Written by Brandon Jones for embracethefunk.com
I finally finished typing up my latest brewer interview and itâ€™s one I think you will find really interesting and eye opening. A few months ago I spoke with Troy Casey a brewer at AC Golden with their Hidden Barrel Project: A project that is turning out Â Sour and Wild Beers in the heart of the Coors Brewery. Since this is the lengthiest interview Iâ€™ve done to date, I decided to split it up into 2 parts. Iâ€™ll post the second part next week. So meet Troy, a wealth of knowledge and fantastic brewerâ€¦.
ETF: Okay. Letâ€™s just start out with one of the questions I ask everybodyâ€¦ what was your sour beer epiphany moment, that one beer that made you realize, â€œHey, these sour and wild beers are pretty darn good and thereâ€™s something else out there besides lagers and IPAsâ€?
TROY: Â I donâ€™t know if I can tell you the first time I tried a sour beer and really loved it. Iâ€™ve got a few stories about trying sour beer, and youâ€™re going to be shocked by it. My whole brewing background was that I was a tour guide at Coors back in 2005. I was doing an undergrad in Chemistry at the time, and I realized that I could become a brewer with my Chemistry degree. I love science, but I didnâ€™t want to become a doctor, pre-med or do something like chemistry research.
After that summer as a tour guide I went back down to Colorado Springs, where I was doing my undergrad, and called Bristol Brewing Company. I got a job there and with Jason Yester who is now with Trinity, making great sour beers.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I was at a brewery and had a great opportunity. At one point I helped package some of the beginning tests that were going to be their Skull and Bones series. They were all 12-ounce bottles. I got a case of some low fills, but had no idea what they really were. I opened them up soon after, they gushed a bit, they were sour; I didnâ€™t know what to make of them. I didnâ€™t really like them at the time, so I had my parents store them in their basement. I donâ€™t know what ever happened to those bottles but I never saw them again. The cases that the beer was in are still in my parentâ€™s basement, haunting me. So every once in awhile Iâ€™m down there and Iâ€™ll see these boxes and I just kind of kick myself, because I really didnâ€™t know what I had at the time. So that was my first experience with sour beers, and I didnâ€™t really think too much of it.
Then I went to school at University of California at Davis. I came back to Colorado once and went to visit New Belgium. I got a tour from Eric Salazar and he poured me Ericâ€™s ale, which was just phenomenal, as you know. I kind of appreciated it. I think at the time I told Eric, â€œI donâ€™t really like sour beers, but this is really good,â€ and I genuinely meant that. I thought â€œHoly crap, this is interesting, this acidity, the balance of it.â€ You see their romantic foudres and really get into it.
Shortly before I left Davis, I bought some Russian River bottles. When I was going to school there for two years I never got to Russian River. But I had an opportunity to buy some of these beers because I wanted to bring them home as gifts. I knew the value of Russian River, and I wanted to bring them back for gifts for brewers who had helped me along the way to get into Davis and things like that.
Shortly after I got back from Davis my local liquor store got a couple bottles of Cantillon Classic Gueuze, and I knew it was a rare thing to get. I thought it was worth investigating and learning more about. I would have to say drinking Cantillon was the first time I can remember drinking lambic and enjoying it.
Then I learned more about the American side of sour beers and realized I had a case of Russian Riverâ€™s old 375s. I still like to give them away as gifts. But Iâ€™d have to say those were the first onesâ€¦between Russian River and Cantillon I think would be my first two. Sorry, thatâ€™s a long answer. Haha!
ETF: Â So once youâ€™ve got that taste now, youâ€™re at school, tell me a little bit about the school and your education leading up to that. Because you said you were in the science side of it first, which I find interesting. Seems like itâ€™s a chicken or the egg with a lot of sour brewers. So talk a little bit about your education and what all you did.
TROY: Before I went to Davis, I had internships with Coors in their labs and in the brewhouse. The best brewing scientists in the world, in my opinion, are in Golden, Colorado. And that was incredibly intimidating to me, to see how smart these people were, because at the time I thought â€œHow could I ever know what these people know?â€ I went to school, and the science was definitely what drew me into it. So I learned a lot about it.
There were only two of us that year at Davis, the other students name is Jonathan Goldberg. Heâ€™s now working at a brewery in Vancouver, Canada, and he had a background in the practical brewing side of things. Brewing with him taught me about the practical side of things. They had a small 5-gallon system there, and he taught me all sorts of things about recipe development, the practicality of it. If youâ€™re at a production brewery, you canâ€™t use 10 different malts. You need to use maybe three or four. You can still create amazing flavors by doing it that way.
I had only homebrewed once before I went to Davis, and it was an absolute disaster. I made so many mistakes, but the biggest one was that I never tasted the beer until it had went all the way through process. Â I force carbonated it, I poured my first glass out of the kegerator and it was absolutely disgusting. Worst thing in the world. I went out and poured it down the middle of the street, kind of symbolically. I definitely moved on from thereâ€¦ But I always like to tease myself about that first brew.
Anyway, I go to Davis, I learned about the science and the art side of it. My favorite expression about brewing is â€œBrewing is the art of science.â€ Those two things are very related, and obviously very important. Before I went to Davis, I learned about the art of making IPAs, making pale ales, and then the practical side about how to reproduce them and make the same beer the same way. I worked for Anheuser-Busch while I was out there. I was a Group Manager in Fairfield, which is common for brewers that go to Davis. It was a great job. I think that was a great job to show me that I wanted to work on the smaller side of things.
I was very fortunate to get a job with Coors just shortly before I graduated, that was a couple weeks before the JV with Miller to form MillerCoors. So I got a job there, and they put me in the pilot brewery at the time here in Golden, which became AC Golden Brewing Company. It was just a great fit. It turned out it was a good place for me and Iâ€™ve been here ever since. So I am a brewer with AC Golden Brewing Company. We are owned by MillerCoors, but we operate independently. Our flagship beer is Colorado Native, an American Amber Lager, made with 100% Colorado ingredients. Thatâ€™s what pays our bills and allows us to play around a lot. And Iâ€™ll let you ask the next question. Haha!
ETF: Haha, well you led me right into it. Talk about what equipment you use and what you do under the AC Golden entity.
TROY: Weâ€™ve got a 30-barrel brewhouse. Itâ€™s an all-German brewhouse from 1973 that we imported. It was designed and built to mimic the production brewery in Golden. When I first started there, we did a lot of R&D for the production brewery, testing on new malts, testing on new hops.
A year or two after I started here, we really came into what AC Golden is today, which is a brand incubator for MillerCoors. Our job is to develop beers that can eventually be brewed in the big production brewery in Golden. It kind of scaled up that way. So where it might be very expensive to build a new brand from the get-go that could go national right away, itâ€™s not very expensive when we can do it locally for a fraction of the cost, just to see what we like and what consumers like. Thatâ€™s what our job is, to build beers that can eventually be incubated so they can transfer over to the big brewery.
In doing so, we have a lot of opportunity to play around with different recipes, as you might guess, just to try things out. We get to showcase them to consumers at beer festivals. We can pour one-off kegs at different bars. I think if you go to RateBeer, weâ€™ve got dozens of beers â€“ the majority of them are sour which is kind of fun to think about. A small brewery inside a big brewery, the majority of which are sour beers. Iâ€™m pretty excited about that.
But yeah, Iâ€™m a brewer. Iâ€™ve worked everywhere in the last five years from doing actual brewing to the production side of things and the cellar side. Weâ€™ve got one brewhouse but have two different cellars. Weâ€™ve got a production cellar which is where we do beers like Colorado Native. Our production cellar has 60 barrel fermenters, 90 barrel bright tanks, with a little centrifuge and filter. We have a small Krones bottle filler from the early 1990s that does 66 bottles per minute. Thatâ€™s where we package Colorado Native and some other things we do.
I currently work is in our pilot cellar. Thatâ€™s where we have much smaller fermenters. We have 25, 15, 12, and 10 barrel fermenters that we can really baby and play around with to learn about different types of beers. We also have our barrel cellar with around 70 oak barrels. Iâ€™m definitely on the R&D side of things right now, which is obviously a great place to be.
ETF: Where does the name Hidden Barrel come from?
TROY: Going back to the earlier question, when anyone is learning about sour beers, they just canâ€™t get enough, right? Once you get the taste for sour, thereâ€™s nothing that can satisfy right?
ETF: Once you embrace it, itâ€™s there.
TROY: Once you embrace the funk! Thatâ€™s the idea. But sour beers are hard to come by and expensive. So from our standpoint as brewers, we naturally want to learn more about this style. But honestly, itâ€™s kind of a joke but we wanted to do it so we had easier access to them. We bought a couple barrels locally â€“ I actually Google searched â€œwineries in Denver.â€ I called the first name on the results and said I was looking for barrels. He said he had two. It was kind of serendipitous.
We got these barrels, and at this point I had zero idea about how to make sours. I probably read Wild Brews from Jeff Sparrow maybe once at the time. I called up our yeast supplier and told him we wanted to make a sour beer. I remembered they had house blends and he said, â€œYep, weâ€™ve got a sour blend.â€ I told him I wanted to add some ale yeast to it, because I had read in Wild Brews, that thereâ€™s a lot of saccharomyces in Lambic thatâ€™s a natural part of the microflora. So I had a general idea in mind.
We brewed the wort and then we pitched this culture into it, let it ferment, and then racked it in the barrels. I swear I probably tasted these two barrels once a week. I took super detailed notes, but I had no idea what I was tasting. Theyâ€™re kind of funny to read back on. It basically got to the point where we were over-sampling. We probably were doing worse things to the beer than positive by taking these samples. But it was our first time. Itâ€™s like your first kid â€“ I donâ€™t have kids. Do you have kids?
ETF: Yep, two.
TROY: My parents tell me when you have your first child, youâ€™re very overprotective and you do all these things. By the time you have the second childâ€¦maybe not so much. So it was probably like that. We just really did more than was necessary for these first two barrels. But itâ€™s when you learn, and itâ€™s exciting, so I think itâ€™s a natural progression.
We had these barrels, but we had no idea what we were going to do with them. We didnâ€™t know if they were going to turn out well, we didnâ€™t know if people were going to be mad at us for being in lacto, pedio, brett. One of my fellow brewers, Kent Reichow, said we should call this Hidden Barrel Brewing Company for that very level of secrecy. We loved that name. Since then, weâ€™ve labeled all of our barrels â€œHBB,â€ and then dash whatever number they are.
Thatâ€™s where the Hidden Barrel Collection came from, both from we didnâ€™t know if weâ€™d ever make anything drinkable, and we didnâ€™t really want everybody in the whole brewery to know what we were doing. We kept our process very safe; we put the barrels in the same place where we store our malts, on the hot side of the process. We werenâ€™t worried about infecting anything. We were very safe from the get-go. But thatâ€™s where the name Hidden Barrel Brewing Company came from. I think itâ€™s a great name.
ETF: I thought it was pretty awesome too, myself. When I read it, thatâ€™s a pretty good little name.
TROY: Especially coming from one of the largest breweries. We donâ€™t want to make any mistakes!
ETF: So letâ€™s talk a little bit about what you want people to understand out of the program youâ€™re involved in. What Iâ€™m getting at is the faux craft and the craft versus crafty thing. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve talked about it to other people, but I want to give you a chance to talk about it specifically for the sour side of it, because thatâ€™s the hot thing, obviously. It would be easy to say â€œOh yeah, Coors is jumping on the sour bandwagon, and theyâ€™re going to knock a few out and then theyâ€™ll be done.â€ You mentioned in your opinion that Coors has some of the best brewing scientists in the world, so some would say â€œSure they can engineer a few beers and sell some bottles.â€Â
TROY: Â I think the key there is brewing scientists. These are people that could tell you the intricacies of every single biochemical pathways that are occurring in the beers that any brewer is making. These are the people that are speaking at ASBC conferences, at MBAA conferences about brewing science.
From that regard, theyâ€™re an excellent a resource when weâ€™re trying to do things like increase our flavor stability for Colorado Native or talk about hop chemistry. These are the best people in the world for that. But when it comes to making beers that are very different from light lagers, weâ€™re mostly on our own.
When it comes to these specialty beers, especially the sours, weâ€™re on our own with industry experts. Chad Yakobson as you know, heâ€™s a great resource. The Salazars in New Belgium, Vinnie at Russian River, I think heâ€™s got to be the nicest person in the entire industry or even the world. These are the people that we were learning about how to make sour beers from. And then books like Jeff Sparrow, blogs like yourself that interview all these people that talk about the science side behind how to make these.
The question is why would Coors make sour beers, and why would AC Golden make sour beers? These are beers that we like to make and drink. We have the resources to do it with regards to the physical space. Weâ€™ve very fortunate in that regard. We havenâ€™t sold nearly as much beer as probably might justify the amount of barrels we have, which is only 70 barrels. We donâ€™t have much at all. Last year we sold about 40 cases of sour beers. This year weâ€™re going to sell over 400 cases. Definitely a huge step up.
We do it for two reasons. The first as I mentioned is we like to make it. The other one is it gives us credibility in the market, especially in Colorado. Thereâ€™s so much great beer here in Colorado, and AC Golden often needs to answer the issue that â€œyouâ€™re just owned by Coors.â€ AC Golden is proud to be owned by MillerCoors. Weâ€™re very fortunate to be owned by MillerCoors and weâ€™re not trying to hide that. When we get to make these special small batch beers we really get to showcase our brewersâ€™ creativity. It goes a long way with our street credibility.
So it works for the brewersâ€™ sake of keeping us interested and keeping us excited, but it also works for the sales side. When they go to an account and are trying to sell Colorado Native and they have to deal with that same question we get to say, â€œWell, weâ€™re owned by MillerCoors but we operate independently. Also, hereâ€™s some of the other beers we make,â€ and that can really help to open up consumers eyes, the accounts eyes, to show that weâ€™re talking the talk and walking the walk.
If I had to summarize your question, Brandon, it would be we let our beers speak for themselves. Because you could argue all day long about what is craft, whatâ€™s not craft. Weâ€™ve always known that AC Golden is not considered a craft brewer according to the Brewers Association guidelines. I know a lot of people that work for the Brewers Association. The last two years Iâ€™ve been a judge at the GABF.
When people ask me about the issue I say we respectfully disagree with the BAâ€™s definition of what a craft brewer is. Itâ€™s their organization and they can manage it however they want. We know that weâ€™re not, according to them, craft brewers, and we just have to move on from there. What I want to spend my time on is making the best beer that I possibly can and let the consumers decide what is important to them. Iâ€™ll just keep playing with barrels. Thatâ€™s all I can do.
ETF: So on the Embrace The Funk Facebook page I put up a poll. I asked â€œIf you had a beer that stylistically hit every mark and tasted every bit as good as a Cantillon or a Drie Fonteinen, would you care what business entity produced it?â€Â A large majority of people are answered no, they donâ€™t care who produced it if it tastes good.
TROY: Think about this: what if Cantillon was to say, â€œYou know what, Iâ€™m going to move everything Iâ€™m doing in Belgium and go to the United States,â€ any city, and they were going to make, from a process standpoint, the exact same beer that they were making in Belgium. Now, we both know that it wouldnâ€™t be identical, but letâ€™s just say from the process side, they were going to make the exact same thing. I donâ€™t think that would be craft beer by the definition the BA has right now, because theyâ€™re using adjunct as a significant part of their mash. Theyâ€™re using 30% to 40% raw wheat, which is traditional. Now, the definition says you can use adjunct if it enhances rather than detracts from the beer.
So Cantillon is making their same type of beer in the United States somewhere, while using raw wheat, which is what most Belgium Lambic brewers do. Thatâ€™s an adjunct, so according to the BA, if youâ€™re using it to enhance rather than detract from the flavor, thatâ€™s okay. But there are two ways to think about that. For American brewers to make a Lambic you could say one thing, â€œIâ€™m going to make a traditional Belgian Lambic wort.â€ That sounds craft to me, right?
The other way to think about making this Lambic wort is probably more historically accurate: I want to make beer, but there are two reasons I canâ€™t use 100% malted barley. One is because itâ€™s really expensive and I canâ€™t afford to buy 100% malted barley. Raw wheat is sometimes half the cost of malted barley. Another reason might be that malted barley is being rationed, maybe thereâ€™s a famine somewhere. But Iâ€™m also a farmer and Iâ€™ve got some raw wheat. Am I going to go thirsty this summer because I canâ€™t get the grain I want? No, letâ€™s use some raw wheat since itâ€™s all I have. And oh, by the way, I canâ€™t afford or find fresh hops, so Iâ€™m going to have to use these older hops that a lot of brewers might not want to use.â€
All these series of events, I believe â€“ Iâ€™ve never talked to a Belgian brewer about this, and I hate to be talking out of my ass â€“ caused this series of events that occurred that have allowed these Belgian brewers to make the absolute best beer in the world. I mean, if thatâ€™s not serendipity, I donâ€™t know what is. Youâ€™ve got raw wheat that gives proteins, that gives different types of carbohydrates, that allows these beers to sustain for years in a barrel. Can you do that with barley, just 100% malted barley? Itâ€™s going to be a completely different beer. Let alone the fact that itâ€™s going to be a hell of a lot darker with all that kilned malt. Raw barley is literally lightening the beer from a color standpoint in these beers. Then youâ€™ve got the adjunct for sustainability of the micro flora in the barrel.
And 5 year old hops? I canâ€™t imagine what brewers thought in the 1800s, but I bet not many would actively seek out these old hops. I think they used them because they had no other choice and over time realized that it helped in the creation of their beer. Youâ€™ve got all these different types of events that occurred, that have transpired to make the best beer in the world, as you and I probably would agree on.
ETF: Oh yeah.
TROY: So is that craft? This was what they had available to them, and this caused them to create a beer that we now regard as the upper echelon, the pinnacle of beer that so many of us, and your readers Iâ€™m sure, would agree is. Any sour beer in the world that weâ€™ve tried, in some part of our brain, we hold up to Cantillon Lambic or Drie Fonteinen Lambic. Any Belgian Lambic for that matter. Even though you know it might be a totally different style of sour, youâ€™re always somehow comparing it to these beers.
So when it comes down to craft versus crafty, I think thereâ€™s more to the discussion. I think itâ€™s interesting to think about if these brewers were in the United States, would they be considered craft brewers?
ETF: Yeah. You bring up a very valid points that I donâ€™t think are out there.
TROY: I donâ€™t think most brewers would disagree with what I was saying because they get it. Every brewer uses adjunct in some regard, whether it be in a saison, because itâ€™s a traditional use of adjunct, or if itâ€™s in a double IPA to use a little bit of dextrose to lighten the body. That sugar isnâ€™t adding any direct flavors; itâ€™s enhancing the malt and itâ€™s enhancing the hop flavor and the bitterness, but itâ€™s enhancing it by subtracting from the malt backbone. So it just depends on how you want to define it. I donâ€™t really think itâ€™s any different than using adjunct in American lagers to allow the yeast nuances to shine through, and itâ€™s just as traditional. Thatâ€™s my opinion.
ETF: Well, I was definitely a fan of the beers I tasted. The one that I liked the most was Framboise Noire. They were all awesome, but the peach and then the apricot kind of in that line. But I did want to talk a little bit about the Framboise Noire and the fruits used. Where are you guys sourcing the fruits from, and are they whole fruits?
TROY: Absolutely. Letâ€™s go back a little bit. Once we got a couple barrels in, we realized that if we tasted the same two barrels over and over again, we werenâ€™t going to have much beer once it came time to package. We just kept gradually getting more barrels over time because we realized the more barrels we had, the less we needed to taste each barrel, the more beer we could make. So we had a lot of different projects going on, some that worked out really well, some that didnâ€™t, and learned our process from there.
Gradually we came to decide that weâ€™re going to make a golden sour and a dark sour. We focused our efforts on that, because itâ€™s incredibly difficult to manage a barrel cellar with 10 different projects if you can only do it in your spare time. If itâ€™s your only job maybe itâ€™s more feasible; but if youâ€™ve got other duties and a different cellar for the stuff thatâ€™s making money, itâ€™s tough to manage 10 different projects. We, much like other brewers, decided that weâ€™re going to focus on a golden sour and a dark sour. Thatâ€™s kind of where we are now.
Much like Colorado Native, which is made of 100% Colorado ingredients, we wanted to use local ingredients as much as we could in the way we make sour beers. We have some great fruit in and around Palisade and Paonia on the Western Slope of Colorado, around the same regions where weâ€™re getting our hops for Colorado Native. They are growing some of the best fruit in the country, not just in the state. Especially when it comes to peaches.
Our first fruit sour was with Merlot grapes and then from there, we learned that we could actually make something pretty good. We got some Colorado peaches, Colorado apricots. We just talked to the farmers. Weâ€™re always out talking with our hops growers, and weâ€™ve created the same type of efforts with farmers that are growing fruit. Honestly, I think I spend more time talking with fruit growers than I do with hops farmers, which is a cool thing. We love fruit sours. Itâ€™s a method of preservation much like canning. Weâ€™re taking the fruit at the peak of freshness and putting it into a state of preservation. Weâ€™re putting it into beer, which extracts the flavor and allows it not to spoil.
We like to use fresh fruit for two reasons. One is because since we are not under any production demands, we donâ€™t have to sell this beer at a certain time. In turn, weâ€™re able to do it only the way that we want to, which is when whole, fresh fruit is available. We think itâ€™s an ode to our farmers, an ode to our state, an ode to Colorado agriculture. But that comes at a price. That means we can only make those beers about once a year, because thatâ€™s when the harvest is. But weâ€™re okay with that, because again, weâ€™re not under any demands.
With the blackberries, they were pretty easy. We got them fresh and crushed them in a 5 gallon bucket with a stainless scoop. They were never frozen. None of our fruit is ever frozen. We added it to a stainless steel tank that was clean, ready to go. Then we racked the barrels that had already been in oak for at least a year on top the fruit and let it ferment in stainless steel for another three months.
It was the same process for the apricots and peaches. We got those fresh from our farmer. Those were both organic fruits. The peaches were the size of my fist. They were so big. Even in the most special grocery store Iâ€™ve never seen peaches this big. It was unbelievable. And this was all based on relationships that weâ€™d built with these farmers, so they gave us their freshest, favorite fruit.
I mean, I had no idea. When we went out to the Western Slope and said â€œWe want peaches,â€ theyâ€™re said, â€œWhat kind?â€ We said, â€œI donâ€™t know, good ones,â€ and everybody just laughed at us because theyâ€™ve got dozens and dozens of varieties of peaches. This would be like going to Yakima, talking to a hop farmer, and saying â€œI want hops.â€ There are so many varieties, and for the farmer, theyâ€™re all so different.
But it was just by talking with these farmers and growers that we realized that obviously they know their crop better than we do, and so we asked them, â€œWhatâ€™s your favorite fruit? We want flavor. We donâ€™t care about the color of the fruitâ€¦ We want the flavor of it.â€ And thatâ€™s what we got. We were ready when the fruit was ripe. We had our barrels staged and ready to go. In the case of the apricot and the peaches, we got the fruit in and went to work. We cut the peaches into slices â€“ took the stone out, put them into our stainless steel tank, and racked the beer on top of that. Same thing with the apricots. Those were actually easier, because you could just rip them in half.
Thatâ€™s the beer. We made blends from our different barrels, our library if you will, of beers we had available. We chose the barrels we wanted to go onto which fruit, because the apricots and the peaches came at the same time and so we chose what we wanted to go with what. That was a cool learning experience, because apricots are much more sour than peaches. Our least acidic, but obviously still flavorful beer went to the apricots, and our most sour but also flavorful barrels went to the peaches. But even still, the Apricot â€“ I donâ€™t know if youâ€™d agree â€“ the Apricot is much more sour than the Peche.
ETF: Oh yeah, I would totally agree with that.
TROY: Â So basically what we do is ferment our base beer in stainless steel using lager yeast. Itâ€™s very simple, itâ€™s somewhere 60% to 70% pale malt, 30% to 40% malted wheat. So we use malted wheat, not raw wheat. Itâ€™s very low hops. Probably less than 5 IBUs. Weâ€™ll ferment it according to whatever yeast strain weâ€™re using. We mostly use lager yeast. As you might have guessed, weâ€™ve got a lot of that laying around, so we use that.
Weâ€™ll then crop the yeast, crash it for a couple days and let the yeast settle out as much as we can, and then weâ€™ll put it into barrels. At that point, we will either do one of two different programs: either store-bought or I guess. I havenâ€™t thought of a good word for non-store-bought. The store-bought is where weâ€™ll add brett and add lacto and pedio in some sort of combination. But the non-store-bought way is to add starter culture from one of our favorite barrels. We inoculate the barrel with one of our other favorite barrels.
In the case of last year, we picked our favorite barrels to go onto the apricots or
the peaches, but we also knew that we didnâ€™t want to just lose that culture by just giving it all up to these beers. We saved a small amount of our favorite barrels, sacrificing some beer, to go into future generations and propagate that way. From that regard, weâ€™re probably talking anywhere from 5% to 10% of the volume of the barrel was from that previous batch, which is what allowed it to sour. We didnâ€™t add anything else to it, just that starter culture, and let it go to create much of the same flavors that we loved so much from the year before.
So for us, having done this starting in 2009, weâ€™ve only had a chance to do it once or twice. This year weâ€™ll have much more, two or three different turnovers in the barrel, within these two or three generations of these barrels. Our turnover is around a year, and itâ€™s kind of been built like that out of necessity for the fruit harvest. All of our barrels over time have started to become of age in the summer, just when the fruits are coming out as well. So weâ€™re very lucky in that regard.
ETF: I was curious about wild Colorado yeasts, your thoughts on incorporating some into the beers. I guess youâ€™re getting probably, on a tiny level, some in there â€“ but what about something noticeable in there?
TROY: Weâ€™ve never tried anything truly spontaneous. Weâ€™re in the heart of the Golden Brewery, and so I donâ€™t know how much of anything viable or desirable would be there. So for us, as wild as it gets is when we have the fresh fruit. Itâ€™s always organic fruit, and it goes in whole. Whatever is on that fruit is going into the beer.
When we add the fruit to the beer â€“ the beerâ€™s already been aged in an oak barrel for about a year â€“ it gets aged for another two to three months. No more than three months for us. Weâ€™ve never found beneficial results of doing it longer than that. So thatâ€™s about as wild as it gets. Everything else is controlled.
When we get a brand new oak barrel we clean the hell out of it. Even if it has been at a winery and picked up some brett, we donâ€™t want that. I know that gets a lot of brewers excited when they can buy pre-inoculated barrels. I really donâ€™t like that because in wild beer brewing, you have such little control to begin with and I want to have as much control at the beginning as I possibly can. I know as soon as I put it in the barrel, itâ€™s out of my hands.
We hot water rinse every barrel at about 180 degrees Fahrenheit; we purge it with the CO2. We do everything we can to make sure that anything that was in the barrel is out of it by the time we put our beer in. Weâ€™ve done it for a few years now, weâ€™re by no means experts at making sour beer, but we know what we like. We want our bugs to get to work. Thatâ€™s what we want to be in there, thatâ€™s what we want to be fermenting in that barrel. We donâ€™t want it to be something that came from the winery. I want to know what it is, at least to some level. I want to know that when I added brett to the barrel, thatâ€™s whatâ€™s doing a lot of work right now. Again, by no means do I believe that I can have 100% control of whatâ€™s in there; I just want to have a fighting chance.
***This is the end of Part Â 1. Iâ€™ll post Part 2 next week which has a ton of great information on barrel temps, microbe addition time frames, fruit addition time frames, homebrewing advice and more!***