Thursday, February 28, 2008

Barrel Aged Beers

I just had a daughter five weeks ago. It was a process that at times seemed to take forever and at times seems to have gone by in a blink of an eye. I am learning a whole new meaning for the word patience between waiting for her birth and learning to care for a newborn. It is this patience that will pay off for our next major project: Barrel Aged Beers.

These beers will age and mature in wooden barrels that have previously held whiskey, port and various varieties of wine. Patience will be required as our usual 21 day fermentation and conditioning cycle will be replaced with months or even years of aging. Having never done anything like this before we plan to let the beer guide us and tell us when it is ready.


We acquired six 23 year old Rip Van Winkle whiskey barrels thanks to the help of Sean Paxton, The Homebrew Chef. These barrels were shipped from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky and are now resting quietly in our banquet room, waiting to be filled with the following beers:

Old Pappy California Wheat Wine: Rip Van Winkle whiskey is made with "a whisper of wheat" instead of rye or barley. As an homage to these barrels previous contents we decided to put a wheat wine in them. This beer is being brewed specifically for barrel aging as no "unoaked" version of this ale will see the light of day. Well, at least not much. A full 15 barrel batch of this beer will be brewed and available for sale once it has had time to soak up the flavors of the barrel.

Barrel Aged Imperial Red Ale: We knew these whiskey barrels were coming last fall so we saved a few kegs of 2007 Smokey's Imperial Red Ale to age in whiskey barrels. This will be a small release as we only have enough beer for one whiskey barrel which will yield about 55 gallons.


We got our wine barrels from Dragonfly Cellars (which is the winery my brother owns) and from J. Lohr in San Jose. All of them will house sour beer. The general idea is a traditional lambic base beer will be brewed and it will be barrel fermented with a combination of saccharomyces, brettanomyces, lactobacillius, & pediococus. These beers will likely take 18-24 months in barrel before they see the light of day so we all have to be extremely patient with this part of the project.

There will be some cool experimentation that hopefully results in some tasty sour beers so stay tuned and I will update this site with what is going on in the sour barrels in more detail later.

All of this is really exciting, the barrels are breathing new life in to the restaurant and brewery and they haven't even been filled yet! It is a project that is going to take a long time compared to our typical production schedule but I think it will be worth the wait. I am looking forward to all the great beers we can add layers of flavor to through this old world process that is experiencing a rebirth in American Craft Brewing. Look for our first release in the fall of 2008.


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