From the Beer Writer: Some see beer as an artistic medium, while others view it as a platform for experimentation. Not surprisingly, the scientific minds at Miramar’s White Labs, the foremost manufacturer of yeast for beverage fermentation in the world, fall into the latter category. Last year, their on-site brewing team created something previously (and since) unheard of: a beer fermented using a whopping 96 different yeast strains. What could have come out tasting like a cacophony of competing characteristics tasted very nice fresh, with Belgian yeast varieties coming to the forefront with their bold, fruity, botanical attributes. Yesterday, White Labs released a version of the beer given even more complexity from extended aging in bourbon whiskey barrels. The result is Barrel-Aged Frankenstout, which features a downright lovely aroma reminiscent of dark chocolate truffles and rose petals. The chocolate carries through on the palate and is accompanied by vanilla and chicory, followed by an herbal feel in the finish. In the world of beer-based science projects, it doesn’t get much more exotic than this.
From the Scientist: “The team at White Labs was working on sequencing 96 of our yeast strains for a collaborative research project with Illumina, Synthetic Genomics and a team of scientists based in San Diego and Belgium. The goal was to understand the genetic diversity between strains (i.e., what makes WLP001 California Ale Yeast have such different flavor characteristics compared to WLP008 East Coast Ale Yeast), and some of these findings were later published via the scientific journal Cell in September 2016. Since these strains needed to be propped up in order to do a full sequencing run and fill 96 spots in a multi-well plate, we used the propped-up yeast to do a fun ‘experiment’ and look at what would happen if they were all used to ferment only one beer. Our team tried a few different prototypes before landing on the final recipe for Frankenstout, as they found that the malty backbone played really well with the complex and various flavors created by 96 different strains!”—Karen Fortmann, Senior Research Scientist, White Labs
From the Brewer: “Barrel-Aged Frankenstout rested for more than one year in second-use, bourbon oak barrels. During that time, the brewing team monitored the barrels on a regular basis until we finally landed on the perfect amount of oak and bourbon traits combined with Frankenstout. We found the flavors in Frankenstout really changed over time, and it also picked up a higher alcohol-by-volume (10.1%) from the time spent in barrels. Barrel-Aged Frankenstout carries vanilla, oak qualities and mild notes of bourbon, which pair well with the more subtle phenolics of the matured base beer.”—Joe Kurowski, Brewing Manager, White Labs
From the Beer Writer: I can be a tough judge of a brewery’s character and wares, but from the first time I visited El Cajon’s Burning Beard Brewing, I’ve been nothing but impressed with their ethos, environs and the liquid fruits of its brew crew’s labor. All of it melds and works together to deliver a concept that, while rather varied, remains easy to fall into, grasp and enjoy. It would seem others agree. In its first year in business, “The Beard” has become the darling of not only beer fans, but members of the local brewing community. This is particularly impressive given its East County location, far from the glitz of North Park and the brewery-dense Beeramar and Hop Highway communities. There are many contributing factors for that, but as it should be, the primary reason for Burning Beard’s popularity is its beers. This weekend’s first-anniversary festivities will feature bottles of one of those ales in oak-matured form: Burning Beard Barrel-Aged Panic at the Monastery. A 12.5% alcohol-by-volume, Belgian-style quad given extra character and booziness after time spent in bourbon whiskey barrels, it will be available to attendees at this sold-out affair. Don’t have tickets? Don’t panic! You still have a chance to get this low-yield, big-flavor rarity. Around 100 bottles will be held back to sell to the general public when The Beard’s doors open on Saturday, April 8.
From the Brewers: “Best served at 53 degrees, this unblended bourbon barrel-aged Belgian dark strong ale layers toasty, caramel and honey notes with the fruit and spice of Belgian yeast. The yeast imparts a subtle earthiness—an almost tobacco-like spice—just beneath hints of fig, dark plum and black currant, while the Woodford Reserve oak barrels elevate the dark-fruit character of the beer, adding a touch of cinnamon, cocoa, vanilla and just a bit of heat. It fits into our perona because Panic is dark, mysterious and strong like the Beard, and also because the Belgian quad fills in part of the other side of the beer-spectrum for us. We opened the doors highlighting our Normcore Pilsner and, one year later, we will celebrate by cracking open the beer on the other side of the mirror, Panic at the Monastery.”—Jeff Wiederkehr, Head Brewer & Co-Founder, Burning Beard Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: For me, one of the most fun, non-alcohol-related aspects of beer-culture is how the taste, or even the mere mention of a beer can transport me to a specific moment. When I first heard that Coronado Brewing Company was releasing bottles of a whiskey barrel-aged version of a stout originally brewed for Bottlecraft’s 3rd Anniversary, I instantly remembered the first time I tasted it. I was at Embarcadero Marina Park North for a beer festival. As often happens at such affairs, I had the pleasure of conversing with numerous industry friends and colleagues. A number of those individuals referenced a beer crafted to taste like a popular dessert, German chocolate cake, lauding it as a “must-try”. When I finally came across the beer at Coronado’s tent, I eagerly consumed my sample. Fortified with chocolate malt and toasted coconut, it did right by its namesake. So I was glad to see it resurface with a touch of spirits-soaked oakiness added to the equation along with bold vanilla-character that enhances this beer’s likeness to its edible inspiration. Like its predecessor, Coronado Barrel-Aged German Chocolate Cake does not disappoint. But one has to take it quite a bit easier with this version, as it chimes in at 9% alcohol-by-volume, lest they find themselves unable to remember the first time they tasted it due to the brain-erasing power of imperial beer.
From the Brewer: “The original German Chocolate Cake was a beer that we had brewed a few years ago. I liked the beer, but this time around, while preparing to create a barrel-aged version, I wanted to make the beer with a much fuller body. I mashed the beer at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and we only brewed 20 barrels in a 30-barrel batch, so I only collected the strong wort runnings. After fermentation, I added 200 pounds of coconut that our head-chef, Kasey Chapman, hand-toasted at our original Coronado Island brewpub. I also added 100 pounds of cacao nibs before blending with beer that had been aged in whiskey barrels we procured from Smooth Ambler Spirits in West Virginia.”—Ryan Brooks, Brewmaster, Coronado Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: From the moment the owners of the Urge Gastropub family of hospitality venues conceived their foray into the brewing business, a barrel-aging program was a key component. Even before their eventual Mason Ale Works was serving beer from its sister-restaurants’ taps, it was siphoning hearty ales into spirit-soaked oak. They dubbed this slice of the business Mason Snaleworks in light of the extended time it takes for beer to mature and take on wood-borne character. After eight months of patience on the Mason crew’s part, the first bottled Snaleworks release, Mason Second Son, is now available in wax-dipped, 22-ounce bottles throughout Southern California. Labeled simply as an “American strong ale”, it’s a blend of imperial stout and barleywine that pours nearly black and lets off a bold, billowing bouquet rife with scents of sawdust and whiskey extracted from 12-year-old Elijah Craig barrels. Alcohol is big on the nose, but much more subtle in the palate; no small feat considering this monster registers a whopping 14% on the alcohol-by-volume scale. Despite its brute strength, it drinks rather smoothly, cohesively presenting flavors of dark chocolate and coffee with a ton of vanilla and a hint of anise that comes out once the beer reaches room-temperature. It’s a great first-effort that elicits excitement over future barrel-aged offerings from Mason, which will soon have a lot more barrels and space to work with when it moves its primary brewing and aging operations to San Marcos’ Urge Common House venue early next year.
From the Brewer: “First of all, we are pleased as punch with ourselves for the release of our first barrel-aged, Mason Snaleworks release. Second Son was a name we had been throwing around for quite some time, mostly for the enjoyment of the way it sounded and how we associated it with ourselves, personally. Having been born in this particular order in my family, as was Mason co-founder Grant Tondro, I am very aware of the stigma that comes with being a giant pain in the ass and an embarrassment to the family. Our second barrel-aged beer somehow escaped the blemishes often staining the second-born. A barleywine and imperial stout aged in eight bourbon barrels for eight months, blend together so perfectly. It’s rare to see such a complex barrel-aged beer that is so approachable. Rich chocolate, toffee and bourbon notes in the nose finish with soft caramel, toast and slight roast from the coffee. Take heart, at 14% ABV, this sneaky little bugger can drive you to dangerous levels of insanity, but you will fall fast in love with the ferocity with which this child opens its heart.”—Jason De La Torre, Head Brewer, Mason Ale Works