This is the Fusion of young and old, grain and fruit, tradition and innovation. Always keen to experiment and innovate, we toyed with the idea of a barrel-aged beer for a while but didn’t want to do it to tick a box. Then one sun-filled Somerset day the idea hit us like a container load of apples. The Somerset Cider Brandy Company is just down the road from us and produces some wonderful products. Our Old Ale tastes like liquid Christmas pudding, and what do you put on Christmas pudding (brandy butter, for those not familiar with the tradition). Why not use those barrels to mature our beer, and create a beer with a real difference?
It’s not as easy as turning up, grabbing some barrels, sticking beer in them and putting the result in a bottle. Would they even have spare barrels? After several discussions they agreed to sell us a used barrel when one became available. The lucky day came and two were available to choose from. Both had contained 5 year old Somerset Cider Brandy. One was limousine oak, the other had previous use as a sherry barrel before reaching them. Both were opened for inspection. Still nice and wet, the limousine barrel was all fire and apple. The sherry barrel, also wet, had a delicious aroma of sherry with a hint of apple and spice. But which should we go with? If we’re going to do something we do it right, so managed to take both away with us.
The next stage was to plan the brew schedule around the barrels. Filling the barrels wouldn’t be too difficult, but how would we later condition the bottles? Not being a fan of reseeding with yeast and sugar, we thought about various options but decided on krausening. Being overly fastidious (another word comes to mind) we would have to krausen it with more Old Ale. As we don’t brew the Old Ale often, we needed to plan things just right so that when the beer reached its peak in the barrels, another batch of Old Ale would be ready to krausen with.
The first brew went great. We prepped the barrels for filling by adding taps so we could check progress. On the day we filled them the aromas coming out of the barrels were absolutely amazing. Too bad we couldn’t bottle them! We took some excellent advice from brewing friends about the maturation process, primarily that contrary to popular belief, too much age will over-oak the beer, making it unpleasant, and that 30 – 60 days would be more than sufficient. We started checking the progress from the second week, which was good but needed more time. It started to really kick in a week later, and by week 4 we noticed considerable change. The beer had reached its peak – the point at which much further ageing would take it too far. Another quandary appeared. The differences in the barrels had created quite different beers. Each mimicked the characteristics of its barrel. On their own they were equally good, but different. Being huge fans of blending, we tried them together and that’s where the magic really happened. The blend of flavours was perfect.
We then organised another brew of Old Ale to produce the wort required to krausen the bottles. With many calculations, deliberations, and superstitious ceremonies the bottling day kicked off with blending the two beers and mixing it with the krausening wort. We then stayed up very late filling the bottles and laying them down to condition. A few long weeks later we wanted to check progress and opened a bottle to share in front of a fire one very cold evening. The result was stunning – a drink of huge depth and complexity. A lot of love went in to creating this beer, and we hope you love it too. For full enjoyment drink it at room temperature in a brandy snifter. The aromas and flavours really come in to their own then.
By now you’ve probably finished half of the bottle. Now enjoy the other half, contemplating all that is possible when you fuse passion and innovation.