July 7, 2017 | The Rare Barrel
The Art of Blending
Blending is at the core of what we do at The Rare Barrel. When we blend, we are combining different barrels to create a beer that either has characteristics that we would like to showcase on its own or that can support fruit. These barrels can showcase various fermentation profiles and/or malt bills. In our blog “Balancing Act” we discussed what we call “cellar balance.” A balanced cellar is what allows us to effectively blend toward the goal we have in mind. Each beer we release is a unique blend, individually conceived to both suit the ingredients being added, as well as the targets we have in mind for the beer.
Our blends are constantly evolving based on the characteristics of our cellar. In an effort to continue learning and improving our beers, we are always manipulating variables in our process. As such, each bottle of ours is a representation of a particular point in time in our progression. Consequently, no two vintages of a brand are completely the same.
Blending has evolved from blending together relatively homogeneous batches (in terms of fermentation) to more complex blends that bring together barrels with many different characteristics. Our earlier batches were simple fermentations (i.e. 1 brett strain, 1 lacto strain) that produced clean, lactic beers (both in terms of yeast character, as well as acidity). We have since greatly altered our process in search of a wider range of characteristics.
The wide range of attributes for potential barrels to use in a blend include: age, bitterness (both hop and perceived), gravity, acidity (both pH and general perception thereof), aromatics, and flavor. For example, in an effort to fine-tune the acid level of a blend, our blends currently contain anywhere from 25-50% sour barrels. The other 50-75% is comprised of barrels with a range of positive characteristics (such as brett or oak character), but would not be considered sour or even tart on their own. Although blending is approached on a blend by blend basis, whether or not the final blend will have fruit will have a big impact on how we craft the blend.
One consideration that impacts how we construct blends has to do fruit refermentation time. Fruited blends require 2-3 months after fruiting before transferring for packaging. This extra time before packaging allows us to include a small proportion of younger beer (3-4 months old) in the blend. The younger portion of the blend has more healthy and active yeast, which helps with the fruit refermentation. We have noticed more diacetyl blooms in barrels when using certain fruits (mostly berries such as blueberry, blackberry, and pomegranate). A healthier refermentation can help speed up the diacetyl clean up.
Another major consideration when constructing fruit blends is the acidity of the fruit being added. More acidic fruits such as raspberries and passion fruit require a less sour base to balance the fruit’s acidity. Although the fruit is the focal point of these blends, we still aim to bring together a blend that supports and enhances the fruit character.
Currently, we are blending the base beers for two fruited brands that we have released multiple vintages of: Map of the Sun and Ensorcelled. The previous blends for each of these beers became more sour over time as our blending stock became more sour. For the upcoming blends we are consciously aiming for a more balanced acid profile. We are pulling from barrels with a much wider array of fermentation profiles and acid levels. In addition to bringing the acid level into balance, we are also attempting to blend bases that are complementary to the fruits we are adding. For Map of the Sun, that involves bringing barrels in with interesting Brett aroma and flavor that might have been absent from prior blends. With Ensorcelled, we made adjustments to the malt bill to enhance the rich, chocolatey flavors in the base. We are excited to see how these turn out, but also look forward to future adjustments that can make for a better blend.
Non-fruited blends, such as our Forces Unseen series and Across the Sea, allow us to showcase barrels that have delicate, but highly desirable characteristics. The character we found to be exceptional in these barrels might have gotten lost behind a heavily fruited blend. In any barrel program, certain barrels will inevitably stand out and it is hard not to keep them aside for the perfect occasion. These non-fruited blends are that perfect occasion to let these exceptional barrels express themselves. Although we also have a soft spot for fruit forward sours, these non-fruited blends are the blends we really get excited about.
Our beer and approach/process are constantly evolving. Our blends are a representation of the characteristics of our cellar as a whole at a given time. Consequently, the way we blend now is different from the way we blended in the past and will likely be different from the we way we will blend in the future. Although it is gratifying to look back at this progression, we are always looking forward to how we can make the next beer better.
Feel free ask any questions in the comments below.
Barrel Inventory Coordinator
@ Jul 7, 2017 at 9:52 AM
What do you do when you don't blend out an entire Barrel and have no other projects in the near future to use this now half full barrel?
@ Jul 7, 2017 at 2:45 PM
Thank you for sharing this. I'm new to barrel-aging and appreciate information on process from the best.