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By Owner & Brewmaster Kevin "Smitty" Smith
Patience. Sometimes we have it. Sometimes we don’t. We all know that it is a virtue. We know that it comes to those who wait. There are hundreds and thousands of sayings, adages, and proverbs telling us the importance of it. For those of us that ferment things for a living, we have had to embrace this concept. For us, patience is as much an ingredient as our yeast.
Shortly after I fell in love with beer—the india pale ale to be exact—I became enamored with the barrel-aged beer. Sure, the IPA takes patience. It takes most of the day to mash the grains and collect, boil, and cool the wort. All the while, we are jamming hops in every nook and cranny. Next, fermentation takes time. We wait. But as soon as we can, we must add more hops to this concoction—which can take a day, maybe two, sometimes a week. After extracting our dear, dear oils and terpenes, we (on the west coast) wait days upon days to precipitate out all of the hard-working yeast, beautiful hops, and complex proteins that wander aimlessly through our tanks. We do this with the lone purpose of delivering a crisp, clean, clear frothy beverage to our consumers that not only bursts with aroma but leaves the flavors splitting at the seams. My goodness, patience is not easy. Warriors we are.
However, that is just for a silly, little IPA. What is two or three weeks? That’s easy. What about six months, or a year, possibly two? That kind of patience is a little more difficult. That kind of patience is calculated. That kind of patience is nerve-wracking. Barrel-aged beers can test every last ounce of patience you have.
To me, barrel-aged beers were uncharted territory. Hops were a security blanket. I knew how to grow hops, how they smelled and tasted, and how they translated into a beer. Yet, barrel-aged beers seem to have an unmistakable complexity to them. Things like malt, and normal yeast, and oak, and “wild” (i.e. not-normal) yeast must meld together into double-, triple-, or quadruple-helixes that are hardly explainable in this type of format. These complexities make the exploration of these beers unsettling. Yet, while hunkering down through a Danish summer, I dreamt of my very first barrel-aged beer recipe. Light and crisp. Bubbles explode above the glass like the French Champagne of wines. The base beer alone makes your mouth water. A tapestry of continental malts is intrinsically woven together with the delicate touch of Belgian yeast. Neither one tries to outshine the other. For together, they are stronger. Nearly a year passed while this beer sat in barrels made of only the finest French oak—handcrafted by world class coopers. The barrels previously held a wine that was so beautifully fashioned it made sommeliers quit their job on the spot. So utterly exquisite that it made queens blush. During that long, long year in barrels, Brettanomyces chiseled away any impurities. Cleaned up any blemish. With time and patience—unwavering, unadulterated patience –this beer became something bigger than any one beer. It became greater than the sum of its parts. It was perfect for every season. It paired with all meals. Liquid bliss.
Two years. Two years, it took, before a jet-lagged daydream became a reality. Two years to find the right combination of malt, yeast, wood, and happy, little accidents. Two. F*cking. Years. And this weekend, we are not going to be releasing that beer. I drank all of that beer. And, I forgot to write down the recipe.
However, we are going to release three other beers that were pretty hard to make, too.
Shaky Grounds Spiced Brown Ale (9.4% abv & 29 ibu) was brewed as a collaboration with Crafted Coffee Roasters and featuring their single-origin Ethiopian light roast. We added vanilla bean, cinnamon, and cacao, then aged 10 months in Jameson whiskey barrels and released just in time to make your winter fireside dreams come true.
After Midnight Whisky Stout (10.2% abv & 40 ibu) was brewed as a part of our Caskmates collaboration with Jameson, they sent us Irish whiskey barrels to play with all the way from Middleton. We used a complex dark beer recipe based on our Dormancy stout and aged 12 months in whiskey barrels, adding extra booze and slight sweetness. Designed for after dinner. Pairs well with rich desserts.
Wildwood Belgian Strong Ale (10.6% abv & 36 ibu) was aged 10-22 months in Yakima Valley red winebarrels with Brettanomyces claussenii, a wild yeast known for its pineapple-like fruity esters and savory, leather notes. Pairs well with lamb chops, leftover Thanksgiving turkey, or pork roast. We expect this beer to age well over the next 3-6 months, with the barrel tannin mellowing with age and the Brettanomyces character continuing to evolve.
Posted December 06, 2019