Barrel Aging Part III: What the Funk?

Let’s talk about funk. No, no…put away the slap bass, hi-hat and wah pedal. We’re talking about the tart, earthy, barnyardy, almost indescribable (unless you employ terms like “barnyardy”) and extremely wide-ranging characters brought on in the process of aging certain beers. While some may quaff a beverage and use that term “funky” to describe it in a negative way, the funk we go for here at Stone is an objective from the outset; a means by which to add character to already flavorful beer as a way for the base ale to be reborn as a new and deliciously provocative offspring of itself. Great examples of this funk come through in barrel-aged versions of Stone Cali-Belgique IPA, Stone “The Tiger Cub” Saison and certain additions of Stone Vertical Epic Ale. But how do we rein in the wild yeast and other organisms that create funkiness or, worse yet, infection and the “bad funk” through the lengthy evolution of our barrel-aged brews? Stone fans hit us with questions via social media and our Research & Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez has provided some answers to the proverbial question: What the funk?

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Barrel Aging Part II: Original Wine & Spirit Flavors

Earlier this year, we solicited questions from our fans about our barrel-aging program, then funneled all of those queries, like fine imperial stout into barrels, to our Research and Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez. Steve is in charge of our barrels and has a storied vocational lineage that includes many years spent at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and E&J Gallo Winery. Basically, he knows everything. (He’s not a self-proclaimed know-it-all, mind you…we’re the ones getting sublimely self-righteous on his behalf.) One of the many cool things about Steve is that he relishes the opportunity to share info about his specialized line of work. As such, he was happy to tackle our fans’ questions. He tackled so many, that we’re doling out his answers via a four-part series. This, the second installment, covers inquiries about wine and spirit flavors that are trapped in the barrels we use and ultimately lend flavor to the beers we age in those oak vessels.

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Barrel Aging, Part I: Oak Flavors

Over the past few years, we’ve gone from dabbling in the oaken arts to a full on wood obsession, stocking up on oak vessels of virgin, French and American heritage, tinged with everything from red and white vino to fortified wines and spirits. The latter have included just about every brand of fire water the mind can conjure. The results of our wide ranging barrel experiments have siphoned out to the beer-drinking public primarily via our Quingenti Millilitre line of brews, and have been well received by our fans (and us) thanks to an incredible depth of flavor that wouldn’t be possible without the woody, charred, vanilla and other flavor nuances imparted by the aging receptacles. Stone and our fans are so enamored with our barrel-aging program that, over the course of 2014, we’re sharing a four-part blog post series taking questions posed by curious Stone fans and including answers from our master of barrels, Research & Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez. For this, the first part of that series, he is tackling queries having to do with the imparting of oak flavors. Sit back, relax (enjoy a fine barrel-aged brew if you have one handy) and be prepared to have some serious knowledge dropped.

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Collaboration REDUX at Jolly Pumpkin this Sunday!


You may remember a tasty little beer with a long name (no surprise there) that was brewed here with Ron Jefferies of Jolly Pumpkin and Kjetil Jikiun of Nøgne-ø and released last holiday season. Well, the brewmasters had such an awesome time brewing it that they decided to brew it again—but with a slight twist. Since the original brew included ingredients from each brewery’s region, the guys thought it would be cool to brew it in each of the three regions, on three different systems, with three unique takes on the same kick-ass recipe.

With the first award-winning interpretation already under our collective belt, Mitch Steele and Steve Wagner will be heading straight from the Craft Brewers Conference in Boston to Jolly Pumpkin in Dexter, Michigan this Sunday to brew the second batch on Ron’s system. Jolly Pumpkin’s emphasis on open fermentation and oak aging will impart some intriguing gustatory nuances. Here’s what Mitch had to say about it (Spoiler Alert!):

“The brew is a repeat of the Jolly Pumpkin / Nøgne-ø / Stone Special Holiday Ale, but it will be fermented ‘Jolly Pumpkin’ style, meaning Brettanomyces and barrels. The idea is to use the exact same recipe in the brewhouse, but I know Ron ferments everything in barrels, and he’s got a lot of funk in his barrels, so the beer’s gonna go through this nice funkification process.”

Although the recipe will be exactly the same (we’re even sending some of the ingredients over to Ron for consistency), we’re excited to see how the brew will fare after the prolonged “funkification” process and extended barrel aging. Having had Ron’s beers, Mitch expects the beer to be “softer, a little funky, and a little tarter than our version.”

The bad news is that the beer won’t be released until holiday season 2010 to allow for barrel aging, so it’ll be a while until we can treat our taste buds to Jolly Pumpkin’s take on the brew. The good news is that Steve and Mitch are heading to Norway to brew the third iteration on Kjetil’s system at Nøgne-ø in July (Greg got to visit Nøgne-ø last year, now it’s Steve’s and Mitch’s turn!). That version, with all of the intricacies imparted by Kjetil’s system, will be released this holiday season 2009. We’ll have more information when Steve and Mitch visit Kjetil in July. One thing’s for sure—these beers will be worth the wait.

- Matt Steele