September 29, 2016 | The Rare Barrel
The Rare Barrel, our namesake, stems from the epic journey of Barrel pH1. pH1 is an oak barrel that was crafted in France from French oak in 1990. After a few years of housing wine, she traveled across the Atlantic and has helped pave the way for American sour beer. This single barrel was integral to the sour beer programs at both New Belgium Brewing Company and Russian River Brewing Company. With Lauren Salazar as pH1’s shepherd at New Belgium, pH1 helped define the process and flavor profile of La Folie. She disappeared (or was secretly gifted, depending who you ask) to Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing Company where she contributed to the first batches of Beatification, their spontaneously fermented beer, and spent the following 11 years contributing to their exceptional sours. The travels of pH1 and her impact on these breweries is inspiring to us because she epitomizes an idea that there is one barrel that stands out from the rest. There’s a rare barrel that houses an amazing, and possibly perfect, blend of yeast and bacteria. We named ourselves The Rare Barrel because of pH1, and this past year we started our first Search for our own Rare Barrel.
Behind the Scenes of The Search for The Rare Barrel 2016
Our first Search for The Rare Barrel spanned over three days from September 16th, 2016 through September 18th, 2016, however, it took years to develop. While we originally thought we would have conducted our first Search years ago, we quickly realized that it would take years to build our barrel house with various fermentation and souring experiments to conduct such an extensive Search. The Search for The Rare Barrel got placed on the backburner until we were confident that we had enough of an array of barrels to choose from. This past March, the idea for conducting The Search for The Rare Barrel became plausible.
Planning for The Search had commenced. Over the span of 6 months it was our production team’s mission to find our best 40 barrels that would be considered in The Search. At the time that this process started we housed over 1000 barrels filled with sour beer. In order to focus solely on yeast and bacteria expression, we knew that we would only select barrels that housed golden sour beer that did not contain any characteristics from fruit and/or spice additions. This narrowed down the selection to 400 barrels. From these 400 barrels our team created a list of 60 barrels that they considered to be the most diverse and interesting of our barrel house and tasted through each barrel to further narrow the selection down to 40 barrels for The Search Party to taste during this 3 day event.
As this three day event grew closer, we contemplated how tasting through these 40 barrels would pan out. Questions arose such as “Who do we ask to be involved in The Search Party for this extensive tasting?”, “What is the appropriate amount of samples for each person to try?”, “How will we ask The Search Party to rank each barrel?”, “How do we involve those outside of The Search Party?” These questions and many more were pondered on as we devised a plan of operation. After much discussion, our plan was this... to have a group of our Ambassadors of Sour and some friends in the Industry (a.k.a. The Search Party) taste and rank barrel samples throughout the first two days of The Search. We would have 5 one hour sessions on both Friday and Saturday. Each session requested participants to taste through 8 different barrel samples and rank them from 1 (not to be considered The Rare Barrel) to 5 (to be considered The Rare Barrel). We would then crunch the data from The Search Party to find the 10 best barrels in our barrel house. These barrels would move forward the final tasting on Sunday. With help from Lauren Salazar of New Belgium Brewing and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing, they would taste through the top 10 barrels with Jay Goodwin and, from those, select The Rare Barrel. To get the public involved we would have approximately 100 flights of 3 barrel samples available in the Tasting Room per day to simulate an experience similar to The Search Party. The barrel samples would be selected from barrels that were a part of The Search.
The Search for The Rare Barrel | Getting to the Top 10 Barrels
After months of planning, tasting, extending invites to our prospective Search Party members, and prepping for service, Friday, September 16th was here before we knew it. Doors opened and our first tasting session was underway. Up to 16 Search Party members tasted alongside each other in silence in each session. Throughout the first 2 days it was interesting to overhear conversations after each session among these members discussing either their similar or opposing opinions on each sample. It was also exciting to chat with industry, Ambassadors, and patrons that experienced our public barrel tasting flight about how tasting through barrel samples was a new experience for them and most have a new understanding and appreciation of the work and thought behind tasting and blending beer to create a final product. After it was all said and done, there was a cloud of joy and appreciation hovering in the Tasting Room as our Search Party felt privileged and excited to be a part of selecting beer for The Rare Barrel, whether it was to dwindle barrels out of consideration or to promote them forward. By 6PM that Saturday, the second day of The Search, the data was crunched and the top 10 barrels were selected. As we nailed the results to a barrel for the public to view, a crowd gathered around to see if their barrel had made the cut.
The Search for The Rare Barrel | The Final Tasting
Doors opened at 1PM on Sunday and we had eager supporters and onlookers ready to experience this final day with us. For those that enjoyed our public barrel sample flight, they got to taste at least 3 of the final barrels included in the top 10 barrels. Around 3PM, Jay, Lauren, and Vinnie sat down at the final table, each with all ten barrel samples spread out in front of them and began to taste and record their notes. A group of onlookers huddled nearby to witness the experience trying to overhear the discussion among the three after all 10 samples had been tasted. An hour after this final tasting began the three had come to a consensus. Barrel p9t was the one. This barrel, housed an exceptional blend of yeast and bacteria. This barrel was our Rare Barrel.
Barrel p9t | The Rare Barrel 2016
Barrel p9t was selected as The Rare Barrel in the 2016 Search. This single barrel contains batches of gold wort that were brewed between February and April 2016. These batches were part of a “sour saison solera” -- a mixed culture fermentation that was allowed to run through eleven generations. The mixed culture included The Yeast Bay Saison, Giga Yeast Saison, Saison DuPont, multiple strains of Brettanomyces bruxelles, Brettanomyces lambicus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii, Lactobacillus buchneri, Pediococcus damnosus, and our house mixed culture. After fermenting in stainless with these cultures, the beer was racked into a barrel on top of the yeast cake from a previous batch, which included mature cultures of The Yeast Bay Saison, Brettanomyces Lambicus, Lactobacillus Delbrueckii and, Pediococcus Damnosus. It rested in this barrel from late April 2016 until September 2016, when it was selected as “The Rare Barrel” in our 2016 Search for The Rare Barrel.
The future for Barrel p9t
Short term | A small portion of Barrel p9t was carbonated the week after The Search for the public to try on draft in our Tasting Room. Starting at 4PM on Thursday, September 29th, Barrel p9t, The Rare Barrel 2016, will be pouring from the taps. Our intentions for serving Barrel p9t on draft and hopefully other single barrels selected in future years of The Search for The Rare Barrel is to share and enjoy this exceptional blend of yeast and bacteria. To encapsulate Barrel p9t, our best barrel of sour beer, the majority of this beer is being used to propagate future batches of sour beer.
Long term | On Tuesday, September 20th, 2016, the majority of Barrel p9t was used to barrel ferment new wort. All work came to a halt as each employee slowly gathered around the fermentation area to watch Barrel p9t be awakened with a fresh batch of gold wort. There was almost 7 minutes of silence as we watched new beer fill Barrel p9t. In these 7 minutes there was a feeling of anticipation and excitement. Anticipation for what Barrel p9t would bring to The Rare Barrel and excitement to see this barrel develop and grow and possibly be an integral part in future blends for years to come. Taking this all in and looking ahead to our future one couldn’t help but also feel gratitude and pride. Gracious to those that helped us along the way, our mentors, colleagues, and supporters of The Rare Barrel. Proud that after 3 years we were able to find our own Rare Barrel.
We would like to thank all of those that have helped us on our journey to find Barrel p9t! Thank you to our staff for your hard work and help in preparation for The Search. Thank you to our Search Party members for providing feedback on which barrels should move forward. And a thank you to Vinnie Cilurzo and Lauren Salazar for being pioneers in American sour beer and lending your ears, palates, and thoughts on what is our Rare Barrel.