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The tribute beer we need in 2013

My, time flies, and faster the older you get. Back in 1997, my wife, Daria Labinsky, and I wrote a story that appeared in All About Beer magazine in the early days of 1998. It was called “The Class of ’88” and examined several brewpubs that opened ten years before and their influence.

Now Deschutes Brewery, one of those featured in 1998, has announced it will collaborate with four other breweries that opened in 1988 to create commemorative beers to celebrate their shared 25th anniversary.

So it’s been 15 years since we wrote that story about places that were 10 years old. (That’s what I mean about time.) It may be a little dated, but I added it to the archives here. And not only because it provides an excuse to repeat a great quote from the late Greg Noonan:

“When the homebrewers stop entering the profession, and the backyard breweries are squeezed out, then it will become stagnant. You gotta keep getting the guys who say, ‘Cool, I can sell the beer I make. I can do it.’ ”

You may not know you miss Greg Noonan, but you do.

Anyway, the skinny for the Deschutes press release:

Brewery Partners: North Coast Brewing Company (Ft. Bragg, CA) & Rogue Ales (Newport, OR)
Beer Style: Barley Wine
Planned Release Date: March 2013

Story: In the same year these breweries were born, renowned beer connoisseur Fred Eckhardt published The Essentials of Beer Style which included a barley wine style guideline which will provide the basis for this collaboration. All three versions of the barley wines that will result from this unique collaboration will be packaged in 22-ounce and 750 ml bottles, plus draft.

Brewery Partner: Great Lakes Brewing Company (Cleveland, OH)
Beer Style: Smoked Imperial Porter
Planned Release Date: May 2013

Story: Building on a history of great porters – Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Edmund Fitzgerald and Deschutes Brewery’s Black Butte Porter – this Smoked Imperial Porter promises to be exceptional. Both beer versions will be available for a limited time in 22-ounce bottles and draft.

Brewery Partner: Goose Island Beer Company (Chicago, IL)
Beer Style: Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale
Planned Release Date: Q4 2013

Story: Brewers and owners are still working out the details on this beer, which they plan to brew with Riesling juice and Pinot Noir grapes. It will be aged in barrels that previously held Muscat wine in them for 10 years. Again, each brewery will produce its own version of the brew in bottles and draft.

I’ll buy those beers.

But — attn. anybody at Wynkoop Brewing (Marty Jones, Andy Brown, and even Colorado governor John Hickenlooper) or Vermont Pub & Brewery (and that could include you, John Kimmich or Peter Egleston) — the commemorative 25th anniversary beer I want to drink in 2013 is the one that Russell Schehrer and Greg Noonan could have, should have, would have brewed together.

This one’s for hops lovers

Deschutes Hop Henge Premium beerBoth the beer and the details herein.

The press release Deschutes Brewery sent out for Hop Henge Experimental IPA describes the beer as “our annual exercise in IBU escalation, combining several new hop processes and techniques to create a unique and unexpected beer.”

Notice that although Hop Henge checks in at 8.75% and includes, according to the press release, 95 bitterness units that it is labeled neither Imperial nor Double. But it is one big ass beer, and were it entered as an IPA in a competition would surely be kicked for its big-assedness.

Deschutes first brewed Hop Henge in 2006, some years calling it an Imperial IPA, and jamming a boatload of hops into a beer is hardly new. So what’s this about experimental? I asked and lickety-split the answer arrived in an email from brewmaster Larry Sidor:

“As always, hopping is an adventure with Deschutes Brewery. We kicked off this year’s Hop Henge Experimental Ale by milling 1.0 pounds of Amarillo and Centennial hops per barrel in our grain mill. Yes, you read that right, the hops went directly to the mill along with the grain! So, we ended up with a green mash. Never fear, lautering went fine with a high performance German lauter tun.

“The next hop stop was at the Kettle. We added Millennium, Herkules (more German influence) and Northern Brewer at just at 0.99 pounds per barrel. The next wort hopping was in the hop back using Northern Brewer, Citra and Brewers Gold at 0.6 pounds per barrel.

“Drum roll please, the final wort hopping was with Cascade and Amarillo in the whirlpool at 0.8 pounds per barrel.

“Let’s see, we’re now up to 3.39 pounds per barrel just in the wort. We’re not stopping here.

“So, off to the fermenter where we added Centennial, Cascade and Amarillo at 1.32 pounds per barrel. These were hop pellets, very unDeschutes!) So next, we added 0.3 pounds per barrel of Citra in the bright beer tank. I can finally relax and get those damn pellets out of my tank and back to leaf hops! So after seven days on dry hops we called it good with a grand total of 5.01 pounds of hops added per barrel.”

Blame the power of persuasion but it seems you can smell a blend of citrus fruits — grapefruit, clementines — northwest pine trees, pineapples, and on and on through the cap. Really.

Besides they had me from the point when they milled the hops.

Roll out the barrels, Part I

Cambridge Brewing barrels
Stephen Beaumont and Jon Abernathy have added their voices to the chorus singing the praises of barrel-aged beers.

Let’s hope everybody is right and more barrel-aged beers are on the way. Right now I’d settle for larger production runs of what’s available.

After writing a story about blending for Imbibe magazine and one about barrel-aging in the current DRAFT magazine I’ve got notebooks full of information that didn’t quite fit and I need to tell somebody about.

Even though I’m still in research mode.

I suggest you start with the DRAFT article. It may be all you need, but should you want more here’s the first of a couple posts on the subject (for now).

There’s not enough to go around

I pointed out how rare these beers are last summer and received several e-mails and comments from people alerting me to barrel-aged beers I might not have known about.

In fact, the number of individual beers being aged in barrels would be quite staggering. Problem is that we are talking a few dozen barrels from a microbrewery here, maybe a single one from a brewpub there. When I was at Berkshire Brewing in Massachusetts last summer I was startled to walk around a corner and see 11 used bourbon barrels (each full of beer) on metal racks.

But the short version of the math I did for DRAFT: Each weekday in USA Today Jerry Shriver recommends a wine. He only chooses wines with a case run of at least 8,000. Why send people looking for something they’ll never find? There isn’t a single barrel-aged beer produced in that quantity.

Consider two upcoming releases.

On Monday, Deschutes Brewery will release the second edition of The Abyss, an imperial stout aged in French oak and bourbon barrels. The first batch (December 2006) disappeared in the blink of an eye. And that’s before the beer was named “Best Stout in the World” by Men’s Journal and won gold medals in several major competitions.

On Saturday, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey will sell Red Poppy Ale for the first time. There are but 60 cases of 375ml bottles, each bottle priced at $15 with a limit will be four bottles per customer. The only way to get the beer is to visit the brewery. Think they’ll have any trouble selling out?

There are barrels and there are barrels

We commonly talk about beer production in terms of barrels, each one amounting to 31 gallons. “The Imperial Brewery just installed a 30-barrel brew house” or “New Belgium Brewing sold 485,000 barrels last year.”

Wood barrels that once contained wine or spirits — or in some cases are being used for the first time — generally hold between 50 and 65 gallons and will yield about two beer barrels.

You might say I lied about nobody producing comparable to 8,000 cases. Firestone Walker ran about 5,000 beer barrels through its Union system last year and sold hundreds of thousands of cases of beer with a measure of oak flavor. The brewery began the year with 36 wood barrels in the Union and boosted that to 42 because of demand.

How it works: The base for what will become Firestone Walker Pale and FW Double Barrel ferments in steel. Approximately 20% is transferred into the Union after the first day of fermentation and that remains in wood for seven days. What’s blended back with beer fermented in steel becomes Double Barrel Ale. The brewers then blend about 15% of Double Barrel with un-oaked pale ale to create Firestone Walker Pale.

It most accurately should be called a barrel-fermented beer, but one that perfectly showcases some of what wood adds. Firestone has released two barrel-aged beers, the cleverly named Firestone 10 and Firestone 11.

There are barrels and there are chips

Firestone Walker UnionTo produce 5,000 (beer) barrels of oaked ale to use in blending brewers at Firestone &#151 these are people at work, because this is not a matter of hitting a switch and watching beer flow magically from one container to another — must rack beer into wooden barrels well over 2,000 times, then rack it back into steel after a week.

It is ridiculously labor intensive and of course a some beer is lost along the way. It’s hard to believe they can do this and only charge $6.99 to $7.99 a six-pack.

Barrels are a pain in the butt. When I walk into either of two wineries near my house I know I won’t see any barrels. Both use “chips” in the aging tanks to add wood flavor to their products (both red and white wines). They aren’t really chips but wood blocks. The winemakers don’t want too much surface area (which you get with smaller chips) or they’ll end up with excess wood character.

Is this a shortcut? Sure. But it beats the heck out of paying more than $1,000 for a French oak barrel (the going price) and dealing with getting large volumes in and out of barrels that hold 60 or so gallons.

That’s why Anheuser-Busch ages its Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale in tanks along with bourbon barrel staves rather than the thousands of barrels it would otherwise need. Speaking of people at work, somebody still has to lay those staves in the massive tanks and take them out when the beer is done.

Fine beers are produced using chips, beers like Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (French and toasted oak chips) and Stone’s Oaked Arrogant Bastard (which to my taste fares better after it has some time in the bottle).

Oops, that’s more than I intended to write and covered less ground. We’ll resume this soon.

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