There are hundreds of breweries in the Pacific Northwest crafting countless varieties of beer. And there are cideries popping up in those same areas, debuting unique variations of cider all the time. But there aren’t many craft beverage makers who can say they’re combining the two. And there’s probably a reason for that.
Combining the concepts behind brewing and cidermaking results in what’s called a graf, and the beverage — though in theory is as old as beer — is still relatively new on the craft beverage scene. But what in the world is it? And how is it made? We decided to chat with a few industry experts who have actually played a role in making one to learn just what grafs are all about.
What is a graf?
First thing’s first, a graf is the combination of fresh wort and apple sugars that is fermented together — a blend of the liquid that would eventually become beer and the apple juice that would eventually become cider. For some makers, the graf is made with less than 50 percent juice, but really the ratio is all up to those creating it. There is no industry standard.
“It’s a very open-ended style right now,” says Jackie Beard, quality/sensory manager for Bale Breaker Brewing Co. “There’s so much room for creativity.”
Depending on the ratio, the graf can be more beer-centric or cider-focused, and there is room to add complexity by introducing other fruits or spices or even playing with malt styles.
How is a graf made?
According to Chris Noskoff, one of the owners of Lost Giants Cider Co. in Bellingham, Washington, a graf is essentially an even mixture of juice and wort fermented together, or at least that’s how Lost Giants Cider approached it when they decided to make a graf with fellow Bellingham producer Boundary Bay Brewery in 2018.
“We didn’t really have any reference point, so we went out and bought a bunch of lagers and ales and ciders, and we mixed them and tried them to find ratios that worked,” he says.
For their collaboration, they found that a 50/50 mixture of wort and juice would produce the best results. Boundary Bay purchased the juice from Lost Giants to produce the graf on-site at their brewery. Boundary Bay brewed a light ale, with a light hop addition to the boil, brewing 15 barrels of beer and 15 barrels of juice was added. The two were mixed in the fermenter, and then the yeast was added, leaving it to ferment for weeks.
“We ended up back sweetening ours,” says Noskoff. “After fermenting, you’re left with no sugars, so back sweetening was inevitable.”
According to Beard, the process for making Bale Breaker’s graf started like most brew days, until the sweet wort and apple juice from Bauman’s Cider Co. in Gervais, Oregon, were mixed in the tank to give this new style a try. They pitched in the yeast and left the graf to ferment, with plans to age it in Jameson Whiskey barrels.
And as for hops, they can certainly be added, since hops play well with apples, but brewers are careful not to overdo it with this style. “With the concentration of malt, you need a little bit of hops to balance out the sweetness,” says Beard.
Why are cideries and breweries pairing up?
The beauty of the craft beverage industry is that beverage makers love to collaborate with their industry colleagues, and grafs are pretty well the only way a brewery and a cidery might pair up.
“It’s definitely not a drink you find out there that often,” says Kevin Smith, owner and brewmaster for Bale Breaker. “It’s not a popular option in today’s craft scene, and you don’t see them often on the beer side of things.”
For Bale Breaker, the goal was to be able to take advantage of local ingredients. Living in apple country, the team wanted to see how they could make a beer that used apple juice.
It’s also a concept that’s allowing the opportunity to get even more creative in the industry. “For us, the idea sounded attractive for the sake of trying something creative,” says Noskoff. “We wanted to work together in some way and create something truly collaborative, and we wanted to do something new that hadn’t been done in Bellingham. A graf was the way to do it.”