Cel­lar Leg­ends Xyauyú

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - In The Cellar - By Pa­trick Daw­son

“Well, it’s about time,” you think. Fi­nally, info on that $40 bot­tle of beer you’ve seen sit­ting on the shelf—the Ital­ian bar­ley­wine that comes in a fancy Scotch bot­tle–look­ing case. As­suredly, at that price it must be good, but is it good enough to drop that kind of cash, es­pe­cially when there are so many new beers hit­ting the shelves every week? The an­swer is a most-def­i­nite “yes.” Why? Well, be­cause it’s de­li­cious in ways just about no other beer is.

FOR CEN­TURIES, THE WINE AND

spirit in­dus­tries have em­braced ox­i­da­tion and the at­tributes it can lend in the right cir­cum­stances. Port, Madeira, and sherry are in­ten­tion­ally ox­i­dized to cre­ate their pow­er­house of in­tri­cate essences. And the com­plex­ity of a thirty-year-old Ar­magnac is largely due to the all the time spent in oxy­gen-por­ous oak.

But in the brew­ing in­dus­try, ox­i­da­tion is es­sen­tially never con­sciously al­lowed. When a cel­lar-friendly beer such as bar­ley­wine or Rus­sian im­pe­rial stout ac­quires pos­i­tive ox­i­da­tion char­ac­ter­is­tics af­ter a few years of ag­ing, the neg­a­tive as­pects nor­mally re­main as well. Malt-thin­ning and stal­e­ness, for ex­am­ple, are com­monly present; the cel­larer just hopes the lev­els are min­i­mal enough to off­set the gains. In con­trast, the brewer aims to re­duce oxy­gen at all times and al­most never in­tends for the beer to be aged for years.

At least one brewer, though, didn’t get the memo: Teo Musso, owner and cre­ator of Bal­adin, one of Italy’s first, and now largest, craft brew­eries. The craft-beer scene in Italy was es­sen­tially nonex­is­tent in 1996 when Musso de­cided to trans­form his ten-yearold beer bar into a full-fledged brew­pub. This lack of in­dus­try al­lowed him the men­tal free­dom to de­sign beers that were nei­ther con­fined by stylis­tic ex­pec­ta­tions nor re­strained by the tra­di­tional pro­cesses and in­gre­di­ents found in many other brew­ing cul­tures. Some of his first beers used in­gre­di­ents such as Mediter­ranean or­anges, ka­mut, myrrh, and raw Ital­ian wheat. And he looked to sim­ply cre­ate the best fla­vor pro­file for each beer rather than re-cre­ate some­thing pre­vi­ously brewed.

So when Musso de­cided to brew a bar­ley­wine, rather than look­ing to the clas­sic ex­am­ples, he fo­cused on Madeira wines. Known for their in­tensely ox­i­dized fla­vors of caramel, hazel­nut, or­ange peel, and burnt sugar, th­ese wines ex­hibit the ex­act fla­vors he sought. He then drew upon the tech­niques of sherry and port pro­duc­ers to learn how they so art­fully ma­nip­u­lated and max­i­mized the rich, yet dif­fi­cult-to-con­trol, ox­i­dized notes in their wines.

Over time, Musso re­al­ized that to achieve the level of fla­vors he de­sired, he would have to in­ten­tion­ally ox­i­dize the beer, slowly and over time. Long-de­ceased brew­mas­ters the world over were as­suredly turn­ing over in their graves, but it took a pro­gres­sive-think­ing in­di­vid­ual to re­al­ize that in this man­ner, you could con­trol and bend this process to your will.

What fol­lowed was a decade of brew­ing tri­als, with each some­times tak­ing years to yield its re­sult. Over time, Musso tin­kered with and per­fected al­co­hol per­cent­age, brew­ing tech­nique, and oxy­gen in­tro­duc­tion. And each batch was a small, but pro­gres­sive, step to­ward his vi­sion: a bar­ley­wine with the rich com­plex­ity

of a fine port, but with de­cid­edly beery char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Fi­nally, all the hard work paid off, and Musso’s pièce de ré­sis­tance was born: Xyauyú (pro­nounced eck-see-eye-yoo), a 14 per­cent ABV bar­ley­wine that is in­ten­tion­ally ox­i­dized with pres­sured oxy­gen—the first of its kind. On av­er­age, each batch is aged about eigh­teen months this way, but much like a wine­maker, Musso waits for each batch to “tell him” that it’s ready. He con­tin­u­ously tastes and fol­lows the beer’s progress as it grad­u­ally takes shape. When it gives the word, some of the beer is then re­leased di­rectly as Xyauyú. The rest, how­ever, is trans­ferred to bar­rels and aged any­where from one to six more years to be­come Xyauyú Bar­rel or other spe­cial vari­a­tions Musso has in mind.

Be it Xyauyú or its bar­rel-aged sib­ling, the re­sult is beer that boasts deca­dent notes of toffee, bread pud­ding, dates, prunes, and vanilla, yet with­out the dull stal­e­ness that’s of­ten found in bar­ley­wines with sim­i­lar fla­vor pro­files. The mouth­feel is rich, not fall­ing prey to thin­ning like that of so many vin­tages of the same beer style, and there are zero sed­i­ment-de­rived au­tol­y­sis fla­vors (e.g., soy sauce), some­thing Musso at­tributes to his care­fully de­signed process. To top it off, the al­co­hol heat is so mel­lowed by the oxy­gen that it comes across more like nearly half of what it ac­tu­ally reg­is­ters.

“I wanted the sweet ox­i­dized fla­vors of a Madeira, but with fresh fla­vors too,” says Musso.

Set­ting it apart yet again from other bar­ley­wines is the fact that be­cause Xyauyú is al­ready ox­i­dized to the hilt, it can be opened, re­capped, and slowly en­joyed over days, weeks, or—at the suggestion of Musso—months with­out a no­tice­able de­cline in qual­ity. As a Madeira-esqe beer, Xyauyú is sans car­bon­a­tion. For Musso, the de­ci­sion of whether to car­bon­ate was a non-de­ci­sion: “There wasn’t any­thing to dis­cuss; this is a beer of the cel­lar.”

When it comes to the ver­sions that are bar­rel-aged, he de­cided to ma­ture them in rum casks. Be­cause Xyauyú and rum share such sim­i­lar fla­vor pro­files, the thought was that the rum would only serve to am­plify the beer. This the­ory paid off, and the rum va­ri­eties soar with notes of spice, vanilla, and brown sugar to blend with Xyauyú’s al­ready deca­dent pro­file.

Ad­di­tional aged ver­sions in­clude Xyauyú Fume, aged in Scotch bar­rels, and the par­tic­u­larly in­trigu­ing Xyauyú Ken­tucky. While it would seem ap­pro­pri­ate for the lat­ter to be aged in Ken­tucky bour­bon bar­rels, it’s ac­tu­ally stored in wine bar­rels and cold in­fused with Ken­tucky to­bacco. The fi­nal prod­uct com­bines Xyauyú’s sweet, dried fruit and caramelized sugar notes with the earthy, leath­ery as­pects of to­bacco, trans­port­ing the drinker to a pre­vi­ously un­ex­plored re­gion of the beer world.

Re­cent ver­ti­cal tast­ings of Xyauyú start­ing with the first bot­tles re­leased in 2005 re­vealed that the beer’s shelf life is in­cred­i­bly sta­ble. The ten-year plus ver­sions are a touch more re­fined than the “fresh” ver­sion, al­low­ing the sub­tler fla­vors to show, but other­wise they’re re­mark­ably sim­i­lar. In this way, the beer matches the Made­ria that so in­spired its cre­ator, with a decade of age be­ing no­table, but still a far cry from its over­all po­ten­tial.

When Teo Musso set out to brew a bar­ley­wine, he did beer lovers across the globe a fa­vor by buck­ing the trend and choos­ing not to fol­low the beer-world sta­tus quo. Isaac New­ton once said, “If I have seen fur­ther than oth­ers, it is by stand­ing upon the shoul­ders of gi­ants.” In Musso’s case, Xyauyú’s suc­cess was only a mat­ter of choos­ing whose shoul­ders to climb up.

Left » Author Pa­trick Daw­son threw him­self into re­search mode at Casa Bal­adin in Piozzo, Italy, sam­pling a wide va­ri­ety Xyauyú vari­a­tions. of

Top » While the “Ken­tucky” vari­a­tion of Xyauyú might have you think­ing it’s aged in bour­bon bar­rels, the real rea­son for the name is the to­bacco it’s aged on. Bot­tom » Ital­ian craft­beer pi­o­neer Teo Musso muses over his rule-break­ing bar­ley­wine.

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