Thursday, June 14, 2012 excited

We are going to be releasing something very, very special on Father's Day...acutally we'll be releasing 4 very special beers.  There is The Pan Ontario, a blend of beer from 5 breweries across Ontario created for Ontario Craft Beer Week, a barrel-blend version of our spring IPA, Beaver River and the Greener Futures barrel aged (and dry hopped) version of Double Wide Double IPA.  But what I'm most excited about is Venskab, our collaboration beer brewed with Anders Kissmeyer.  It is by leaps and bounds the most complicated, complex beer we have ever attempted, and working with Anders has been so very inspiring.  He wrote a description of the creation of this beer, which I'd love to share with you:

Beau’s All Natural Ales and Kissmeyer Beer ”Venskab”

I met Steve Beauchesne, Matthew O’Hara and the rest of the Beau’s gang at the Craft Brewers’ Conference in San Francisco in May 2011, and over a decent number of beers at the 21st Amendment Brewpub during a memorable afternoon, we basically created the outlines of the recipe as well as the name - the Danish word for friendship – for the collaborative beer, which we agreed should be brewed in connection with the Beau’s Oktoberfest later that year.   

Based on our mutual fancies, we decided to brew a Belgian Style tripel, and as it is always my desire to give all my collaboration beers a unique and local touch, we had a discussion on what typical Ontario  ingredients that would work well in a tripel. After another couple of beers the outline of the recipe was there: A classic dry tripel slightly spiced with Ontario buckmyrtle and hawthorn (quite common in Denmark) that in its fresh form gives a very nice tangy tartness. As the ultimate finishing touch, we decided that the beer should be barrel aged in used Ontario ice-wine barrels. We were all so excited about the prospects of a great and very unique beer that we decided to have another pint....

In the time leading up to my visit to Vankleek Hill for the Oktoberfest and the collaborative brewing, Matt and I corresponded intensely in order to finalize all the tiny details of the recipe and the process. Matt had to give up finding fresh organic hawthorn, so we settled for some dried stuff from Bulgaria (!), as the search for the ice-wine barrels went on.

Everything but the barrels was in place when we met on brewday, the 1st of October 2011, in the brewery in Vankleek Hill to start brewing the beer. Our aim was the following:  a subtly spicy, phenolic, slightly citrusy, slighly tart and very dry (dryness enhanced by sugar additions during fermentation)Belgian style tripel with high complexity and sweet, winey notes enhanced by ice-wine barrel ageing, and a crisp, spicy and sweet finish. The technical specifications we agreed on were: 20.0 % P, 9.2 % ABV, 30 BU, Colour ~ 15 EBC.

As no serious brewer would dream of adding unknown ingredients without having tested them, one of the first items on the agenda of the brewday was to brew some teas with the dried bockmyrtle and the dried hawthorn and to smell and taste these teas. The bockmyrtle  was fine, so we agreed on the appropriate dosing of this. However, the hawthorn tea was virtually taste- and flavourless  - certainly not tart or sour in any way. Even when we started chewing the wet and dry berries prescious little happened! The decision was consequently not to use these at all, leaving us with a challenge: how would we then get the decent, zingy tartness we knew was necessary to balance the sweetness of the beer and the wine barrels? After a short, intensive brainstorm the decision fell on the Japanese citrus friut yozu. Not so much because this was just as exotic as hawthorn, but more so because we could wait with the addition of this till the beer was in secondary fermentation/maturation, leaving the good people at Beau’s enough time to track down some fresh, organic yozu in time.  

The brewing went very well, and the fermentation started as it should, the beer also developing pretty much as hoped thereafter. Even the sourcing of the yozu was a success, leaving the Ontario ice-wine barrels as the only outstanding item. And, believe it or not, the zealous Beau’s guys had to give up the search – either they could not get in touch with the ice-wine people at all, or when they could these responded negatively to the request of handing over some of their used barrels. As the ice-wine ageing was not an all together unimportant element in the desired caharacter of our beer, panic started spreading. My idea was then to skip barrels all together and simply soak some oak chips in ice wine and add these to the beer during a prolonged ageing in steel tanks. But as this was moving out on yet more unchartered waters for both Matt and myself, I consulted some of the finest experets in the world on barrel ageing of beer: My good friends Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River, Shaun E. Hill of Hill Farmstead and Will Meyers of the Cambridge Brewing Co. in Boston. There advice was unanimous: The character of the beer would be a lot less complex if choosing the proposed ’shortcut’, so again we had to come up with our own solution. This ended up being actually adding ice-wine soaked oak chips at a low level, and then for the complexity subsequently ageing the beer in white wine barrels not actually previously used for ice-wine. For this, we decided upon some local Chardonnay barrels.

A beer of this nature must, in my book, be bottle conditioned. This process, that involves adding fresh sugar and yeast to the beer at bottling, clearly made my friend Matt more than just a little concerned, as this was something he had never tried before. But in spite of Matt’s many and creative attempts at suggesting alternatives, I insisted on going ahead with the bottle conditioning. Matt’s and my dialogue about this topic happened when I was in San Diego for the 2012 Craft Brewers’ Conference, and there I attended a session on preciesely bottle conditioning. This was very enlightening, and I could thus almost in ’real time’ convey the advice from some of the foremost experts in the field on to Matt. Furhter, my neighbour at the hotel in San Diego was one of the bottle conditioning panelists, Steven Pauwels of Boulevard Brewing Co., and Steven very kindly offered to coach Matt and myself in the process of the bottle conditioning of the ’Venskab’. Thus comforted, Matt went ahead with the bottle conditioning.

The beer was bottled late May 2012, and I have thus, at the time of writing, not yet had the chance to taste the finished ’Venskab’. But I just now for fact that it’s outstanding, so I can’t wait until Ontario Beer Week later this month where I’ll have the privilige of travelling Ontario with the Beau’s crew to present this beer at series of beer dinners.

What a marvellous way to start a hopefully long and fruitfull ’Venskab’ and brewing cooperation!

Anders Kissmeyer