28 February 2013

Label Approval Watch: February 2013

Jake Wrote:

After jumping the shark a bit about labels that were approved in early Feb due to excitement about Fountain Square getting label approval, I am going to work on making this a monthly recap post of labels that were approved for Indiana breweries each month.

Three other labels got approved in February.

First, Figure Eight is going to be putting Barrel Aged Date Night in 22oz bottles from the looks of it:

Next, we get a glimpse of the greyscale version for Flat12's Walkabout label with references to Australia's nickname ("Oz") and the traditional uniform of an Aussie Rules Football player:

It also looks like Daredevil is releasing an IPA called Rip Cord in kegs:

26 February 2013

Save the Date | Tailgate for Nothing 8 - Saturday, April 20

Our biannual Tailgate for Nothing is probably our favorite event. Incredibly, we've done seven editions of the event. And yes, we are having an eighth.

The Hoosier Beer Geek Knights of the Beer Roundtable invite you to join us for--

Tailgate for Nothing 8: Pot Food!
Saturday, April 20, 2013, 11 a.m. - ???
Back parking lot of the Sun King Brewery
135 N. College, Indy

Before I get into the whole "Tailgate for Nothing is a shared event" spiel, I want to point out the theme.


Sure, there's always beer at Tailgate for Nothing. Lots and lots and lots of beer. And yes, you're absolutely welcome to bring whatever food you'd like. But we like a theme, so our theme is pot food. Yes, food that can be cooked up in a pot: gumbo, stew, chili, goulash, soup, etc. While your beer doesn't or even shouldn't be cooked-in-pot-themed, we hope that your food will be. Any kind of pot food will do. And yes, vegetarians and vegans, please come with your innovative and tasty food creations. I'm a vegetarian and plan to pull out all the stops. For example, cabbage soup counts. Tofu soup counts. Lettuce soup counts. Hell, why not try to make a falafel-soup? Just as long as it tastes good and you can share it, you're welcome to come. Keep in mind that you don't have to bring food cooked in a pot, but it would be cool if you did.

Event Info. What's Tailgate for Nothing (TFN)? All nine HBG Knights of the Beer Roundtable are fans of the act of tailgating. It occurred to us that tailgating usually revolves around sporting events, but why should it have to? Getting together with friends, eating hearty and/or unhealthy foods, drinking beer, and just hanging out -- these are ideas we can all get behind.

TFN is exactly that: a tailgate for nothing. It's an opportunity for people to wheel out their everyday great beer, or the beer they never have an excuse to drink and to share it with like-minded individuals who are sure to appreciate what they are drinking.

TFN will be done in a traditional tailgate manner: bring your own everything (tailgate, beer, food, trash bags, chairs, bbq grills, games, whatever), cook and eat in a parking lot, and in the end, clean up after yourself. The main ideas are to share food and drink, hang out, and have a good time. You're also welcome to bring kids and/or dogs/cats/ferrets/monkeys/any other kind of domesticated animals. We especially welcome domesticated animals that bring beer. Unfortunately it's illegal for kids to bring beer. Someday...

This is a *no freeloaders* event; please bring food and beer with you. If you don't have a giant special beer, that's not a problem. Just make sure that you bring something tasty. This isn't a rare beer contest. It's just a good time. Also, it won't cost you anything to attend.

What to bring (aside from food and beer):

Tasting glasses - If you have any tasting glasses from former beer events, bring them along. There should be a lot of beer to share, and the smaller glasses are the best way to go about sharing.

Chairs - There won't be seating unless you bring some.

A canopy - We're not saying that it's going to rain at TFN8, but you never know. So if you don't want to get wet or sunburned, bring a canopy if you have one.

Friends - BRING FRIENDS. Hopefully you'll be making some, but it never hurts to have a posse. We do our best to be friendly and get to know everyone, but this is just gonna be a bunch of people hanging out.

ANY QUESTIONS? Leave a comment. Planning to attend? Leave a comment. Don't want to leave a comment? Don't let that stop you from attending. We'll be there no matter what.

25 February 2013

Talking Wood: Josh Hambright

Jake Wrote:

Last week, we had a chance to catch up with Josh Hambright of Flat12 Bierwerks. Josh was nice enough to pull some samples and talk about how the program has grown in the last two years. He started with Flat 12 in 2010 and helped with the final stages of build out before they opened in late December that year. Josh went from cleaning kegs, to cleaning tanks, to the brew deck over the next 10 months. Josh is now the second in command in the back of house working closely with Co-owner/Head brewer Rob Caputo on managing and scheduling production as well as recipe developement, but takes the lead on the barrel program.

HBG: Tell us about the barrels on the pallet. New arrivals?
Josh: Those are Canadian Whiskey that we got in recently. This year's Big Black Dog will be aged in those instead of the Rye barrels that we used last year.

HBG: So which barrels are the ones that have the bunghole both on the end (top) and side?
Josh: Those are Appelton Estates Rum (Jamaican). We think they are one of the more premium versions, but we are not sure which age specifically.

HBG: Any idea why they would drill again in the top?
Josh: It is a different way of warehousing. These were Jack Daniels barrels before being used for Rum. They drill a new bung in the head of a barrel so they can be stored on pallets in warehouses rather then on their sides. Pretty Rad but they love to leak everywhere.

HBG: How many barrels do you have currently?
Josh: About 80 currently. At this time two years ago, we got our first two. We didn't even have racks until a year ago.

HBG: How do you determine what barrel you want to use? Do you have a preferred spirit and/or distiller that you use? 
Josh: It depends on what beer we have and what barrels are available. It's mostly that I have a beer I want to put in a barrel and then determining if that is Rum or Brandy or Wine, etc. From there I contact one of our brokers or the distillery directly. A lot of this is still very experimental for us so I like to try out different barrels with the same beer to see what happens. We get our wine barrels from Easely Winery because they use oak from the Hoosier National Forrest. My dream would be an all Indiana (Hops, Malt, Yeast, Oak) barrel aged beer.

HBG: Other than having to deal with a side bung, what condition are the barrels generally in when you get them and how do you get them ready?
Josh: We usually give the outside a rinse to get the rust and barrel house grime off. Wine barrels are usually dry, so we soak them for 24 hours to swell them and then fill them. With the bourbon barrels, I don't rinse them instead I just dump whatever remaining spirit is in them. The water is just one more potential contaminant.

HBG: I notice that there is a fill sheet attached to most of the barrels and some have "Previous Fill" marked with other beers you guys make. What's the strategy there?
Josh: We do re-use barrels. For example, Mustache Ride and Van Pogue both use vanilla beans. So we will rack the Mo Ride and then fill them with porter and add some new vanilla beans. If we have added cocoa nibs or chilis, we usually don't re-use it. For example, the Owd Gordo is this year's Replicale and I really wanted to barrel age that entire batch. It just happened that we were racking the KGBaylor (Pappy Van Winkle Pinko), so we had the Pappy barrels to fill.

HBG: What are the major differences you see between the first and second use of a barrel?
Josh: That first run, you're going to get the bourbon flavor. On the second run, you don't really get as much bourbon, you get more oak. After three fills, you're not going to get much. You also have to age them longer each time to get the extraction. I am of the mindset that you don't have to give everything a year in a barrel. Some of the beers we do are as little as two months.

HBG: There are some barrels in the cooler and some out here. What have you learned about temperature fluctuation helping the aging process?
Josh: We have experimented with moving barrels in and out every few days and you can really speed up the process but its not something we do regularly. Also, the production area of the brewery is not air conditioned, so we get the natural fluctuation as well. Typically we move the barrel into the cooler before we rack it to get that last bit of flavor extraction. Some of our beers, like Moustache Ride spend the entire time in the cooler. With two of our seasonal releases being barrel aged this year (Moustache Ride and Van Pogue), we are going to have larger batches and will do some more experimenting. Van Pogue is actually getting released next month (March).

HBG: So with the variety of barrels you have, how do you know when certain beers are going to be ready?
Josh: Tasting. It is all sensory. I know if I want the big vanillans and oak from the barrel, it is going to take longer than if I want some of the bourbony sweetness. Most of the wine barrels are close to neutral, so it takes a while to get the remaining oak, you mainly get the wine characters, tannins and some oxidation. We have worked with Easley Winery to try and get some younger barrels that will have more oak flavor left in them and are trying winter cycle in a three year instead of a five year barrel like we did previously. I really like using the 8-10 year old bourbon barrels that we get from Buffalo Trace and some other distillers.  I think that range gives the most classic Bourbon Barrel Aged character to most beers. Pinko was the first beer that we brewed especially for barrels. We wanted this way over the top Russian Imperial Stout that's way too hoppy and way too boozy and everything to 11 so it was still strong coming out of the barrels. Black Dog was also brewed with barrels in mind. It wasn't brewed specifically for the barrels, but we wanted to put a bunch in there.

HBG: You guys have clearly found a use for Brandy barrels. What can you tell us?
Josh: I think Brandy barrels do awesome things with beers. They do great things with hoppy beers and are dirt cheap compared to bourbon barrels right now. You're not going to get a bunch of oak out of them, but the brandy flavor plays really well with hops. For example, Brandy Walkabout was awesome (Agreed).

HBG: You have a combination of hard bungs and air locks in the racks. What's the difference?
Josh: The beers are already cold crashed in the brite tank before they go into the barrel, so there is some CO2 in the beer. I usually give it a month with the air lock to let the CO2 release. Unless it's turning funky or still fermenting, then I leave them on as a reminder. We are also going to start using the Vinnie nails (Nails in the head of the barrel) to make tasting easier.

HBG: Tell us about the funk that you have going
Josh: I am of the mindset that all wood contains bugs, it is just how controlled they are. Every time you re-fill the barrel, you are playing Russian Roulette with bugs. You're just increasing the chance of getting bugs exponentially. Up until the last few months, anything we tasted that was funky got dumped immediately, but we are more comfortable with it now. We are not sure what we are going to do with them yet, but since we lease our cooperage (kegs), I am not a fan of putting funk out into the system and getting them back or getting someone else's keg back that had funk and not knowing it. We are exploring options, but don't have release plans right now. Also, all of this is naturally occurring. We have not pitched any yeast nor bacteria into the barrels. There is all this stuff floating in the air and in the wood constantly. As long as you have solid sanitization practices, it will never get into the beers. But, for example, grain dust has lactobacillus. So, you can either accept it or you run screaming, burn the barrels, and never look back.

HBG: I remember New Day Meadery bringing "Vicious Cycle" to Winterfest and in the write up, they mentioned an exchange program for barrels that you guys are doing. What can you tell us about that?
Josh: I don't remember who pitched who, but it was around the first time we released Half Cycle Reserve. Brett (Canaday, co-owner of New Day) asked what we had planned for the barrel when we were done and we were just going to get rid of it, so he asked about using it. He wound up putting a straight cider into it for 11-ish months. So we now have it back and have put Half Cycle back into it to see what happens. We didn't dry hop the Half Cycle this time, so it should be interesting. It is either going to have the acetaldehyde off flavor of green apple or it could be really rad. We'll see. We also got a few of the Imperial Magpie barrels that just got filled last week, they smelled awesome while filling and I look forward to what will be coming out of them in the future. They have some of our other barrels now (Buffalo Trace, Pappy van Winkle), so it is going to be fun to watch the program grow.

HBG: Since you're still very experimental, are most of your batches 1-2 barrels or larger?
Josh: We are either filling 1-2 oak barrels or 6-8+ oak barrels. The smaller batches we have to blend into kegs, but the larger batches we can use the brite tank. I want to do more, but we just don't have the room. As you can see, I have to hide barrels wherever we can fit them right now. We have Pinko in rum and a couple of others still. Plus, we just did a larger batch of Nunmoere into Harrison barrels that they used for the Presidential Blend. The fun thing about Barrel Aged Nunmoere is that the barrel version is actually blended with fresh brewed and barrel aged so you get the fresh hop notes and the oak/bourbon notes.

HBG: With blending the Nunmoere, have you ever blended two different beers from the barrels?
Josh: We have played with it when we are sampling a bunch of different things at the same time, but we haven't found anything yet to release on a larger scale. We did do the Cuttlefish Cuvee which was a bunch of different versions of Walkabout. I am actually working on another version of that as well.

HBG: What beer(s) are you most excited about?
Josh: Well, there is some Walkabout that somehow found Brettanomyces ("Brett") that you guys should try. We are probably bringing this with us to Upland Sour Fest (May 11th). This will not be part of the next version of Cuttlefish but will be released separately. We are experimenting with some primary fermentation in the barrels with belgian strains, but using the barrels instead of stainless steel as the vessel.
Note: We tried it and it is incredible. I hope they don't drink it all at the brewery before May.

HBG: Both you and Poff mentioned wanting to change the perception of what Brett can do in a beer. Kind of wanting to prove that Brett does not equal funky horse blanket rolled in moldy cheese. 
Josh: This (Brett Walkabout) is what I wish people would think of when they think of Brett. There is some of the earthy characteristics and then you get the over-ripe fruit. Not rotten, but that last couple of days where you can really smell the flavor.

HBG: Do you have plans to intentionally sour beers in the future?
Josh: Yes, but not here. We are so maxed out on our production schedule that we do not have time to re-make anything and keep up with demand, that we cannot afford to take risks putting sour stuff through our production tanks and equipment.

HBG: When we started thinking about this series, we realized that there are not many people in Indiana that have experience with barrel aging. It feels like everyone is learning together.
Josh: Absolutely. There aren't very many people in the US that are truly experienced with barrels. The guys up at Jolly Pumpkin know barrels. (John) Laffler knows barrels. Chad Yakobson from Crooked Stave and Vinnie at Russian River are really pushing the sour side. The guys in southern Indiana and Kentucky (Against the Grain, New Albanian) have been playing with barrels for a long time when they were at Bluegrass Brewing Company. The beer world is really rediscovering oak.

HBG: How did you decide to start working on a barrel program? A love of bourbon flavor in general or other stuff?
Josh: I have always been more of a Canadian and Irish whiskey fan than a bourbon fan, until I started playing with barrels. Other than Sun King, I didn't see anyone else doing high volume in barrels. There are a number of places doing one or two barrel, but there are very few breweries that send their stuff out into the market for distribution and I am really proud of that.

HBG: Realistically, how much of this is going to see the tasting room verses special events like festivals and tap takeovers?
Josh: We put the Pappy Van Winkle Pinko on the growler fill station for an entire weekend. Moustahce Ride and Van Pogue are in our seasonal release schedule for 2013, so quite a bit will see taps that are not festivals and beer dinners. We are really proud of those beers and want to get them out there to share with people. The bigger batches that we put into the brite tank, will go out to market.

HBG: Who do you see at the top of their game right now with barrels?
Josh: Off the top of my head, Founders. The scale on which they release barrel aged stuff is just incredible. Firestone Walker the same way. Jolly Pumpkin, Russian River, and Crooked Stave are doing incredible stuff. The boys down at Against the Grain are doing great stuff as well. I know the Against the Grain guys share my belief that a beer does not have to be in the barrel for a long time to be "Barrel Aged". I think what Laffler did at Goose Island changed the game for what can be done with beer and barrels. New Belgium's wood cellar is also ridiculous. Bell's has a quote, "Some Artists work in stone, some artists work in paint, some artists work in malt and hops." I see oak as one of those tools that we can use to paint. I respect the hell out of the guys who currently use those tools. We may not use them in the same way, but we are using the same tools. Surly does a great job with their brett stuff. It's not necessarily wood aged, they use wine barrels for Pentagram, but it is more brett than wine that is a component. I fell in love with that beer at GABF.

HBG: With the breweries you just named they cover the spectrum from stout to sour. Given the choice, where would you focus on the spectrum?
Josh: I think everybody focuses on stouts because they are easy and it is what we did early. But, some of my favorite beers we have done are Barrel Aged Amber and Barrel Aged 12 Penny (3.4% Scottish Ale). When we made KGBaylor, it wasn't really hard to put a big stout in a barrel and have it come out tasting pretty good. But, when we put non-dry hopped Half Cycle in a Brandy Barrel, that's a bit of a different ball game. It's the idea that when I go into a brewery, I do not order their IPA. If they have a bitters, I order that first then a porter or a fruit beer. Its a lot harder to hide behind the flavors of a smaller beer then it is behind the flavors of a big IPA or Imperial Stout. One of my favorite beers that we did was Blanco El Diablo Roble ("The White Devil Oak") last year. We took our Blanco el Diablo (Blonde Ale with Chilis) and put it in third use barrels.

HBG: What lessons learned can you share with us?
Josh: Even if you are only racking one barrel, you have to blend it. I learned that with the original batch of Moustache Ride. Especially with vanilla beans floating on the top and the liquid on the sides getting more wood character, you need to blend. Blending is the key to everything with wood.

HBG: What are some barrels that you want to work with in the future?
Josh: Port barrels for sure. they're just really expensive to get by the time they get shipped. Black Rum would be cool too and maybe Saki.
HBG: What would you put in Saki?
Josh: A Wheat wine or a Rye wine would be rad.

You can follow Josh on Twitter at @Flat12_Josh and Flat12 Bierwerks at @Flat12Bierwerks

22 February 2013

Random Beer Roundup - The ___________ Edition

Hoosier Beer Calendar
Events are subject to change

From the Brewers

From Steve at Black Acre Brewing in Indianapolis:

On Saturday, February 23rd, Black Acre will celebrate their one year anniversary. The party begins at Noon! Here's the tentative tap list, they will be released throughout the day (one approximately every hour until all have been released):

-The Quickening Scotch Ale aged in Rye Whiskey Casks
-Raspberry Blonde Ale
-Trulock's Revenge Tripel
-Holy Fuckin' Moly (Holy Moly Mole Brown infused with more jalapeno, pablano, and serrano peppers)
-Beard Tax Russian Imperial Stout
-Blackbeard (Blackberry infused Beard Tax)
-Hipster Bird Double Black IPA -BJava infused Bitter Life (west coast IPA) 

From David at Triton Brewing in Indianapolis:

Fieldhouse Wheat, Four Barrel Brown, Magnificent Amber Ale, Deadeye Stout, Railsplitter India Pale Ale, Sin Bin Belgian Pale Ale, McQueenie’s Scotch Ale, Alt Lang Syne, BJava Brown, Bourbon Barrel I-65 Baltic Porter and 2012 Muletide (BJava Bourbon Barrel 1-65 Baltic Porter).

Crispin Cider (bottle), Dark Horse Cream Stout Too, J.W. Lees 2011 (Calvados Barrel Aged) Harvest, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale,  Rivertown War and Widmer Omission Lager (bottle)

  •  Saturday March 9, 6-10pm-Taste of Rivi-(Riviera Club, 5640 N. Illinois, Indianapolis, IN) Join us at the Taste of Rivi Food Exposition for a unique opportunity to sample some extraordinary food, beverages and entertainment. Don’t miss it! Call for more details and to order your pre-sale tickets 317-255-5471 or go to rivi.org.
  • Saturday, March 9, 10pm-12am Punk Rock Night and Triton Tasting at the Melody Inn (3826 N Illinois Street, Indianapolis)- Join us for PUNK ROCK NIGHT w/ STEALING VOLUME, DAN GLENZIG, THE WORTHMORES and MALT LIQUOR...and a Triton Brewing tasting! Cost is $6. melodyindy.com for more info!
  • Saturday, March 16, 11am- March 17, 3am-Connor’s Pub-St. Patrick’s Day More details to follow!

From Bob at Flat 12 Bierwerks in Indianapolis:

  • Fishers on Tap, 2/23
  • Beer Dinner at Fire by the Monon, 2/26
  • Beer Dinner at JW Marriott - High Velocity 3/5
  • Flat 12 Night at Ralston's Draft House - 3/6
March | Special draft at brewery and select locations: Van Pogue Porter
Coming soon in bottles: Nunmoere Black(Seasonal), Walkabout Pale Ale(Year-round House Line-up). 

Out further: Taste of Carmel 3/7, Gravity Head at New Albanian 3/8, Fort Wayne Brewfest 3/9, Black Acre Flat 12 Night 3/21.
If you'd like to receive our newsletter, published Wednesdays at noon, please subscribe here (bottom of page).

    From Ryan at Thr3e Wise Men in Indianapolis:
    Come enjoy a 101oz Table Top Tap at Thr3e Wise Men on Thursday or Sunday for $20. Get it filled with any of our 6 main house beers or our current limited Seasonal Can’t Dutch This White Belgian.

    Are you a Bar/Restaurant owner? Thr3e Wise Men Snow Bunny Blonde and Centennial Martyr Double IPA are now available for distribution to all bars and restaurants for the entire state of Indiana. Please contact your Cavalier Rep for sales information. Click here for more details.

    At Bars, Restaurants, & Carry Out

    From Mike at Yogi's in Bloomington:

    From Ryan at Scotty's Brewhouse:

    Scotty’s Brewhouse Muncie is now serving Upland Komoda Black IPA. Come enjoy a 48oz Pitcher of this great beer on Tuesday for only $6.00!

    Scotty’s Brewhouse West Lafayette has tapped People’s Amazon Princess. Enjoy a 24oz Mug of this very tasty brew every Wednesday for only $10.00!

    From Tom at The Pub in Granger:
     The Pub, 408 W. Cleveland Rd, Granger, IN will host Sun King Brewing Company's launch party for northern Indiana, Tuesday Feb. 26th at 5:30 pm. Representatives from Sun King and Indiana Beer will be here.  The Pub has been making the trip to Indianapolis to pick up Sun King beers for over a year and now it will be available through Indiana Beer in the surrounding areas.

    From Patrick at Patrick's Kitchen & Drinks in Zionsville:
    At Patrick's Kitchen and Drinks we have 10 taps of constantly rotating draft brewed beer...currently represented by Old Rasputin Imperial Stout (soon to be replaced with Pogue's Run Porter from Flat-12),Three Floyds JinxProof Lager(congratulations Floyd family on being on the semi-finalist James Beard nominees), Sun King Dopplebock, Sun King Repliale, North Coast Brother Thelonius Abey style ale, Bell's Smitten Rye APA, Riverton Hop Baron, Triton Railsplitter IPA, Gulden Draak Belgian Quad (11%abv. doncha' know)and Bloomington Brewing Co's winter seasonal Java Porter.

    From the Distributors:

    From Jen at Cavalier:

    Sixpoint 3Bean – Chocolate, Coffee Stout; special release; 4 pack cans and draft

    Tyranena Down and Dirty Chocolate Stout – Chocolate, Oatmeal Stout; seasonal release; 6 packs and draft

    The Bruery Saison De Lente – Spring Saison; seasonal release; 750ml bottles only

    The Bruery Sour in the Rye – Rye Malt aged in Oak Barrels with Sour Yeast; limited release; 750ml bottles only

    Two Brothers Bare Tree Weiss – Wheatwine; limited release; 375ml bottles and draft

    Fat Heads Bumble Berry – Blueberry Honey Ale; NEW EVERYDAY ITEM; 6 packs and draft to come

    Fat Heads Head Hunter Double IPA – American Double IPA; NEW EVERYDAY ITEM; 4 packs and draft

    Three Wisemen Centennial Martyr Double IPA – American Double IPA; NEW EVERYDAY ITEM; draft only

    Stevens Point 3 Kings Kolsch – Kolsch style; seasonal release; 6 packs and draft

    Stevens Point Whole Hog Raspberry Saison – Raspberry Farmhouse Ale; seasonal release; 4 packs and draft


    2/24 – Beer Advocate’s Top Beers Event @ Kahn’s on Keystone; 6pm-8pm; RSVP at Kahn’s

    2/25 – New Day Meadery Dinner @ JK O’Donnell’s in Ft. Wayne; details to come

    2/28 – NABC Flight Night @ Fireside Bar and Grill; TBA

    3/1 – Finch’s Brewing Firkin and Tap Party @ Twenty Party; 5pm

    3/5 – Birdy’s Monthly Craft Beer Tasting; 6pm-8pm; $10

    Beer Events/Fundraisers

    The Second Annual Fishers On Tap Beer Tasting event, celebrating Indiana Craft Breweries,
    February 23, 2013.

    • Eight Breweries Serving their Favorite Beers
    • Hors d’oeuvres
    • Live Music
    • Raffle
    • Giveaways

    Fishers On Tap is a fund raising event for the Fishers Rotary Club with all proceeds going to charitable organizations in our local community. It is intended to be an opportunity to sample some of Indiana's craft beers accompanied by great food, great music and raffles.

    • Doors open at 3:30pm pouring starts at 4:00pm to 8:00pm.
    • $40 for General Admission
    • $20 for Designated Drivers

    Forum Conference and Event Center, Fishers
    11313 USA Parkway
    Fishers, IN 46038 
    Fishersontap@gmail.com or http://www.fishersontap.com for more information.

    18 February 2013

    Talking Wood: Mark Poffenberger

    Jake Wrote:

    Editor's note: This is the first in what will be a series on Indiana brewers/cellarmen and their approach to barrel aging. Our goal is to have a conversation and provide some background on what works, what doesn't, and what keeps him/her excited when things take 1-3 years to finalize.
    In Mid-January, we got the chance to spend a couple hours with Sun King's lead cellarman, Mark Poffenberger ("Poff"). Poff was Sun King's first full-time employee in October of 2009 and is one of the few employees to have a beer brewed with their namesake. For more background on Poff, here is the How Did I Get Here? feature from the SK Blog in February 2012. 

    In 2011 and 2012, Sun King earned a combined ten medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and three awards from the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers (FOBAB) which signify a top three placing for the category of beer entered. We asked Poff about the awards and his reply was exactly what you want to hear, he said, "The medals are fun, but this is ultimately about what we want to drink."

    In early 2012, Sun King took over part of the grey building on the south east corner of the current lot at 135 north College. The building previously housed a cabinet maker, so a large sawdust cleaning effort was in order. After the rafters were cleaned and the floor stabilized, they installed two walk-in coolers, a small brite tank, and the experimental 16oz aluminum bottle filling line. One cooler is used for barrel aging and the other is used for the experimental funk (not always sour). The day after our visit, Mark was on his way to Buffalo Trace to pick up more barrels that will bring the barrel-aging cooler to about 200 barrels. The funk room has roughly 60 barrels as well. The oldest barrel in the facility is a scotch barrel that is about 35 years-old followed by some 21 year-old Jamaican Rum barrels that could see Wee Mac.

    As we stood around the barrel room, Matt, Rodney, and I asked Poff a few questions and gained some awesome knowledge.

    HBG: This room smells incredible.
    Poff: "It does. It is a little cold right now, because I have the temperature turned down, but I love it.
    HBG: Do you vary the temperature to help push/pull the beer in/out of the wood?
    Poff: "Definitely."
    HBG: How hard is it to get barrels and what condition are they usually in when they show up?
    Poff: "I have a great relationship with the guy at Buffalo Trace and am actually headed down there tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday to pick up about 30 barrels. He gives me a call and lets me know what they are going to have, so I don't have that much trouble getting barrels. The barrels are usually in pretty good shape when we get them."

    HBG: Once you get the barrels here, what do you have to do to get them ready for beer?
    Poff: "First, we dump the remaining alcohol and then give it a hot water rinse."

    HBG: I noticed there aren't any air locks on the barrels in here.
    Poff: "Yeah, there should not be any extra fermentation going in here, so I do not use them. Any fermentation going on in here is a bad thing."

    HBG: How do you determine what beer goes in what barrels? 
    Poff: "The combination of the beer and the barrel has a lot to do with the malt characteristic of the beer and the char/toast level of the barrel." 
    Editor Note: Poff talked extensively about how it takes longer to break through the malt character in certain beers so he does pair the beer with the barrel from different distilleries based on the characteristics he wants to add. His main aim is to use the barrels to soften some aspects, enhance others, and add the vanilla/carmel notes that we all enjoy in bourbon. He focuses on balancing the beer instead of inundating it with the flavor of the spirit.

    HBG: How far out do you plan your filling schedule?
    Poff: "Because our production schedule is so tight in the brewery right now, I plan 2-4 months in advance."

    HBG: How often do you taste test a barrel?
    Poff: "It depends on the barrel. Based on experience, I know about how long certain beers should take to be ready, so I will check them to see where they are then I write on the calendar when I think they need to be checked next."

    HBG: Once you determine a beer is ready to be packaged, do you take it to the weekly QA/QC meeting?
    Poff: "Not really. I may ask Dave (Colt) to try it, but if it is ready, it gets packaged."

    HBG: You guys are filling Bourbon Barrel Johan bottles tomorrow. Some breweries say that they release their beers when they are ready to drink and not to age them, while others say to drink it now or let it age a bit. Any advice for those getting cans of Johan?
    Poff: "You can age it, but it has been aged already. The beer was brewed in 2009 and sat in a barrel until 2010. It tastes fantastic now."
    Ed. Note: We got to taste some of the BA Johan and it is fantastic. 

    After that chat, we walked over to the funk room

    HBG: I notice a number of the barrels look newer in here than in the other room. Are they younger?
    Poff: "Some are, but they also come from wineries who usually take a little more care with their barrels."

    HBG: Is the nail in the head of the barrels a more traditional thing or is there some magic to it?
    Poff: "That actually allows the pellicle that forms to stay in tact. You can break it up, but you want to avoid that."

    HBG: Are you doing mostly secondary fermentation in this room then?
    Poff: "Yes. We are mostly experimenting with Wee Mac and Cream Ale. I take the barrels over and have them filled as they come out of the fermentor and then we bring them over here and pitch with either Brett or Lacto. I have a couple barrels that we are doing primary with Brett, but mostly secondary."

    HBG: Any spontaneous fermentation?
    Poff: "I did take one barrel, put a bunch of Raspberries in it, and put it out under a tree in an apple orchard for four days. I am really excited to see where that one goes."
    HBG: You mentioned in the other cooler that you guys had a pretty good formula for matching beers with barrels, how about over here?
    Poff: "This is very much still an experiment. Like with the barrel I put out in the orchard, we are still learning."

    HBG: One of the biggest questions we hear and see people ask is why more of this stuff doesn't hit the market. Do you guys plan to release more in the future?
    Poff: "You know, there just isn't that much of it to go around right now. We like to take it to festivals and beer dinners mostly, but we are getting more volume in the barrels now that we have this building. For example, next year's BA Wee Mac will be double what we have this year."

    HBG: What keeps you excited about working with barrels. With the long lead time before you can see the end product, what drives you and what goals do you have for the program?
    Poff: "It is tough to be patient. A number of these projects take two or three years before they are ready and that is a long time to wait. The biggest thing is that I want to change the notion that Brett = sour, funky horse blanket in a number of people's minds."

    Since this interview, Sun King released Velvet Fog and Bourbon Barrel Johan that sold out in a matter of weeks. They also received label approval to put BA Wee Mac into the King's Reserve cans. There are already a number of festivals scheduled for this year, so stay tuned to the Sun King social media streams to see when/where you will be able to sample some of Poff's work. Every one that I have had has been fantastic.

    Thanks again Mark and the Sun King team for letting us wander and ask a few questions along the way.

    Also, thanks to Matt and Rodney for taking the pictures for this post: