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If you’ve read any of my other journal entries, or happen to have had a beer with me at some point you may get the feeling that I really like beer. I do. 

I enjoy beer in a mug, straight from the can, solo cup, mason jar, or in a nice glass with a carefully crafted and paired meal. I like beer that is hoppy, crispy, warm, cold, dry, dark, strong, or light. I do like beer. I even like beer when I’m not drinking it — I like thinking about the history of beer and the people who make it. I like learning about other brewers, different beer styles and brewing techniques. But, all of that aside, what I really like is making beer.

In 2016 I wrote a journal entry about what “ferment” means to me, here’s a bit of it:

For me, “ferment” is one of the sweetest words in my life. Ferment is the moment I can step away from a recipe I have been working on, ingredients I’ve researched and sought out, a brew that I have carefully calculated and sweated through, equipment cleaned, scrubbed, and sanitized, and yeast that I have raised and cared for. The ferment then takes on a life of its own and, aside from taking some readings, there is nothing for me to do with it till it has run its course. What awaits me at the other end is what it is. Is it what those four ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast, were meant to be? I guess so; they’re not going to change back.

It is the natural transformation that interests me. And, though fermentation scientists know, down to the minutiae, the biochemical processes that are taking place in a fermenting brew, these are words and symbols representing something that feels much more magical. And so with each brew we make an educated and calculated guess at what will come out the other end in a week or so.

Each year, however, we brew a few batches and take this process a big step further. With these beers we really max out our brew system to squeeze out the most dense, sugary wort possible and set it into transformative motion. A week or two later the result is a rich, dark, strong, and somewhat hot tasting beer. This brew then gets racked into barrels and tucked away for up to a year. The barrels we have used include European oak that previously housed various red wines, American oak with rougher cut staves and charred within that had housed rye whiskey and bourbon, and this year even whiskey barrels that were also used to age red wine before aging beer. The brews that go into these barrels are our Imperial Stout and Barleywine. Both of these styles have storied histories in English brewing and commerce, and both push the limits of what a beer can be.

If tasting a brew that has been in tank for a week comes with a wave of trepidation and excitement, thieving a taste from these barrels that have been resting for a year brings something like a 52 times bigger wave. Like sitting for a performance while the orchestral musicians tune and warm up, the sounds are beautiful - flutes flow through scales, brass shines in sharp blasts, and the strings warble, and then there is a pause, and a hush (a year passes?) the conductor taps a baton. I pull a stainless nail from the side of the first barrel and hold a glass to catch a taste from the delicate stream. And then it washes over, and with those first notes of perfect union and harmony nothing else in the world exists as the trills, deep rumbles, and sweeping arcs unfold before you.

Each barrel tends to display a subtle variation on the theme. We walk through with glass, pliers, and notebook tasting and taking notes mapping out blends

For Barleywine this year the goal was to create two similar blends - one cold and gently carbonated to be kegged and the other warm to be bottle conditioned. 

For Imperial Stout we had two different batches to work with, one aged in whiskey barrels and the other in the whiskey barrels that had had a red wine blend in them. The differences between those two batches were wonderful. The former was rich, smooth, with a long, sweet finish, the latter displayed a sharp dark cherry note followed by a distinct roasty, chocolatey finish. 

We blended both batches with two different offerings in mind. Our annual Imperial Stout and Blend No. 27 collaboration with Zupan’s Market for their Farm to Market Series. For the annual Imperial Stout we focused on the first type of barrels with a small percentage blended from the whiskey/wine barrels to give it a bit more backbone and pop. Blend No. 27 leans much more heavily on the whiskey/wine barrels with a bit of the whiskey-only barrels to round it out a little.

 For us in the brewery, as the days grow shorter and there gets to be a bite in the air, it is a special time. We get to shift gears from cranking out IPAs and crispy lagers, take a breath and dive into getting these brews out of barrels, kegged and bottled, and spend many hours hand labeling and wax dipping. Every step demands a considerable amount of care and attention. When you see these bottles lined up, with a unique pattern of wax dripping from each, know that there were no shortcuts taken. And now that we have gotten these beers wrapped up and out of the brewery, it is time to line up some barrels and come up with the brews for next November.


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