Hi there, Matt here. Wanted to share the backstory on a project I have been working on for the last several months, and which is now pouring at the Taproom. We’ve christened it “The IRB”, which stands for India Red Blend. It’s cask-aged IRA from new oak and bourbon barrels blended with some wild-fermented Brett strong ale.
I’ve been very excited about the movement in the beer community to take a winemaker’s or a lambic-blenders approach to creating new beers. For the last several years, brewers throughout the Northwest and beyond have been aging beers in new oak barrels, old oak barrels, pinot barrels, and bourbon barrels.
My original interest in cask beers came from when I was head brewer at Full Sail. I was giving a tour to the head distiller at Macallan Distillery. Oh that’s good scotch. Anyway, I remember being very excited to talk to Peter about Scotch whisky and was anxious to show off the brewery. I was touring through the cellars and we stopped to sample some Old Boardhead I had been aging for a year prior to its release. The beer was sitting in a stainless tank, maturing nicely at about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Peter then made a simple comment:
“What are you doing?” head distiller Peter asked.
“I’m aging the beer.”
“To mature the flavors, promote a more balanced barleywine through some long-term maturation…to develop some slight oxidative notes, reduce the bitterness, enhance the malt,” replied the head brewer.
“Well, if you want to develop those flavors, and you were making whisky, which uses beer as a base for the distillery, and you wanted to promote some oxidation, I would put that whisky in an oak barrel and hold it at cellar temperature. What you are doing now is protecting the beer from aging, you are not developing its maturation flavors, you’re trying to preserve the freshness. I think your approach is flawed.”
So sayeth Peter Fairlie.
Sometimes you can think these things too far ahead and be too smart for your own good.
So it now became time to experiment. Over the next several years, I aged our Old Boardhead and Imperial Stout in several runs of bourbon barrels and was always intrigued and delighted with the changes in the beer. When I finally got to run my own show, here at Double Mountain, I wanted to continue the work of maturation in various forms of oak barrels, but also bring in the art of blending the wine and whisky industries have used for years. I want to create beers that bring a variety of microbiology to the table and are enhanced and improved through the cellar aging process.
So what is the IRB? (Which by the way was pronounced “herb” by several patrons in the Taproom last night…) The IRB is a blend of three different beers. 25% of the blend is Brett Devil- a Belgian strong red with added Belgian candi sugar, fermented with the wild wine yeast strain of Brettanomycces. This beer used IRA as a base, but with some of the hops excluded. The Brett brings forward a slight acidity and tartness and a great fruit aroma. Man I love a light Brett aroma in a beer, my current favorite being The Duchess du Bourgogne.
50% of the IRB is IRA aged in 17 year old Elijah Craig barrels I bought together with Alan Sprints at Hair of the Dog. As soon as the barrel is emptied of the whiskey, it is speedily trucked to Oregon and immediately filled with beer. The whiskey in the wood permeates back into the beer, bringing forward those wonderfully smoky, charcoal, and hickory notes from a good Kentucky Bourbon. It also increases alcoholic strength. The remaining 25% comes from second use of a new oak barrel made from Minnesota and Missouri oak that’s known as a “Bordeaux barrel”. (The first use of the barrel gave us a beer we named IRA from the Wood.) This barrel adds a backbone of tannin and some more wood and vanilla notes.
The Brett-Devil will run out this weekend, so if you want to taste the standard IRA, the Brett-Devil, and the IRB side-by-side, now is the time to do it. We’ll be shipping an extremely limited quantity of the IRB to Portland, so keep an eye out for that too.