With the vast range of beers on the market there are always new styles being attempted and new ingredients to be discovered. While some of these beers can be exciting, some of them fall short of their intention or feature trite flavors. There can also be a lot of overlap between characteristics in the same style. IPA’s are wonderful however many of them follow the same themes or use the same hops, leading them to taste close to one another. If you have tasted thousands of different beers, it can be hard to find one that really grabs your attention. So when one does draw your attention, you often won’t forget it anytime soon. Bierbara, a collaboration between The Bruery, soon-to-open Third Window Brewing Co., and Potek Winery, is one of those beers.
A Burbara beer
The name Third Window is a reference to Saint Barbara, our town’s namesake, whom is often depicted alongside a three-windowed tower. She had a third window installed in a tower to symbolize the Holy Trinity. In response she was later persecuted and beheaded by her father due to her belief in Christianity. The feast day for Saint Barbara is held each year on December 4th, which marks the day of her martyrdom. When Kris Parker, co-founder of Third Window and grandson of Fess Parker, read about the traditional dish made for Saint Barbara’s feast day, Burbara, he noticed that the recipe had an uncanny similarity to beer. Burbara is a dish made of boiled barley, pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise, and sugar. Kris wanted to recreate these flavors with a beer-wine blend. Kris and his partner John Neale called up Patrick Rue, founder of The Bruery and partner in Third Window. Patrick and Kris had worked together on other beer-wine hybrids like Wineification that had used grapes from Fess Parker.
The first version of Bierbara was released in 2014 and was a blend of beer with Santa Ynez Rodney’s Vineyard Alvarelhao raisins, Fess Parker estate raw barley, Turkish apricots, and a spice blend. The beer was so well received that they decided to produce another version for this year. This time the base beer was a Belgian-style Quad made with house-made candi sugar and aged in bourbon barrels for 14 months. This beer was blended with a Riesling ice wine (10%) from Third Window’s neighbor, Potek Winery. The winery is the newest project from winemaker Dave Potter (Municipal Winemakers) and is also located at The Mill. The blend was then aged on cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, and fennel. The finished “beer” is dark and brooding yet remains bright and fragrant from the wine character. The ice Riesling adds a green apple note that accents the tart raisin and herbal, licorice-like qualities of the beer. Notes of brown sugar, vanilla, and treacle come from the bourbon barrels and lace an elegant richness to the other flavors. Bierbara is a wild set of flavors that seem to simultaneously complement and contrast one another, making it one of the most enticing beers I’ve tasted in a long time.
Feast Day of St. Barbara
To celebrate Saint Barbara’s Feast Day and the release of Bierbara this December 4th, 2015, a few dozen guests attended a beer and wine dinner at Potek Winery. The food was provided by Wildwood Kitchen who is also located in The Mill. Attendees were welcomed with a taste of The Bruery Confession, another Fess Parker collaboration. This beer blended a Riesling must from Fess Parker with a sour blonde ale, similar to the base used for Reuze, their take on the lambic style, geuze. The beer had soft aromas of meyer lemon and gooseberries with a mild funkiness from the wild microorganisms. The lively character of the beer captured the brisk, blustery night people had just left behind as they entered the warmth of this wood-filled room. The beer’s acidity helped cut through the salt and fat of the savory charcuterie plates that were put out as appetizers.
As we took our seats, the night began with an introduction by Dave and Patrick. The first course was a Smoked Beet Greek Salad paired with Potek Winery’s 2012 Tierra Alta Grenache. Dave mentioned that the vines are located near a foggy, steep canyon wall that contributes a freshness to the Grenache grapes. The wine and smoked beets combined in a powerful set of flavors reminiscent of blackberries and scorched earth. The jammy, rich flavors were brightened by a fennel vinaigrette and accented by the saltiness of the feta cheese and kalamata olives. Naturally, Bierbara was paired with the main course, a massive Smoked Lamb Shank with Whipped Potatoes, Red Wine Braised Mushrooms, Smoked Bacon, and Pickled Shallots. The spices in the beer enhanced the the savory elements of the lamb and mushrooms with an herb garnish and shallots providing a subtle bite. The hearty dish made for a satisfying complement to the exotic flavors of the beer.
A Ricotta Cheese Custard in a Chilled Blackberry Soup with Market Berries and Cornflake Crunch paired with Potek Winery 2014 Ice Wine (From Barrel), the original iced Riesling that went into the Bierbara blend. The wine had a nectar-like, honey sweetness with accents of apple and pears and elderflower undertones that were complemented by the creamy, cheese custard and lush berries. The flavors were elevated by an aromatic mint garnish and cornflake crunch that added a contrasting texture that tied the dish together.
Blending beer is easily one of the most artistic brewery practices. Creating a blend needs vision and direction, otherwise the flavors just end up tasting muddled, contradictory, or just uninteresting. After tasting these blended beer-wine hybrids and the foods they were paired with, it is easy to observe that this team has that (it also doesn’t hurt that Patrick is a Master Cicerone). If Bierbara is reflective of the quality that Third Window will be bringing to the local beer scene then they are worthy of representing our namesake saint.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel, December 16, 2015