The Right Beer for the Right Bar­rel

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

When it comes to bar­rels, brew­ers gen­er­ally agree that the right beer to stand up to the as­sertive fla­vors of bour­bon is a stout or porter. How­ever, that doesn’t mean they are the best styles for other spir­its. At Sch­lafly Beer in St. Louis, Mis­souri, Lead Brewer Jared Wil­liamson shares some of the thought process be­hind the bar­rels and beers they joined to­gether for the brew­ery’s Ibex Cel­lar Series.

“WE DE­CIDE ON THE beer style first and then the kind of bar­rel that we think will work best. Then we source what we need. It’s a col­lec­tive process where we bat around a lot of ideas, but usu­ally it’s find­ing fla­vors that will work with each other. “For our pump­kin ale, a beer we’ve been mak­ing for a re­ally long time and that does re­ally well for us, we wanted to do some­thing spe­cial when we used a bar­rel. Be­cause of the fla­vors of the beer and the sweet­ness, we de­cided on rum bar­rels. We could have used bour­bon bar­rels, but we just fig­ured that the booze would run all over the beer, and we wanted some­thing com­ple­men­tary. “But there were chal­lenges with the rum bar­rels. We sourced from dis­til­leries in the Caribbean, and a lot of the bar­rels were re­ally old; they had been bour­bon bar­rels or for sherry, so they have a lot of char­ac­ter, but we had an is­sue with some. At the end of it, I’d say about 70 per­cent of what we got were wor­thy of the Ibex series. The re­sult was pump­kin as­sertive but with sweet candy notes, a lot of the rum, and some heat. The bar­rel re­ally ac­cen­tu­ated what was al­ready in the beer. “What we learned from us­ing peated Scotch bar­rels is that their strength is their strength. For our twen­ty­first an­niver­sary, we made a sim­ple base beer with Op­tic malt from a farm where our co­founder’s wife’s fam­ily grew bar­ley. The beer was so strong that it was ba­si­cally like car­bon­ated Scotch.

“Some­times with bour­bon bar­rels, peo­ple brew a beer and just say, ‘Okay, here it is,’ and the booze can be re­ally dom­i­nant. We didn’t want that with the Scotch; we didn’t want to knock peo­ple over. So when we brewed the an­niver­sary beer again, we used Simp­sons Golden Prom­ise—what I be­lieve is the finest U.K. base malt. Know­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence that the fi­nal beer would have huge Scotch char­ac­ter, we brewed a non-bar­rel-aged ver­sion of the beer to blend with what was in the bar­rel and blended it to where we wanted.

“Most re­cently, we did a bar­rel-aged sai­son. We knew that we wanted to use wine bar­rels, and I was re­ally into the idea of sau­vi­gnon blanc bar­rels be­cause I thought the fruity char­ac­ter would com­ple­ment the fla­vors of the beer. So we sourced from lo­cal winer­ies. Af­ter 3 months of ag­ing, when we blended the bar­rels, the beer had taken on this re­ally nice tan­nic char­ac­ter and fruity notes, but still the beer was there. Find­ing com­ple­men­tary fla­vors that high­light the beer is im­por­tant, and the same is true with blend­ing the bar­rels to make sure that you achieve the right bal­ance.

“We work with a rel­a­tively small per­cent­age of bar­rels, and in this series, a lot of the bar­rels that come in are one-and-done for us. Some go into our cel­lar for fruit tri­als and a re­search and devel­op­ment pro­gram, but mostly they head else­where af­ter­ward.

“What we’ve learned when it comes to brew­ing into spe­cial bar­rels is that it’s qual­ity over quan­tity. We know that not ev­ery bar­rel is go­ing to be great, so we have to be ready to let them go be­fore they get to the pub­lic.”

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