Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sour Barrel Aged Beer 101 -- Challenge Accepted!



Do you remember a time before you knew about sour, barrel aged beer? You knew what beer was (an awesome beverage), you knew what sour tasted like (remember warheads?) and you knew other delicious beverages came out of barrels (hello wine).

While our fondness for this style is quite apparent in our portfolio, and your support of our experimentation has enabled us to continue to develop new twists on our sour line up, we often hear a demand for even more variety and availability of these tasty treats.

So in the spirit of sour barrel aged beer month, and to quell your awesome curiosity, we want to look closer at three parts of the process of making these beers and explore the risks, pampering special attention, and extra time it takes to make sure our sour barrel aged beers grow up to be happy, healthy 750 mL babes.



We'll look at each part of the process a little deeper, using some questions submitted by you via our Facebook & Twitter, in the following posts about:


Brewing & Yeasts
Making these beers requires special ingredients that can be a real pain to control if you're not careful (but it's a worthy effort!) Once we get our hands on certain yeasts and bacterias they must be kept completely separate from those beers that are not meant to be sour. We also purchase all kinds of fruits and procure unique barrels to add flavors and color to our different barrel aged sours. It's not uncommon to find cherries, blueberries, kumquats, guava, and raspberries floating around in oak barrels that may have formerly housed Pinot, Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel ... the list goes on.





Cellaring & Aging
When we brew batches of beer for aging in barrels, we won't see them again for many months, or even years. As time goes by, liquid evaporates from these barrels, which means beer loss and constant maintenance. And when it's sour beer, there are all kinds of mystical weirdnesses that can happen over time with those yeasts and bacteria. A lot of variation happens from barrel to barrel, so identifying which barrels will blend best with one another requires lots of tedious sampling and tracking (yes, we have spent days tasting samples from hundreds of barrels of Oude Tart. We're not saying it's not fun ... at first). There's also that little fact about us living in earthquake country, where towers of barrels falling down could be absolutely devastating for us.





Packaging
There's no messing around with cross contamination here either. We take keeping our beer happy in it's keg or bottle for the long haul very seriously, so there's duplicate equipment and lots of attention to make sure the sours stay clean, content, and separate from our non sours. Sanitation in any brewery is critical to make solid beer, but throw some sour funk in the mix and we need to be roughly 1762.34% more careful.





Mmmm yes. Take something awesome, make it funky, then let it chill in a thing that's held other stuff that tastes really good. How lonely your palate must have been back in that day before it found these tartelettes! Luckily you're a much more refined beer drinker now, and you've come to learn that some of your fave flaves are found in sour barrel aged beers. Hopefully after you read our upcoming blogs on our process, you'll be able to explain it to other beer fans too.

In the meantime you can read more about different kinds of barrels in our series on barrel aging five variations of Bois, our 5th anniversary ale.

Read more about sour barrel aged beers:

4 comments:

cfschofield said...

You mentioned barrel evaporation. Do you periodically top up your sours to replace the ullage or is that not necessary because of the pellicle that forms?

Travis Mullen said...

When you take samples, is oxygen exposure a concern? If so, how do you avoid O2 exposure? Are you breaking the pellicle to take samples?

Cambria said...

Good questions everyone!

Travis, we pull samples from small holes drilled low on the barrel, which are normally plugged with a nail, or on some fancier barrels there is already a spigot installed. This way the pellicle is not repeatedly disturbed with each sampling. The beer flowing outwards and the pressure resting on top of the liquid helps keep oxygen from getting in every time we sample.

Cambria said...

Good question cfschofield. We don't top off as we want to leave the pellicle undisturbed and there are so many barrels we can't do it for all the others!!