Sour and wild ales have been all the rage for years now. Countless craft breweries have started their “barrel program” with these ales sometimes taking several years to produce as “wild” microorganisms slowly work their magic on the liquid. Sour beers will often feature several different microorganisms that communally produce and reduce different flavor compounds in the aging beer. This means a sour beer can’t be rushed and requires patience and understanding of the process. Often times several different barrels will be blended together and this careful tending to and tasting of barrels represents the artistry of the cellarmanship. Over the years, five to be specific, Barrelworks, the barrel-aging specialty arm of Firestone Walker Brewing Company, has established themselves as true artists in the realm of barrel aging and blending.
Barrelworks recently held a Feral One Release Party at their Buellton-based facility that marked the barrel aging facility’s fifth anniversary. If you missed trying Feral One at the anniversary party then there is another opportunity coming up for you to get a taste of this incredible beer. Barbareño will be hosting a Disaster Relief dinner with Barrelworks on Monday, March 26th. The dinner will be benefiting the Sutthithepa family, who lost multiple family members during the Montecito Mudslide, with 100% of the profits going to benefit the family. The dinner will be hosted by Barrelworks’ Masterblender Jim Crooks, or “Sour Jim” as he is more often called, with him sharing stories and giving intricate details about the beers throughout the evening.
As any good evening should begin, guests will be welcomed with beer and a social half hour before sitting down to a charcuterie plate of house-smoked and cured meats, cheeses, and beer pickles paired with Bretta Weisse. Inspired by the sour wheat style Berliner weisse, this tart wheat ale is aged with a variety of microorganisms in seventeen-hundred gallon French oak horizontal foeders for eight months. The finished beer has the traditional lemon zest nose and bready backbone of a Berliner weisse but is given a layer of wood and microorganism-driven funk complexity from the oak aging. With charcuterie, the sharp clean character of the Bretta Weisse is a natural fit.
Traditional examples of Berliner Weisse have a bracing acidity that is mellowed by the addition of raspberry or woodruff syrup (for those unfamiliar with it, woodruff has an uplifting minty-herbal note). Playing off of this tradition, the Bretta Rosé ages the Bretta Weisse on a bed of raspberries to impart the berries’ bright fragrance to the crisp brew. The Bretta Rosé will be featured at the dinner alongside foie gras served atop a sourdough that has been fermented with Barrelworks’ yeast and adorned by microgreens and cacao nibs. The foie gras will be pickled in Barrelworks’ Agrestic Ale and then seared. The acidity of the beer being used to cut through the rich dish and the raspberry being accented by the cacao nibs and balanced by the bitter microgreens.
The evening will start to warm up from there with a Smoked Cheddar Soup made with Walker’s Reserve Porter and topped with brûléed lardo, smoked Brussels sprouts, Sriracha, and an IPA mist. The dish will be paired with Luponic Distortion Revolution 009, Firestone Walker’s rotating IPA series. Each Revolution of this series offers a new look at hops with the same base beer as a backdrop. This version is Firestone Walker’s Brewmaster, Matt Brynildson, exploring different Pacific Northwest and European hops available in the Public Domain. It takes a solid ten years (at least) to develop a new hop strain and bring it to market. As with many agriculture products, developers own the intellectual property rights to the hop strains they develop. The USDA has been funding public hop breeding programs that help promote genetic diversity and develop more disease-resistant strains to be available in the public domain. Matt wanted to showcase some of the appealing aromas that can be found in these hops. These aromas also happen to blend nicely with a cheddar soup.
The next course is an Uni Carbonara, one of the mainstays of the Barbareño menu. This version of the Uni Carbonara though will feature uni tongue and fresno chile as compared to the Hope Ranch mussels that are normally served with it. The hearty dish will be lightened by the 2016 Lil Opal. This beer is considered one of the projects that helped found Barrelworks. It began as a side project that Jim kept hidden under some tarps in the brewery. He wanted to make a “brett’d saison” by aging a one-off saison in four local Viognier barrels for two years. Brettanomyces and other “wild” microorganisms can wreak havoc in a brewery if they accidentally get into the “clean” beer so Jim had to hide this project from the owners. He was amazed by the result and the success of the Lil Opal project gave way to more and more wild beer projects, culminating in Barrelworks and their now hundreds of barrels that fill the room. At 4.3% ABV this delicate saison has a bright aroma of tangerine, sour cherries, and white pepper with a Brettanomyces muskiness that will go pleasantly with the sea-themed flavors of the dish.
Feral One is the star of the show and will naturally be served during the main course. Feral One was the inaugural bottle release for Barrelworks and has become a celebratory beer for the barrel house. This beer is an annual blend that often marks and celebrates the anniversary of Barrelworks. Each vintage is usually a blend of six or so different Barrelworks beers and past versions have featured a litany of different aromas ranging from pit fruits and strawberries to more exotic notes like gooseberry and guava. The oak and microflora character is a complex melange of flavors drifting from earth and wet wood to a green olive brine bitterness. The 2018 version will be served alongside a Beef Cheek Pastrami brined in La Piccola and accompanied by seared sauerkraut, banyuls, nasturtium, and parsnip. La Piccola is a peppercorn saison that originated as a collaboration beer between Barrelworks and Birrifico Italiano for the 2015 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival.
The evening will wrap up with a sorbet made from SLOambic. This brew is a variation of their Sour Opal that has been aged an additional three months on local marionberries and boysenberries while being fermented with their proprietary strain of microflora. The result is a sour ale with a dense, jammy fruit character that grips you with its colorful flavors but remains light with a dry finish. The SLOambic sorbet will be served alongside a cinnamon streusel and meringue crisp ornamented with olallieberries and chantilly. The dish will be paired with the Walker’s Cuvée #2, the Barrelworks take on the salty-sour German wheat style, Gose. Their version is brewed with Meyer lemons and sea salt to give it a full citrus aroma and a saltiness that will sharpen the fruity sorbet. The dish will make a sweet finish to the evening, but let’s face it, drinking any of Barrelworks’ sour ales is pretty sweet.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel, March 31, 2018