“I grew up on Mister Softee, and have fond memories of chasing down the truck come summer,” Bryan Brushmiller, the brewmaster and owner of Burley Oak Brewery in Berlin, Md., says.
Many of us have similar childhood memories, but only Brushmiller was inspired to make sour beer-infused soft-serve ice cream. J.R.E.A.M., Burley Oak’s line of limited-edition sour ales, stars in the extremely photogenic, summertime-only scoop.
“We’re all about pushing flavor boundaries while also having fun,” Brushmiller says. “This is a another way we can show we like to do both of those things.”
The acronym J.R.E.A.M. stands for “juice rules everything around me,” a nod to the Wu-Tang Clan’s classic ode to cash. It’s an on-the-money moniker for the beers, which incorporate intense amounts of fruit and lactose. The resulting beers are meant to mimic smoothies and are an expanding category pioneered by the whimsically innovative Swedish brewer, Omnipollo. They are vibrant in color and luxuriously creamy, with an easy balance of tart and sweet flavors.
Burley Oak, which opened in 2011, has produced over two dozen J.R.E.A.M. beers since debuting the series in late 2016. Each incorporates different blends of fruits, lactose, and other adjunct ingredients. The base beer is always a Berliner weisse that is kettle-soured with lactic acid bacteria.
Brushmiller’s J.R.E.A.M.s include Acai Bowl (acai, blueberries, strawberries, banana, lactose, brown sugar, and cinnamon), Tropical Fruit (mangoes, coconut, passionfruit, peaches, and lactose), Blackberry Cobbler (blackberries, lactose, cinnamon, vanilla, and brown sugar), and Mango Lassi (mangoes, saffron threads, cardamom, and lactose). The beers are designed to evoke “comforting childhood tastes,” he says. “Things like grandmother’s peach cobbler.”
The key ingredient in all J.R.E.A.M.s is lactose, an unfermentable sugar. Long essential to milk stouts, lactose has become increasingly popular with brewers who use it to provide sweetness and a richer, fuller body. Breweries releasing lactose-laden beers include The Bruery (Bruesicles), The Answer Brewpub (Jooses), The Veil (Tastees), and Burley Oak.
Many lactose beers use copious amounts of fruit, particularly ones with high amounts of naturally occurring pectin. A common ingredient in jam and jelly, pectin thickens when heated. Double Blueberry Strawberry J.R.E.A.M., for example, is brewed with over 100 pounds of both types of berries per barrel.
“We’re constantly trying to see how much we can pack in,” Brushmiller says, noting proudly that the fruit is puréed with a hand blender. “It’s an arduous process,” he laughs.
J.R.E.A.M.s are a real labor of love for Brushmiller — and for their loyal fans, who queue up outside Burley Oak hours before new releases to buy as many 4-packs of 16-ounce cans as they can.
“We usually sell out the same day,” Brushmiller says of the drops, which occur monthly in pairs. Limited in quantity, they’re rabidly traded online among aficionados. “It’s cool to see how far they travel,” he says. “We get tagged on our Instagram from people in other countries that have cans.”
The soft-serve machine is a new addition to the lineup. Flavors premiere on the day their beer versions are released, so customers can taste them side-by-side. A swirl of two choices is also available. “It’s an awesome sensory experience,” Brushmiller says.
Pina Colada, built to emulate the classic tropical drink, with pineapple, coconut, vanilla beans, and lactose, was a particularly popular soft-serve flavor. “Someone jokingly asked for a paper umbrella,” he says.
Unfortunately, there are no J.R.E.A.M. ice cream trucks serenading neighborhoods nationwide, parking near public swimming pools or parks to provide sour-beer soft serve to all. The frozen treat is currently only available at the brewery for releases, and at its Burley Cafe in downtown Berlin, Md. The sour-beer soft serve is available to eat in or take away and comes in two sizes, 5 ounces and 16 ounces.
Demand has been so high since Memorial Day that the JREAMERY, as the soft serve operation is called, is now sold daily at Burley Cafe. Brushmiller reports that, for every batch of J.R.E.A.M. beer, one to two kegs are devoted to ice cream. Now that’s something to scream about.