Brewing Oro in the City of Gold
Santa Ana has long been known as the City of Gold. It was incorporated in the 1880’s, right around the time our beautiful building was originally built. And over a century later, Santa Ana is Orange County’s only historically preserved urban center. The Ciudad de Oro is Good Beer’s home.
After we opened, I was sharing my vision with a friend - he suggested the name “Oro” for one of our beers. It was a no brainer - I like to use Spanish or Spanglish for our brand names given our unique proximity to Mexico, our location in Orange County, and our local Spanish speaking friends. We just needed to find a beer that fit the name.
As a home brewer, I used to brew a delightful little session beer that featured the bright lemon-like acidity created by Lactobacillus, along with a clean and fruity Brettanomyces strain. I aged the home brewed tart session beer on all sorts of fruit because the acidity compliments and enhanced the fruit flavor in the beer.
About six months after opening Good Beer, we formulated a plan to brew something similar to my home brewed recipe. A light golden base of two row, wheat, and oats made up the grist. Two row is such a light base grain, and we wanted the star of this beer to be lactic acid akin to lemonade. Without the wheat and oats, Oro would be too flimsy. Over the years, the grist has not changed, other than switching between pilsner and two row based primarily on what we had on hand at the time.
Early on, we used just a handful of hops because we didn’t want to do anything to hinder the progress of the bacteria. As the years went by, and our bacteria strain became more accustomed to fermenting in our brewery, we started to increase the hops, and we now add about a quarter pound of aged hops per barrel to the kettle. At this quantity, we’re not getting a lot of the earthy and cheesy characteristics that you can get from aged hops, but we are preventing the bacteria from creating too much acid early on in the fermentation.
The first batches of Oro were fermented in our stainless steel conical fermentation vessels. After primary fermentation had concluded, we would transfer the beer to oak barrels with fruit, and condition the beer on fruit for several months. The overall process changed slightly since our first batch was brewed in early 2015. By 2017 we were starting to ferment Oro in oak barrels - transferring from “primary oak barrels” to “secondary oak barrels” with fruit for conditioning. I feel like fermenting this beer in oak barrels adds an additional layer to the beer - but it’s sort of intangible, you can’t put your finger on it, but it’s just better. I love sampling the beer as it’s transferred from primary to secondary - it tastes like pineapple juice, acidic and fruity.
The beer conditions in the secondary barrels for a couple of months. Some sour beer producers that try to mimic the lambic and gueze traditions of Belgium will age their sour beers for 9-24 months, and sometimes longer. Our process leans more towards the Belgian farmhouse beer, where hungry saison and Brettanomyces strains chew through the beer much faster. And, in contrast to the long aged-sour beers, we avoid the use of Pediococcus in our beer. Pediococcus is a bacteria that can cause some issues in the first 12 months of barrel aging, forcing brewers and blenders to wait until the other biological processes occurring in the barrel sort of steer the ship to calmer waters. Without Pediococcus in our beer, and also because it’s such a light beer in the first place, we are able to take Oro from grain to glass in about 4-6 months.
The final beer has been packaged in 750mL and, more recently, in 16oz cans. I like both of these formats, for different reasons. The large format bottle is great for light session beers like Oro because it’s easy for me to take down two glasses of 4% beer. I like the 16oz can because it’s convenient, shareable, and crushable - the perfect middle ground.
The beer in your glass is light and fizzy. The light white head usually dissipates quickly due to a natural biological protein created by the bacteria. But we’ve found that dry hops tend to improve head retention a little bit. The aromatics and flavor tend to highlight the fruit/botanicals, but the base beer brings lemon, stone fruit, and pineapple-like esters to your glass. It’s an easy drinking beer that you can take down yourself or share with a friend. I like the have Oro with food, something like a spicy bean-cheese-rice burrito.
We recently posted the pre-sale for Guava Hibiscus Oro and Strawberry Banana Oro. I’m very excited to share these with you. You can find these beers in our online store - until they sell out! We always have a couple different varieties on tap at any given time.
Come on downtown and try the latest Oro.