Clean Wood

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents - By John Holl

Brew­ers are putting foed­ers to work for their clean-beer pro­grams.

Foed­ers are be­com­ing a more com­mon sight in brew­eries these days, and while it’s true that the ma­jor­ity of the brew­ers are us­ing the ves­sels for wild or mixed-fer­men­ta­tion beers, oth­ers are putting the wood to use for their clean pro­grams.

LIKE MOST BREW­ERIES, WHEN

Threes Brew­ing in Brook­lyn, New York, or­dered two 30-bar­rel oak foed­ers, the plan was to use them for mixed-fer­men­ta­tion ales.

“We de­cided to put a Pil­sner through it first, just to see what would hap­pen,” says Brewer Matt Levy. “We’re fans of old Ger­man styles, and it just made sense to try this wood.” The re­sult is a foeder-aged 5.2 per­cent ABV Pil­sner now called Vliet that has be­come one of the brew­ery’s most sought-af­ter beers and some­thing of a cult fa­vorite around New York City.

Then and Now

Foed­ers, the large oak ag­ing ves­sels, have been com­mon­place in brew­eries around the world for gen­er­a­tions. Largely found through­out Europe, they were once com­mon­place in the United States as well. In fact, at Schell’s Beer in New Ulm, Min­nesota, the brew­ery dug mas­sive ves­sels from a long-for­got­ten cel­lar and re­habbed the tanks to cre­ate its Starkeller line of mixed-fer­men­ta­tion beers. Orig­i­nally how­ever, the foed­ers were used for lagers, as was the case from Pilsen in the Czech Repub­lic to brew­eries through­out the United King­dom.

So, as craft brew­ers con­tinue to carve out their niches in the mar­ket and of­fer new beers, the same is true for equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers, and now brew­eries of all sizes can have foed­ers, adding charred wood and oak com­plex­ity to recipes. And while it’s true that the ma­jor­ity of the brew­ers are us­ing the ves­sels for wild or mixed-fer­men­ta­tion beers, there are oth­ers that, like Threes Brew­ing, are putting the wood to use for their clean pro­grams.

Af­ter mak­ing the Pil­sner for the first time, Levy says, “It just opened our eyes. There was this won­der­ful sub­tlety that the beer took on af­ter fer­ment­ing in the ves­sel. We get this toasted-marsh­mal­low note out of it, and it just rounds out the edges of the Pil­sner. It’s a fun tweak on a sim­ple thing.”

There are chal­lenges to mak­ing the beer, of course. The brew­ery has a 15-bar­rel brew­house, so it needs to do Pil­sner batches back to back to fill a foeder. That means en­sur­ing that the first round of beer is treated prop­erly while the sec­ond is be­ing prepped and pro­duced. Mak­ing sure there is consistency is tricky for the small brew­ery, but Levy says that over the past few years of mak­ing this beer, they’ve learned how to best care for it.

“We have to fill the foeder over 2 days, and it’s a fun, but fraught, process. Still it’s been work­ing out re­ally well, and we’re rolling with it.”

They’ve also had help from Foeder Crafters of Amer­ica, the com­pany that made the foed­ers. There’s a cool­ing coil at the bot­tom of the foeder, and they in­stalled a se­condary cool­ing plate at the top to en­sure even tem­per­a­ture dis­tri­bu­tion dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion. Af­ter 2 weeks of pri­mary fer­men­ta­tion, they crash the beer as best they can—and as best the foeder can han­dle—for 6 weeks and then trans­fer it to stain­less-steel bright tanks be­fore pack­ag­ing.

“As we’re emp­ty­ing the foeder, we’re clean­ing and re­fill­ing it,” Levy says.” For sched­ul­ing, it’s tricky. With stain­less, you can leave things a lit­tle longer, but with this method, we don’t want to let Bret­tanomyces or any bac­te­ria in, so we need to move fast. We’ve been for­tu­nate so far.”

The sec­ond 30-bar­rel foeder that Threes pur­chased, by the way, is hap­pily filled with a mixed-fer­men­ta­tion ale as orig­i­nally in­tended.

First Clean, Then Wild

On the other side of the Hud­son River, in New Jer­sey, Car­ton Brew­ing in At­lantic High­lands re­cently opened up a new pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity on its prop­erty with the in­ten­tion of let­ting its orig­i­nal brew­ery go wild and spon­ta­neous and let bugs play in the beer.

The brew­ery pur­chased a 30-bar­rel foeder, also from Foeder Crafters, with a heavy char on the in­side. Be­fore they let it go wild, they put it in the new fa­cil­ity and filled it with an IPA recipe based largely on a tra­di­tional post-pro­hi­bi­tion IPA, specif­i­cally the one pro­duced by Bal­lan­tine.

Brew­ery owner Augie Car­ton spent time re­search­ing the tast­ing notes from the time and try­ing to work out a recipe that would be as true to the era as pos­si­ble. (For more about the chal­lenges of re-cre­at­ing the his­tor­i­cal Bal­lan­tine IPA recipe, see “Bal­lan­tine IPA Re­turns, Per­fected by Home­brew­ing,” on beerand­brew­ing.com.) He used Bul­lion hops oils that ex­tracted the kind of fruity fla­vor he was look­ing for. He calls it ba­si­cally “a cream ale with a sim­ple grain bill, fer­mented with Chico yeast.” But the wood char­ac­ter of the foeder brought out a bit of smoky depth and wood tan­nins that kicked up the hops fla­vor and added a layer of com­plex­ity to the beer. It was re­leased as a lim­ited of­fer­ing ear­lier this year be­fore the foeder was moved into the wild space and put to work for its in­tended beer pur­pose.

But Car­ton says that he plans to or­der an­other foeder and to work out a sched­ule for re-cre­at­ing this beer—which, over time, will morph into an Amer­i­can bar­ley­wine— with­out los­ing the char char­ac­ter that can weaken with each turn of the foeder.

“It’ll be some­thing like ‘darken the char on the foeder, brew into it and brew a sim­i­lar beer into stain­less; in 3 months blend the two, and then brew into the oak again and just hold it longer so we can nail the same pro­file each time. Then we re­tire the foeder into the [wild brew­ery] and buy an­other foeder.’ ”

As Car­ton men­tions above, the wood will change over time and with each turn, so the brew­ers us­ing this method need to con­tin­u­ously taste and adapt time-wise to make sure that the fla­vors stay con­sis­tent.

Based on the pop­u­lar­ity of these beers, it’s a good bet that more brew­eries that pur­chase foed­ers will turn out at least one clean beer be­fore go­ing wild with it. Or, there will con­tinue to be more ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in wood with tra­di­tional styles.

At Threes Brew­ing, Levy says that re­cently the brew­ery made two new lagers from the foeder: a fes­t­bier and a smoked helles. The wood, he says, re­ally adds fun fla­vor di­men­sions to the fi­nal prod­uct.

“When the wood is strong, you’re go­ing to get a lot of vanilla and tan­nic notes from the wood. But when you’re fer­ment­ing cold and do­ing quick turns, you get that toasted marsh­mal­low, and it was per­fect in the helles.”

Af­ter mak­ing the Pil­sner [in the foeder] for the first time, Levy says, “It just opened our eyes. There was this won­der­ful sub­tlety that the beer took on af­ter fer­ment­ing in the ves­sel. We get this toasted-marsh­mal­low note out of it, and it just rounds out the edges of the Pil­sner. It’s a fun tweak on a sim­ple thing.”

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