On Sunday, May 5, Matt and I had the chance to spend a couple hours with Caleb Staton of Upland Brewing Company talking about their amazing sour program and touring the new facility they recently opened on the west side of Bloomington. Caleb started with Upland in 2004 as a cellarman after completing the 5-month Master Brewer program at UC-Davis. He worked his way up through the ranks to being the Head Brewer for the 11th street facility. Upland has since hired a VP of Operations allowing Caleb to continue work on the sour program and recipe development with the brewers at the Vernal Pike facility.
HBG: So, we're here at the 11th Street facility, I assume this is the original brewhouse?
Caleb: This is our original brewhouse which has undergone some modification. The kettle is maybe five years old and we turned the original kettle into a hot liquor tank. This was the brewhouse that got us to 10,000 BBL in a year on this property. Towards the end of last year, we started to change a few things here, but with Carmel opening, graduation, and Little 500, some things have been put on hold.
Caleb: From a brewery standpoint, we are pretty much done. There is some expansion in the restaurant space and adding another bar area to support the business they are already doing and try to cut down on some of the wait times on the weekends.
HBG: How long have you guys had the Foudre and where did you get it?
Caleb: It is a 75HL French Oak tank that we got from a California winery that was kicking it out of their program. Oliver was buying some tanks and they told us that there was an extra tank they were not going to use. I think all said and done it cost us about $7000.
HBG: Are you guys using it to store beer long term or something else?
Caleb: I use it as our primary fermenter/inoculation tank for our lambic-style beers. We usually fill it up and then two weeks later use it to inoculate the individual barrels that we store in the other building until they are ready which is about eight months. It is currently aging beer that has been in there for two months, but when we are really turning things, it gets filled and emptied every couple of weeks. I say that, but we took this facility from 10,000 BBL/year to Lambic and we will probably only brew 300 BBL or so this year. The real bottleneck is being able to store the barrels.
HBG: You mentioned Oliver (Winery). Is that where you are getting most of your barrels?
Caleb: I would say 75% of our barrels are coming from Oliver and are white oak. The other 25% are bourbon barrels which were used for what was named "Gilgamesh", but we have now renamed "Malefactor”.
HBG: So the sour program. was that really your brain child?
Caleb: Yeah. We had a guy named John Metzcar who used to work at Upland go over and start to work for Oliver. We already had great contacts with Oliver, but I e-mailed John and asked if they ever kicked barrels out of their program. He said, "Yeah, we do." So, we got four barrels from them originally and I brewed a really small batch, filled them up, and tucked them in the grain room for about eight months. We continued to grow the program, but we had to focus on our other growth as well, so we are just getting to a point where we can really start focusing again.
HBG: In the local beer community, people have always known about Upland, but it seems the sour program has helped put it on the map from a national sense. How has it been to watch that happen?
Caleb: I'd like to say that we always had a pretty good Midwest spotlight, but this kind of gave us the national and international glow. It is still such a small portion of what we do, but the attention we get for it sometimes shocks me. With our first release, it was a couple of days before we went through the reservation process. The next time it was about an hour. With the most recent release, it was minutes. We have been trying to make it the most fair that we can, but it is really hard to please everyone with the limited quality that we have.
HBG: What do you guys currently have fermenting in this area?
|Where the magic happens|
**NOTE As we were talking, one of the strawberry barrels started to pop the air lock. Thankfully Caleb saw it coming and relieved some of the pressure.
HBG: We covered that you get most of your white oak barrels from Oliver, but where do you get most of your bourbon barrels?
Caleb: Most of the ones we have are Buffalo Trace. We do have some Wild Turkey and a Pappy Van Winkle. We brought them in for our core line brewing (Bourbon Barrel Winter Warmer, Bourbon Barrel Teddy Bear Kisses). After they are used for those beers, we kick them over here for a secondary use with Malefactor.
HBG: So the primary run is to pull the bourbon character into the core line beers. Are you using them for some of the oak character the second time?
Caleb: I am looking for some of that dark, oak character. The idea is not to have a boozy sour, but to have the polite amount of bourbon barrel character. The char, even little bits of bourbon, but in a polite amount. The goal with Malefactor is a strong Flanders-style Red that has a polite amount of bourbon character.
HBG: When the barrels come over from the core line beers, what do you do to prep them?
Caleb: We give them two cycle of two minutes with 180-degree water, then a cold rinse for two minutes, and then we inspect the barrel with a flashlight to make sure it is free from debris. We also smell the barrel, use our other senses, to make sure it is free of any unwanted aromas. If we see some flaws, we will repeat the cycle. Ultimately, if it can't be cleaned, we kick the barrel out of the program.
HBG: We really respect what you guys did by making the decision not to release Persimmon. That had to be tough.
Caleb: That was a tough day to dump almost two skids of bottles. But, we have been working on the way we bottle condition the beers since then to try and get it to be a little bit more reliable for us. I think we had some storage environment issues, related to bottle conditioning temperature, with that batch so what was a great beer when we put it into the bottles, it went south from there.
HBG: You mentioned barrels going all the way back to 2008. Was that when you started the program?
Caleb: We started in 2006 with the four barrels and I think the program started to really get ramped up in about 2008. We grew it to 2011 when we had to put the brakes on the program a little bit because of the amount of barrels that we had room to store.
HBG: About how many barrels do you currently have in the program?
Caleb: We have about 141 barrels right now off the top of my head. I will say, the barrels we get from Oliver are mostly red wine, so I am sure the beer picks up some of those characteristics, but we are really using them to harbor the micro-organisms that live in the wood.
HBG: Do you guys brew a single base beer? I know New Belgium uses two base beers for their program, so I am wondering if you use one for all of the beers in yours or if there are different base beers.
Caleb: We brew the primary batch and then once it goes into the different barrels, you still have consistency, but that is really where you get variation. Even down to where the barrels are in the stack and in the location of the building, there can be a degree or two of temperature variation.
HBG: So you guys are definitely using a blending technique.
Caleb: Yeah, once we go and sample, we really pick what we are looking for. We have some barrels that are still in there from 2008 we are hoping can turn into something great. We go through and pick some of the different years. For example, the next round of strawberry and blackberry is a blend of '08 and '10. So, we fruit an empty barrel, draw out our blend into the barrels, let the refermentation happen, and then we will bring all of those back together in our mixing tank for packaging.
HBG: I see some of the barrels labeled with what looks to be a mix of other years. Am I reading that correctly?
Caleb: Yes. We have them labeled as "Geuze" because as we go through we found some really primo stuff. They are still pretty good despite being moved a number of times. Once of the big things we have learned is to try and move them as little as possible.
HBG: When you say "refermentation" are you talking about the fruit sugars?
Caleb: Yes. The funny thing is that they take a little bit to get going, but when they go they GO. For example, it took those 2-3 weeks to really get going.
HBG: About how long does that last?
Caleb: The really depends on the fruit and the amount of sugar in those fruits. It can even depend on the season. Some years, you get more sugar based on the season. With persimmon, young, non-ripe persimmon is really astringent and not a pleasant experience to eat. So each fruit we work with have their own respective character, composition and handling aspects.
HBG: Are you guys trying another persimmon batch then?
Caleb: Oh yeah. We have three (barrels of) persimmon and three (barrels of) kiwi over here that we brought back over here to rest. Their activity has pretty much run it's course, so we let them rest. they will then get crashed in the cooler later this month for two weeks. Then we rack them into the mixing tank and add our priming sugar. Then we have a paddle on the mixing tank that tries to make that as homogenous as possible. Then we raise the whole tank up and put the in-line strainer in place to catch any particulate. Then it feeds by gravity down to the filler and over to the corker and cager.
HBG: What kind of output do you expect in cases from each wooden barrel?
Caleb: Each barrel gets us 20-25 cases.
HBG: It sounds like you expect a lot of loss into the barrels with those numbers.
Caleb: Oh yeah, the fruit loss is atrocious. Because we use whole fruit, the amount we lose is pretty massive.
HBG: Whole Fruit? Really?
Caleb: I really am a true believer in using whole fruit, to the detriment of profitability sometimes. We have tried Strawberry puree, which is basically juice, and I don't think it was as awesome.
HBG: Do you leave the skin on the kiwi and cut it in half or how did you handle it?
Caleb: We de-skin the kiwi. 750lbs of kiwis with three guys hunkered around a table. We cut the top and the bottom off, put a slit down the middle, and pop the fruit through by pushing with our thumbs opposite the slit.
HBG: How many days did that take?
Caleb: Two days.
HBG: What about the strawberry tops?
Caleb: We didn't worry about the tops. If you have tasted them, they taste like strawberries, so we leave them on.
HBG: You guys have what looks like a pallet of Sour Reserve 3 and a pallet of Dantalion back in the corner. Are those recent bottling runs?
Caleb: Those were both bottled in March. The Sour Reserve is showing great promise with the bottle conditioning and we hope that some of the cases will be ready for Sour Fest next weekend (May 11, 2013), but we are patiently waiting for Dantalion.
HBG: How often do you check barrels?
Caleb: I really try to taste as little as possible. When we know we have a deadline coming, we start the selection process, but we really do not want to disturb the pellicle that forms on the top of the barrels.
HBG: What lessons learned can you share?
Caleb: 1) You can spend as much or as little time on this, but you are only as good as the number of people you can bring in to help package it all. 2) We store our barrels wet and with a sanitizing solution to make them easier to rinse. 3) The way we arrange the barrels now makes sampling much easier and makes the selection process more efficient.
|Note the nail. Samples are taken by removing the nail instead of opening the bung|
HBG: What future projects are you planning at this point? Is a coolship in the works?
Caleb: Right now our focus is getting everything in place for 2014 releases. We had a large number of barrels that were filled with water, so we have been focused on getting those filled and ramping up our fruiting process later in the year. We are hoping that 2014 becomes our first big, solid year of releases. I would love to incorporate a coolship, but we don't have the space as you can see, nor have we done any homework and experimentation to indicate we have ambient micro floating around to generate fantastic results.
UPDATED As of Noon EST on 5/10: Caleb was nice enough to confirm the list that Upland will be pouring this weekend at Sour Fest:
We are pouring:
Sour Reserve Batch 3
Blackberry Lambic (both 2010 and 2012 releases)
Cherry Lambic (2010)
Persimmon Lambic (2010)
Sour Reserve Batch 1
and there will be small windows where Peach, Raspberry and Dantalion will make an appearance
**Editors Note: This post will be updated with Pictures. However the Brew Bokeh team took some great shots in March that can be found here (http://www.brewbokeh.com/place-upland.html)