Malted barley is combined with hot water to create a mash. Enzymes from the barley convert the starches from the malt into sugars. The sugary liquid, called wort, is separated from the grain and boiled. The boiled wort is then cooled and sent to the fermentation vessel.
Mixed Culture Fermentation
The cooled wort is put into a fermentation vessel of choice. Sometimes a barrel, sometimes stainless steel vessels depending on our desired final product. Our fermentations use our house mixed cultures containing wild yeasts and lactic acid producing bacteria. In our opinion, the beauty of this type of fermentation is in the lack of control. We can attempt to control certain variables but in the end, the beer is going to be unique and uncontrollable and we like it that way.
Barrel Aging Process
One of the best parts of the process, has got to be barrel aging. Typically we age our mixed fermentation projects in French white oak wine barrels. Aging length depends on the style of beer we are producing, usually 3-6 months on the low end and 18-24 months on the high end. Barrels make great aging vessels because they allow micro oxygenation via the porous staves which feed the yeast and aid in flavor production and transformation. Additionally, the porous staves provide a home for the wild yeasts and bacteria in the mixed culture. We reuse these barrels for years and the microorganisms pass on from batch to batch giving the barrel life and character.
Often times when we are tasting through barrels the beer calls out for a certain type of fruit. Sometimes the beer needs the soft character of white peach, or a little more acid from fresh raspberries. We are firm believers that fruit and wild ales were meant for each other. After barrel aging we will rack our chosen blend of barrels on top of fruit where the beer will undergo a secondary fermentation. The yeast and bacteria start to break down and consume the fruit sugars and flavor compounds adding complexity, and of course, fruit character. Additionally, fruit can bring its own unique blend of microflora to the party. The skin of fruit often times is home to wild yeast and bacteria of its own which can add to the complexity of our beers.
Blending & Packaging
After the brewing process, fermentation, barrel aging, and an optional fruit re-fermentation, comes time for packaging our product. We look for a few things to tell us its time to package. Number one, stable readings. When the sugar content of the beer has been stable for a long period of time, it can be a clue that fermentation is complete. Number two, clarity. If the beer is cloudy, the yeast is active. Number three, complexity. Are the flavors rounded and balanced? Or are there still sharp edges that could use some more time to mellow out. Once we know what beers are ready for the next step we can start to formulate blends. We are trying to make products that have unique character. Different beers may be more fruity, or funky, or floral, high acid, low acid, light body, medium body, tannic, and the list goes on and on and on. We use these flavors like layers on a cake and build the flavor profile that we find pleasing.