Back in May, Dock Street Brewing Company head brewer Vince Desrosiers tweeted a video of a beer-aging cask with rap group Wu-Tang Clan's iconic “W” drawn on the lid. Affixed to the top of the wooden cask were two speakers playing and a song from Wu member Ol’ Dirty Bastard (“Dog Shit,” it’s called).
Such began a six-month experiment in the effect of sonic waves on yeast during the fermenting process. Since April, when this particular batch of golden saison was barrelled, it's been under the influence of the Staten Island hip hop collective's songs playing on repeat. It's due to be ready at the end of this month. Desrosiers dubbed the brew “Dock Street Beer Ain’t Nuthin’ to Funk With.”
“It was more of our love for Wu-Tang and music than anything,” says Desrosiers. “A lot of times when you use wild yeast strains in a beer, people call it sour, tart, funky. So I said, ‘You know what we should do—we should brew a beer called Dock Street Beer Ain’t Nuthin’ to Funk with, and make it a sour beer.’ And then for some reason, we actually decided to do it.”
“Brewers do ‘rouse’ the yeast on occasion, when it's getting sleepy, and it's well nigh impossible to sleep through some choice Ghostface Killah,” says beer journalist Christian DeBenedetti.
Desrosiers had been wanting to produce a series of beers "based on the music I like," he told Philadelphia Magazine earlier this year. Wu-Tang "seemed like a great place to start.” In doing so, he hopes to discover something about how sound vibrations affect fermenting beer. Will the result be a pleasant new flavor, or a catastrophic waste?
“It started as a joke so we could play Wu-Tang for six months straight, but we started to wonder after if it would actually do anything,” says DesRosiers. “We read some stuff about labs growing different types of yeast, not specifically beer-related yeast, and vibrations actually caused higher growth volume.” Desrosiers points to Will Meyers of Cambridge Brewing Company who uses tuning forks to stimulate yeast fermentation in his “Om” Belgian strong golden ale. As gimmicky as the technique may be, it could unlock new potential for our favorite craft beers.
“There's equal parts tangy showmanship and possibly-not-insane actual brewing science in play,” says longtime brewer and beer journalist Christian DeBenedetti. “Sending vibrations through any alcoholic liquid as the yeast works away surely won't hurt. On the contrary—brewers do ‘rouse’ the yeast on occasion, when it's getting sleepy, and it's well nigh impossible to sleep through some choice Ghostface Killah.”
The results of the experiment we'll know soon enough. The beer, with yeast strains known for their hints of orange and peach flavors, will be available for purchase online late September or early October, assuming you don’t live in a state that prohibits direct alcohol delivery to consumers. And with Dock Street’s admirable reputation—the brewing company boasts multiple medals in the Great American Beer Fest, including a silver for its “La Biere des Amis” saison—there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to give the Wu-Tang beer a try.
Next up on Dock Street's playlist: hip hop duo Run the Jewels. DesRosiers has reached out to the group, and hopes to get them to attend a release event with one type of beer for each rapper. Tentatively, a light peach ale for Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, and a tobacco brown ale for Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P.
In the meantime, Dock Street is planning a release party for its Wu-beer later this month. (The rappers won't be in attendance.) Even if there isn't a noticeable difference in the experimental saison, Desrosiers says it will still have been worth it. "We’re definitely going to laugh at each other and say, ‘Man, you can really taste the Wu-Tang.’”