barrel-aged beer

Win an Exclusive Tour of Founders’ Caves

It’s Founders Brewing Company’s version of the Golden Ticket. The brewery is offering tasting tours of its underground barrel-aging caves to ten lucky people. The caves, located in former gypsum mines 85 feet below the surface, are where Kentucky Breakfast Stout and other strong beers are aged. They’re normally closed to the public.

To win a tour, which also includes two nights’ lodging in Grand Rapids, a meet-and-greet dinner with the Founders team, and guaranteed entry to the brewery’s annual Black Party, one first has to join Founders’ “Cadre” enthusiast team. Then the entrant must describe his or her “dream” barrel-aged beer, including ingredients, a name, and label artwork. And did I mention that the package includes a chance to taste KBS?

Entries are due February 24.

Bourbon Barrel Stout: Where It Began

Last week’s Friday Mash linked a story about Black Friday beer releases. Most of those beers are stouts, and many are barrel-aged. Barrel-aged stout, in turn, was created more than 20 years ago at the Goose Island Brewing Company in Chicago. It’s called Bourbon County Brand Stout, and it’s one of the more famous beers in American brewing history.

Bourbon County was created by brewmaster Greg Hall, who has since moved on to make cider in west Michigan. To this day, Goose Island follows Hall’s recipe faithfully. It uses barrels from six or seven different bourbon distilleries. The brewery requires 3,000 barrels to age a full batch of Bourbon County and its variants. Those barrels have become hard to find because so many breweries are making their own barrel-aged beers.

Because of Bourbon County’s yeast strain, and the need to ferment the beer inside the barrels, the brewers have found it’s best to start the aging process in late summer. Changing seasons and their often-extreme climates—Goose Island’s home is Chicago–are crucial to Bourbon County’s ultimate taste. Warm temperatures makes the wood expand: beer seeps into the wood, and takes on vanilla and roasted flavors. When cold weather arrives, the wood contacts, and the bourbon is pushed out of the barrel and into the beer.

It takes at least a full year of changing seasons until the beer matures. Thus August and September are hectic months at Goose Island because brewery staff have to bottle the previous year’s batch while pouring the current year’s batch into the barrels. Just in time for Black Friday.

The Friday Mash (Seven Years’ War Edition)

On this day in 1756, Prussia’s king Frederick the Great attacked Saxony, beginning the Seven Years’ War. The conflict, which took place on five continents and involved most of the world’s powers, is better known to English-speaking North Americans as the French and Indian War.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Germany, where the Mallersdorf Abbey’s Sister Doris has been a master brewer for nearly 40 years. She’s one of Bavaria’s few “ladies who lager”–and Europe’s last beer-brewing nun.

Beer historian Tom Acitelli credits a 2002 cut in the excise tax for the profusion of small breweries in Great Britain. He also credits a 1976 beer tax cut for America’s small-brewery boom.

NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon is a wine lover, but he also has a taste for good beer. Gordon recently showed up at Dogfish Head Artisan Ales, whose 61 Minute IPA really impressed him.

For years, Mexico’s brewing industry had been dominated by two large corporations, but change is slowly coming, thanks to the federal government’s efforts to curb monopolies in key industries.

Iowa officials are pondering what to do with the 150-year-old beer caves underneath I-380 in Cedar Rapids. The forgotten caves were exposed by this summer’s heavy rains.

Barrel-aged beer is becoming more popular, and brewers are looking beyond traditional bourbon barrels. Now they’re starting to age their beer in barrels once used for Scotch, rum, and wine.

Finally, the growth of microbreweries might give rise to a new breed of wholesalers. Yarmouth, Maine-based Vacationland Distributors specializes in craft breweries, especially those that have grown beyond the state’s maximum for self-distribution rights.

The King of Craft Beer?

Jay Brooks has a secret to share: America’s most-decorated brewery is the Firestone Walker Brewing Company, in Paso Robles, California. Firestone Walker was named Brewery of the Year in the mid-size category in 2007, 2011, and 2013. It also won that title in 2003 for Nectar Ales, a label it acquired from the former Humboldt Brewing Company. And it won a fifth GABF award: it went to brewmaster Matt Brynildson when he was with SLO Brewing, which now bears the Firestone Walker name. And if that weren’t enough, Firestone Walker won five Brewery of the Year awards between 2004 and 2012 at the World Beer Cup.

The brewery is named for its founders, Adam Firestone and David Walker, whose operation uses a system of linked barrels based on traditional brewing methods in the English town of Burton-Upon-Trent. Firestone, who’s a member of the famous tire-making family, grew up in California’s Central Coast wine region, but he turned his attention to brewing. His homebrewing experiments led to Firestone Walker’s flagship beer, Double Barrel Ale. The Walker half of the operation is Firestone’s brother-in-law David Walker, a transplanted Englishman who wanted better beer choices.

Firestone Walker offers brewery tours, and has added a tasting room with a restaurant. There’s also a Firestone Walker restaurant, which serves all of their beers, in nearby Buellton.

The Friday Mash (Boston Tea Party Edition)

On this day in 1773, a group of colonists called the Sons of Liberty boarded three ships and threw their cargo of tea into Boston Harbor. The Sons of Liberty were led by none other than Samuel Adams, whose smiling face nowadays adorns millions of bottles of ale and lager.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Quebec, where a number of breweries have gotten into barrel-aged beer. Some of their best, and strongest, offerings are now available for Christmas celebrations and gift-giving.

Need something to do on Sunday? Deborah Braconnier of Yahoo! Sports, who calls herself a life-long Denver Broncos fan, proposes a Tim Tebow drinking game.

The Pacific Northwest supplies most American-grown hops, but entrepreneurs elsewhere in the country, like Jeff and Bonnie Steinman of Plainwell, Michigan, are growing their own.

Cigar City Brewing decided not to use Winston Churchill on the label of its barleywine, even though it could legally do so in Florida, because the British statesman’s descendants objected.

Which craft brewery had the most creative packaging this year? Brian Stechschulte of All Over Beer, says it’s the 21st Amendment Brewery, whose four-packs for Allies Win the War look like a newspaper from 1945.

Will the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company open a second brewery in North Carolina? The brewery isn’t saying, but local media report that it’s meeting with local officials.

Finally, if you need an excuse to bring home some beer, the Beer Mapping Project has declared tomorrow National Growler Day.

Festival Recap From All Over

While Paul and Maryanne were knocking back a few beers and watching football last night, Ludwig was busy finding festival news:

Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer News spent part of his day at the Bistro’s Barrel Aged Fest. The Hayward, CA, establishment served more than 70 beers, and Jay describes a few of his favorites.

George Wendt of “Cheers” fame was the guest of honor at The Big Pour, a festival held in Scottsdale, AZ this weekend. The event was sponsored by Draft magazine.

The Colorado Springs Gazette’s Beer Buddha visited last weekend’s All-Colorado Beer Festival. The event raised $10,000 for local charities.

Australian journalist Blair Richards reports on the growth of the Tasmanian Beer Festival. The festival, which began four years ago as an assignment for a Tasmanian hospitality school, has become a major draw for beer travelers.

“Girly Drinks” reviews last month’s Michigan Brewers Guild Harvest Festival at Royal Oak-based blog The Urbane Life. The Harvest Festival is one of two new festivals added by the Guild to its 2009 festival schedule (the other was the UP Oktoberfest). The Guild’s next event is the Winter Beer Festival at Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids. It will take place on February 27, 2010.

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