Crowd Sourcing a Beer!

There’s an old joke, often quoted by designers, writers, and other artists pestered by unwanted input: “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”

But as often as collaboration can lead to unwieldy outcomes (and strange humps), it is just as likely to lead to serendipitous results.

At Angel City, we don’t believe that great beer ideas come from cloistered brewers, pacing privately in tortured silence. Great beer is always a collaboration – amongst brewers, amongst brewers and drinkers, and sometimes – amongst a community.

So when we began working with the Natural History Museum of LA on the Citizen Science & Suds series, which discusses bringing the public into the scientific process, we thought, “Why not do the same thing for beer?”

In the spirit of Citizen Science, we decided to test the theory that good beer could be made by committee. For NHM’s first lecture back in February, we asked the audience to submit their ideas for a crowdsourced beer that could best represent Los Angeles and the work that the museum is doing with Citizen Science. NHM brought herbs from their Nature Garden to the event, and we did the same from our stock of supplies.

Photo: NHMLA / Mario de Lopez

The response was overwhelming – answers varied from the ordinary (shout out to the person who suggested “hops.”) to the absurd (who would think to make a beer with creosote?).

In the end, there were a few suggestions that stood out. Two of them had come from the Nature Garden: pineapple sage, which is a cultivar of the herb with a surprisingly tropical aroma, and yarrow, a flowering perennial with colorful little buds.  Another popular suggestion was blood orange- presumably a nod to one of SoCal’s biggest crops.

Yarrow immediately struck us here at the brewery, because although it’s rarely used in beer these days, the plant was a popular addition to ale before hops become the norm in the middle ages.

So with our ingredients in hand, we decided upon making a saison. A style that originates from Belgium and France, saisons are a traditional farmhouse ale which often were the result of throwing in whatever came from the harvest. Plus, the naturally peppery notes that result from the saison yeast strain will complement the fruits and herbs that we are throwing in.

As we brewed our beer, the NHM returned to the brewery for their second panel, and we turned to the audience for the last crucial element – the name. We received over 30 nominations, but the one that received the most votes ended up unexpectedly teaching us something.

“Sanguine Saison,” suggested one anonymous guest, “because yarrow is used to treat wounds.” We looked it up – it’s true, it works to stanch the flow of blood. So hopefully the yarrow will balance the bloody oranges we added in. Sanguine, of course, means bloody, or blood red, or, strangely enough, optimistic and contented (due to a belief from the middle ages that an excess of blood brought people joy).

The middle ages were weird.

While our blood red saison bubbles away, we’re getting ready for our last Citizen Science and Suds event here at the brewery with the NHM on April 13th.  If you come to this free event, you can even taste the Sanguine Saison along with us, and enjoy the fruits of this experiment. With any luck, it will taste more like a collaboration than a camel.

Photo: NHMLA / Mario de Lopez