Barrel Aged

Fundamentals #9 – Jester King/The Kernel Farmhouse Table Barrel Aged Blend

In beer, blending is a true art form. If you’ve ever tasted a great geuze from say 3 Fonteinen or Tilquin, or perhaps even a fantastic Flanders red from Rodenbach, then you’re tasting a beer that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

More and more breweries are investing in oak aging to further the beer experience they can offer their customers. This could involve getting used barrels from wineries or distilleries, or in some cases it could involve the use of larger oak containers called foeders. To make sure the beer that comes out of that oak tastes great, they too will have to master the fundamental art of blending.

If you ever get the chance to walk amongst the foeders at a brewery such as Rodenbach or New Belgium in the US, you should jump at the chance as it’s a pretty magical experience. If you’re lucky you might even get the opportunity to sample some unblended beer from the wood itself. This might help enlighten you as to how challenging blending the perfect beer from various components can be. The key to becoming a master blender is to be perfectly in tune with your palate, so as to achieve the perfect balance of acidity, flavour and drinkability.

To become ready for blending, beer needs time and this collaboration between London’s The Kernel and Jester King of Austin, Texas is no different. The original beer, a humble Table Beer with Citra, was brewed in April 2015. This beer was dry hopped the very same month before spending a year maturing in a steel tank with mixed cultures of yeast and bacteria taken from both The Kernel’s and Jester King’s stocks. In addition to this, some of the beer was aged in brand new – or virgin – oak barrels for 18 months. This beer was then blended back with 50% of the beer aged in steel before being refermented and allowed to mature further in the bottle.

The final blend of this beer is a living, breathing product and its character will continue to evolve in the bottle for years to come. According to the folks from The Kernel, the character from Jester King’s voracious house Brett strain dominated when the beer was packaged. However, this appeared to have calmed down in the bottle I opened, with notes of ripe berry fruit accompanied by strong flavours of vanilla from the oak, leading an incredibly dry and tannic finish.

This is an exceptional beer which blurs the boundaries between beer and wine - and that should come as no surprise considering the pedigree of its makers.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. We have a few bottles of the incredible Kernel/Jester King Farmhouse Table Barred Aged Blend in store or online while stocks last.

Fundamentals #3 – Marble Brewery Lost Your Marbles Red Wine B.A. Forest Fruits Imperial Stout

It really feels like Manchester’s Marble Brewery has reasserted itself as one of the nation's most relevant breweries over the past few months. Not that there should ever have been any doubt.

Under the watchful eye of head brewer James Kemp and his team, Marble has refined its core range, introduced a breathtaking new range of hop forward beers under its “Metal Series” label and released a series of complex and accomplished barrel aged beers. There was a small blip when they decided to discontinue the transcendent Dobber, one of the most important beers in my personal drinking history, but that’s OK because I’m heading to Manchester to brew it with Marble as part of its 20th anniversary celebrations later this year.

Lost Your Marbles has been released as two iterations – one barrel aged with Brettanomyces and this one, which has been aged in Pinot Noir barrels along with an addition of cherries, blackberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and redcurrants. It’s a collaboration between returning Marble brewer Joe Ince (who until recently was brewing at Magic Rock) and Dan Whitehead de Bechevel, who has recently left Marble to start his own brewery: the imaginatively named Dan’s Brewery.”

The fundamental that fascinates me in this particular beer is not the fruit but the barrels itself. None other than winemaker Andrew Nielsen of Le Grappin sourced the French Pinot Noir barrels that this beer was aged in. You might not have heard Nielsen’s name before but it's one you should learn because he has provided several other breweries, including Redchurch, Wild Beer Co and Burning Sky with wine barrels of their own. [ED: As well as making awesome wine of his own!]

I contacted Marble’s Joe Ince to ask why he selected these barrels in particular for ageing this beer. “I wanted the barrels to help mellow the stock beer, allow for longer term ageing without adding too much tannin, something I'm very wary of with wood,” he says. “I was also hoping they would add a little funk and help the fruit really come through, which I think they did. Although not a wine drinker I quite like Pinot Noir as it always presents with cherry and raspberry to me.”

The resulting beer is velveteen in texture, with a lusciously smooth carbonation. Ince has certainly achieved the low tannin and high fruit flavour content he desired. The rich chocolate malts are met by the tartness of black cherries and raspberries, producing a flavour not unlike black forest gateau, which also happens to have been the brewers' end goal with this beer.

It definitely benefits from being allowed to warm in the glass a little first and I reckon that a few months longer in the bottle wouldn’t do it any harm either – especially if you want those funky, tart flavours to come to the fore. Don’t hang about though - only 1200 bottles have been produced and based on this tasting they won’t be about for long.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. Water, barley, wheat, oats, sugars, yeast, bacteria and even adjuncts such as fruit or maize are all fundamental parts of what make up our favourite beers. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And pick up a bottle of Marble's exceptional Lost Your Marbles Red Wine BA Forest Fruits in store or online now.

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes IX – Camden Town Brewery Beer 2015

By now it’s likely you’ve heard the news that last week Camden Town Brewery sold to AB-InBev, the largest drinks company in the world, who produce beers such as Stella Artois and Budweiser.

As a local to the brewery and a supporter of small, independent producers, I struggled to hide my disappointment at the news. I collected a few of my thoughts about the takeover on my own blog here. But despite my disappointment, it’s important to remember that Camden still produces some of the best beers in the country and that they’re spearheading a lager revolution in the UK.

Lager is the most popular style of beer in the world, accounting for about 70% of all beer consumed across the globe. With its Unfiltered Hells, Pils and India Hells Lager, Camden are producing three of the most interesting and flavourful riffs on the lager style you’ll find. It’s important to remember that the change in ownership won’t instantly reduce the quality of the beers fermenting away under the arches at its Kentish Town brewery.

Camden also do a lot more experimentation than people realise, which includes a small yet tasteful barrel ageing program that’s been running for a couple of years. The most recent release from this stable is Beer 2015, the third in a series of beers produced to mark the end of the year.

Beer 2015 is a strong lager that’s been aged in second fill whisky, tequila and rum barrels. As these barrels have already been used to age beer in before the flavours absorbed by the beer are less intense but are by no means less complex. What you’ll find is a slightly sweet beer with a flavour reminiscent of an Oloroso sherry. This is followed by a sharp, tannic bite, almost like black tea, which is rounded out with just a hint of oak as the finish dies.

It’s a special beer, and shows what Camden is capable of producing. Beers in big bottles like this are ideal for sharing on New Year's Eve, I know I’ll be cracking one open. Here’s a happy new year from me, and a toast to all the great beer yet to be discovered in 2016.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. 

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 23: Harviestoun Ola Dubh 18, 8% (Scotland)

glenn@hopburnsblack.co.uk

Each night, we'll post a blog about the day's hand-picked beer in our Big Beery Advent Calendar - why we love the brewery, why we've chosen the beer, why we think you'll love it too. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter.

Harviestoun says: "Ola Dubh 18 is what you get when you age Old Engine Oil in casks formerly used to mature Highland Park 18 (‘Best Spirit in the World’), which imparts a fruity, whisky character into our rich, dark beer."

We say: Like whisky? Like beer? This is your night-before-Christmas-Eve beer. The great thing is, you don't have to stop at just a dram. This is Glenn's stocking stuffer (don't tell him) - beautiful, rich, peaty goodness.