Bristol Craft Beer Festival 2019: Barrel Ageing Showcase
We are huge fans of the We Are Beer events, and for this year’s Bristol Craft Beer Festival, we wanted to create something experiential. Something you don’t encounter when you drink our finished beers from bottle or on draught.
At the brewery, we are privileged to see, smell and taste beer right throughout its process, and follow the journey from raw ingredients through to finished product. There are fascinating parts of that journey, with a wild array of flavours, textures and aromas – some of them delicious and some of them challenging – that ebb and flow before settling into a beer you’d recognise at the bar.
Whenever anyone visits the brewery, we are keen to get them chewing on barley, rubbing hops and trying beer from tank - when it’s only just started to ferment and is full of honey sweetness, with a thick creamy texture.
In 2017, we started our Barrel Ageing Program, where we take fresh beers and transfer them into oak barrels for long term ageing. These are often former wine or spirit barrels that we buy in from vineyards and distilleries. They retain some of the characteristics of their former occupants, as well as those from the oak and ageing process.
The patience needed is rewarded handsomely. The barrels take the beers on a convoluted and often unpredictable course; sometimes tasting raw and overly oaked, or full of tannins, then rich in powerful vanilla, fruit or tobacco notes, before transforming into something complex and balanced. It’s addictive; taking small samples and comparing notes on how the beer is evolving. There have been beers that have tasted great from day one, and others we thought we’d have to pour away before becoming our firm favourites a year later.
When planning for the festival, we started by discussing how we can share these experiences and insights. We thought it would be interesting for others to be able to explore how the process elevates, emphasises and evolves the character of the beers as they age within barrel.
This weekend, we will be pouring two beers straight from the barrel; Cardinal Sour, our blackberry and hibiscus infused, red wine inspired collaboration with Dugges, and White, our crisp and tart Wheat Beer, full of citrus fruit notes and esters. Both have been ageing in red wine barrels for approximately two years. On Thursday, we transferred 100L of each into two white dessert wine barrels, which we will be racking at the festival to serve from directly.
These are not the finished, finessed, aged beers we have put out before. We wanted to showcase the complexity the barrels contribute to the initial stages of ageing, and the trajectory we hope the beers will continue on. These are evolving, nascent beers, whose character is usually only reserved for their custodians, who tend to the barrels over the beers’ lifetime. We’re looking forward to sharing this experience with you.