On the fringes of Florida's ever-encroaching development, wild citrus trees stand as remnants of the state's agricultural past, sprouting up in the pine groves they were meant to replace. It’s here that Chicago's Dave Odd, proprietor of Odd Produce (slogan: “If you can eat it, we will find it”) often comes to pull untamed fruit from among the pines.
Odd, who forages for his produce and leads foraging tours in Chicago, is forever hunting unique varietals. On his trips to Florida, Odd finds idiosyncratic citruses on the fringes of suburbia, in family backyards, at U-pick and small family orchards, and from roadside sellers on his multi-day sojourns to the Sunshine State. Regardless of how wild their origin, the fruits are not the kind you can buy at the corner store.
The fruits Ashes to Assets, a citrus saison currently being brewed at Chicago’s BiXi Beer, don't have so sexy a provenance as a pine grove, though they are unique. Bruce limes and marsh white grapefruits give brewer Eymard Freire's beer a bite and aroma unlike anything in their more common counterparts. They are instantly recognizable as citrus to the eye and nose, but with an unplaceable difference; to attempt to describe what makes them unusual would end in failure, but the chimerical scent of citrus-y weed strains would be a close approximation.
Sourced from Unity Groves, a packer in Homestead, Florida, bruce limes are grown in the state. “It's very rare to find U.S.-grown limes,” Odd tells me by phone. According to Odd, they have a flavor more complex than the average grocery store lime. “They're super fresh, right out of the grove,” Odd says. The marsh white grapefruits come from the Indian River region of Florida, which Odd considers the best region for growing grapefruits, from a small family farm. Odd had sourced ingredients for BiXi owner Bo Fowler's restaurant Owen & Engine, which led to his selling citrus to Freire.
The beer base is a single malt with an old world pils. Freire uses lactic acid fermentation to achieve the sour hit he wants. To the clean wort, he adds Streptococcus bacteria—of the kind found in yogurt, from which he sourced this culture—to begin creating lactic acid. The temperature has to be watched carefully, especially because of the drafty brewhouse in a Chicago winter, to ensure the bacteria has an optimum environment. To ensure the acid level landed where he wanted it, around the same amount of tang as orange juice, the pH level has to be closely monitored. All of this is pre-hops—the bacteria are not fans.
Ashes to Assets, the citrus saison that results, has a scent and taste that is both recognizable and alien, Canadian road signage; it’s deliciously sharp, a bee sting at first blush that comes on fast before backing off into something easier and more refreshing to drink, a melon-like roundness left on the tongue. The beer is a microcosm of Freire's beer ethos: Experiment, but make it approachable.
“That's my whole thing,” Freire says on a misty morning in BiXi's rooftop section, the uncanny scent of dehydrated citrus sitting slowly building as the Blue Line L rumbles past the construction site across the street.
“You have to respect the beer. We have to make the beer taste like beer.”