Getting More Out of Mas
My journey with the iconic heirloom peaches and nectarines of Masumoto Family Farms began in 2014, when I was lucky enough to snag a few boxes to experiment with in some home-brewed sour beer. This will be the fifth year of using their fruit and we’ve grown from a few dozen pounds to over a thousand for our brewery/blendery, Cellador Ales. My admiration for the farm and its fruit is evident after considering that twelve bottle releases in our first sixteen months of operating were made with Masumoto fruit, including a collaboration with the amazing people at Homage Brewing called Fleur de Masumoto. We’ve also participated in beer dinner pairings focused on Masumoto fruit and beers at Craftsman and Abnormal/Cork and Craft.
The story of this farm and the small family that care for it is deeply inspiring. The proprietor, David (Mas) Masumoto, is the definition of everything I envy. His passion, love, and dedication to the quality of his stone fruit should be a guide for all artists and entrepreneurs (Personal note: You should absolutely read his award winning book, Epitaph for a Peach). In the late 1980s, amid the boom of mega farming with it’s dull tasting but visually appealing long shelf life food, Mas was struggling, and called a bulldozer to remove the trees his father had planted 20 years earlier. But when it showed up he had a change of heart, and decided to keep the trees after all. Mas once told me that at their lowest point, the boxes they shipped peaches in were worth more than the fruit itself. Slowly, high end restaurants and markets were pushing back, and this tiny 80 acre farm was becoming famous. Today, I think it’s no exaggeration to say that the Masumoto peaches and nectarines are considered the best in the world. During the summers, my wife Sara and I visit the farm on two weekends to participate in their adopt-a-tree program, and hand pick some fruit for our beers. At the beginning of each day, Mas picks a peach from the nearest tree and squeezes it in his hand, whereby it instantly turns to sticky juice. Biting into a fresh picked Le Grand nectarine in the dusty shade of short and gnarled fifty year old tree, the fruit melts and explodes. The sad and hard specimens of local store bought nectarines hardly deserve the name.
Our good friend Chris Quiroga has sourced Masumoto fruit for a handful of the best sour breweries throughout California for the last nine years, and last year for breweries as far as Oregon and Florida. Mas likes to joke that 20 years ago they used to sell the majority of their product to be made into baby food, and now all those babies have grown up to be peach and nectarine crazed brewers. Every year David Mas never seems to get over the oddity of his fruit being so popular in the beer community. At the farm, on our lunch break, we sample for him the latest releases from each participating brewery, and leave him bottles to show off to friends. For a while he’s been brainstorming ways to change how they grow and care for some trees specifically to enhance the flavors for beer. This last season he came up with the idea of “late harvest” fruit. He’d pull some fruit off a few trees earlier than usual, and leave the remaining sparse fruit to absorb more focused love and nutrition from the tree and soil, and stay on the branches a bit longer than usual. The result was a peach who’s skin was a deep crimson red, almost like an apple. Instead of the usual red blush spots, the whole fruit was blush. The flesh was equally impacted. Blood red spirals emanating from the skin towards the pit; when cut in half the patterns were reminiscent of galaxies. We were honored to be one of two breweries to receive this fruit in a few different varietals, along with Craftsman brewing who was one of the first to be involved with the farm years ago.
Chris and I brainstormed how to use the fruit in novel ways. First, we added some late harvest fruit to a mixed culture farmhouse ale in Brettanomyces infected Malbec barrels from a central California winery. We processed the fruit as minimally as possible, un-rinsed and roughly cut just enough to squeeze into a barrel. We even added the pits to the beer, which we hadn’t done before. The juice of the fruit was so dark that it even turned the beer a pinkish color, which mostly faded after a few weeks. These two barrels were aged for a few months and packaged in 750ml bottles. I decided to call the beer Mas. It was a dedication to my farmer friend, but coincidentally it also means “farmhouse” in French.
We also did a second experiment with the fruit. We, and most breweries, always add fruit to a beer at the very end of the process when it’s basically ready to package. So to change things up, we added some late harvest peaches and nectarines into barrels during primary fermentation on a really light and simple saison base with our house mixed cultures. This was aged for a few months, then a portion was transferred onto the spent fruit from Mas in the Malbec barrels, and the other half was transferred onto some spent apricots from our anniversary beer, Seconds. The latter was packaged exclusively in smaller 375ml bottles and called Menos Mas, while for former was bottled in 1.5 liter magnums as Mas Mas. For a while I’ve wanted to do a release only in large format bottles. The idea is for Mas Mas to be a family style beer, shared with a meal around the dinner table. We’ll release these beers on our website in February and March. Then we’ll have Fleur de Masumoto blend 2 in April or May, and by that time the winter dormant and barren trees will have budded new life, and the next iteration of this journey will begin anew.
Kevin Osborne is co-owner and blender of Cellador Ales in Los Angeles, Ca. As long as the stone fruit is available to him, he plans to never use peaches & nectarines from anywhere other than Masumoto Family Farms. (This pose is a copy of the article written by Kevin Osborne for Beer Paper LA in the February 2018 issue)