January 28, 2015

Interesting Tidbits from Goose Island Barrel Warehouse Visit

While out in Chicago, I got to meet up with Eric Ponce, the Grand Poobah of the Barrel Program at Goose Island. For those of you who have not yet heard of Eric, you probably know of his work. Besides being responsible for the latest wave of barrels aged projects from GI, he has also worked at Alaskan Brewing, Crooked Stave, and Lost Abbey, where he played a big part in the Ultimate Box Set.

I was meeting with Eric to get some input on a barrel blending piece I’m working on for All About Beer, and thought I’d share a few interesting notes on some of their upcoming projects:

+Bourbon County Brand Stout  has been put in bourbon barrels that were used to age maple syrup. Before you totally lose it though, here some’s more deets:

*They only have three barrels, all from the same maple syrup company, but all different types of bourbons

*They’re unsure how this is going to turn out, this being the first time they’ve used these barrels, so he didn’t commit to there being a BCBS Maple. Said if it didn’t meet expectations, they might use it to blend into something else to add complexity

*If they do end up serving it “as is” it will probably just end up in kegs to be served at select events, since 3 barrels is not enough to make up a bottled variant.

+They’ve got quite a few sherry and port barrels filled with Bourbon County Brand Stout. The plan is for a Bourbon County Brand Sherry variant in the near future

+They’re working on a Rare Part Duex. For those of you who don’t recall, the first (and only) batch of Bourbon Country Brand Rare was their classic stout aged in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. It was released back in 2010. This second batch actually manages to top that by using a combination of 32 year old (!) freshly-emptied Heaven Hill barrels. Yeah, I think my jaw is still on the floor.

+The warehouse is beyond gigantic and they’re doing their best to fill it. Instead of a once-a-year brew they’re now brewing it about 6 months a year, filling roughly 120 barrels every two weeks. Great news for us BCBS lovers. And while not yet, sometime in the semi-near future the warehouse will be open to the public for tours. I can tell you right now it’s one of the most delicious smelling places I’ve ever encountered.

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December 12, 2013

Jagged Mountain (hopefully) Brings The Vintage Beer Heat

It’s a little known fact among non-beer drinkers that many beers actually improve with age. Really, no different than a fine wine or a wheel of cheese. This may come as a surprise because, after all, beer has always been touted as a beverage that’s best drunk fresh.  But if a beer has the right criteria, namely high alcohol (at least 8%), or is acidic/sour, it ages at a considerably slower rate than your typical 5% pilsner. In a well designed beer, time enables unique new flavors to emerge, such as sherry, port, amaretto, dried fruit, or even vanilla. So, forget your experience with the skunky old Heineken you found in your garage; these beers evolve into something that can go toe-to-toe with a fine Amontillado or Maderia wine.

And it’s at one of the country’s most respected breweries, Kuhnhenn, a tiny brewery/B&B in Warren, Michigan, that some of these ultra-strong, cellar-able beers are being brewed. Located in a defunct hardware store, their beer is only available locally, but is so popular that beer geeks regularly make cross-country pilgrimages to get it. In fact, it’s so sought after that at one point, its Raspberry Eisbock was ranked the #1 beer in the world on beeradvocate.com. No small feat. And In 2010, their English barleywine, Fourth Dementia, won gold at both the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. We’re talking about some serious street cred.

The reason their beer is so exceptional – and most of their customers will agree – is because they typically age them for a decent period of time prior to being served. And they’re brewed with the correct technique and ingredients that allow them to stand up to time in the cellar.

But what does a Michigan brewery have to do with Denver? Well, as Denverites are well aware, we live in one the greatest cities in the world.  So, when Wayne Burns, the brewer from Kuhnhenn, decided to strike out on his own and open a brewery, it’s no surprise he chose our fair city. Along with Michigan-bred friends, RJ Banat and Randy Stinson, he opened the doors to Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery last month much to the excitement and anticipation of local beer buffs.

Housed in an old brick building at the corner of 20th Street and Lawrence (about three blocks from Coors Field), this brewery is a real beaut. With a warm pine bar, plenty of high tops, and windows overlooking the action outside, the location will clearly be a hit. An astounding 20 taps are installed and though only 4-5 are currently being utilized, they’re looking forward to having most of them pouring very soon.

Given Burns’ pedigree, it’s easy to expect him to focus solely on making age-able, high ABV beer, but the strategy is instead to brew a wide range of styles that will cater to the beer-diverse LoDo crowd. And unlike the one-and-done model of many new breweries, Jagged Mountain plans to have a series of “house” beers  available, in addition to rotating “experimental” offerings. The anticipated regular offerings include a black IPA, saison, Scottish ale, American IPA, and a double IPA, and what’s been on offer so far has clearly showcased that their brewing abilities aren’t limited to high ABV bruisers.

That being said, they do expect their niche to be their experimental beer. These will trend toward barleywines, imperial stouts, old ales, and eisbocks; and if Burn’s work at Kuhnhenns is any indicator, they’re going to be huge; upwards of 15-20% ABV. If this were to happen, it would certainly fill a local niche that has been lacking.  The only CO brewery making these kind of beers is Avery, but in extremely limited amounts (not to mention being fairly cost-prohibitive). Time will tell if Jagged Mountain can reach Kuhnhenn’s legendary status, but what’s been put out there thus far is a good sign. Here’s hoping.

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