allowed. The ban was recently revised according to recommendations from University of Delaware pathologists.

There are rust-resistant varieties of Ribes, but they are only resistant to SYMPTOMS. They can still carry the disease and transfer it to nearby white pines.

The disease does require some proximity to pines to transfer. So if you plant Ribes, plant them >500ft from white pines if you can manage it. If you have a grove of white pines on your property that you love and you can't plant far away - maybe you should just plant some blueberries or another small fruit.

Thanks for that information. I know black currants are considered invasive in MI, but some fruit farms are grandfathered to grow them. New planting are prohibited. MI was logged for the white pines in the 1800s. Hardwoods were left, but then logged off for furniture and car bodies (Ford Woody). There are still some white pine in the state, and the an old growth stand is a state park.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartwick_Pines_State_Park
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