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Barrel aging project: 100 days

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Barrels are back in the breweries and their return is quite recent (except, of course, for the few breweries that have never abandoned these containers, like the Lambic brewers around Brussels) and it shows the permanent balance that exists between tradition and modernity within the craft beer world.

We are curious about experimenting with these old-fashioned tools, that recently came back under the spotlight, but we also want to stay true to ourselves: by favorizing beers with good drinkability rather than strong alcohol content, and by using barrels of French wines used by famous wine-growers rather than common bourbon barrels, usually used for their alcohol content and their ability to confer strong aromas very quickly to the beer.

The barrels, usually made of oak, were the historical containers of beer, used for storage and transport, but also for the service, when they were draught directly from the barrel itself. The development of stainless steel tanks and casks progressively made the barrels disappear: easier to clean and transport, and protecting the beer from any unwanted aroma transfer, stainless steel wins.

Indeed, barrels can transfer, depending on their age and the previous liquid it was carrying, grilled and toasted aromas, and hints of vanilla, specific to new wooden barrels, but also subtler earthy and woody notes, oxidative aromas linked to the porosity of larger wooden barrels, and the impact  of yeasts or wild bacteria in the wood (that can be used willingly, depending on what the brewer wants). Usually, barrel aged beer is preserved between 4 and 12 months to really give it character.

For those of you who have been following us for a certain time now, you may already know that we insist on proposing freshly brewed beers and these barrel-aging projects may seem contradictory with our principles. The main reasons as to why we propose freshly brewed beers is to put forward the strength of the aromas and the taste of hops, that shades off with time, and also to fight oxidation which is always considered an off-flavor for a non-aged beer.

With beer aging, the idea is to play with the fading of the aromas, anticipating the impact of their weaker presence and integrating the oxidation as a parameter of the recipe in order to create beers with a particular and unique style.

We have, since December, acquired a dozen barrels coming from Le Domaine Agapé and Chateau Meylet, which we filled with a season beer made with Aramis hops (the same ones used in our Trouble 6). We also have inoculated one barrel with sour blend to experiment with stronger acidity.

Le Domaine Agapé, which is located in Alsace, in the town of Riquewihr, gave us barrels of 225 liters, that were containing Pinot Noir since 2011 or 2012. Chateau Meylet, a pioneer in biodynamic agriculture in Saint Emilion, gave us “demi muids” (literally “half almuds”, an old French measurement of volume system) of 500 liters, that were containing their Saint-Emilion for 2 or 3 years.

After 3 months, we can see that:

The barrel-aged beers from Le Domaine Agape show floral notes, delicate and pleasant. Rounder tasting than the Château Meylet ones, they develop acidities more or less subtle, depending on the barrels.

The château Melyet are warmer with hints of spices. Presenting earthy and woody notes, with a very subtle acidity.

We should also receive new barrels from Alsace, Bourgogne and Jura in the weeks to come to continue with our experimentations.

Anniversary 2018

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Four years already!

Just like every year, we have decided to celebrate our anniversary with you, not only with special beers but also during an entire day at our workshop in Montreuil.

We have created three new recipes for that occasion. After our Strong IPA, Sparkling Golden Ale and Wheatwine of 2017, now make room for a Session Pale Ale, a Wee Heavy and an India Pale Ale.

Our session is a pale ale, orange in colour, fruity and hoppy, with a malty finish. Special malts and a specific temperature for mashing give substance to this low-alcohol beer (2,7%) which allowed us to enjoy it during the entire day.

Our India Pale Ale presents notes of citrus and tropical fruits. Smooth and creamy, it delivers a hoppy finish and mild bitterness.

The Wee Heavy, a light brown scotch ale, has more malt complexity, with roasted and smoked flavours, and red fruit notes. Balanced and round, we also have imagined it with a different recipe for a cask, with orange peels and black pepper, served at room temperature.

Cask ale  is an unfiltered and unpasteurized beer which is conditioned and served from a cask without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. Literally, cask means “container”, and it is a very typical way of conditioning and serving beer from Britain.

Traditionally draught beer came from wooden barrels, also called casks. In the 1950s these began to be replaced by metal casks of stainless steel or aluminium, mainly for quality reasons as they could be sterilised, and the beer was therefore less likely to spoil.  Subsequently, in the early 1960s a form of metal cask, known as a keg, was introduced which allowed for more efficient cleaning and filling in the brewery.

By the early 1970s most beer in Britain was keg beer, filtered, pasteurized and artificially carbonated, and most British brewers used carbon dioxide for dispensing keg beers.

Rare examples of natural beers could still be found, the last great stronghold of natural beer was about to be wiped out. In 1971 the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was founded in Britain to save what they came to term “real ale” a type of beer defined as “beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide”.

Our anniversary started on the 8th of march: we took over all the taps of the bar Les trois 8, with which we had tapped our first keg back in 2014. Wee Heavy, Anniversary IPA, BRU 1 IPA, Wheatwine 2017, Makkuro Oyster, Indigo IPA and Ricochet were available on tap.

Eight days later, it’s at our workshop that all our friends and regular customers were invited. This anniversary day in Montreuil was built around a local music scene 100% from Montreuil, with different styles.

The afternoon started with Gisèle Pape, with a dream pop performance, followed by the latin jazz trio Lua Cheia and finally, Yeti Lane ended the event with a DJ Set.

The team from The Beast, the Texan smokehouse, was serving delicious pulled pork and brisket sandwiches. It was also the opportunity to enjoy for the very first time at the workshop the first custom beer we ever brewed for a client: The Beast, a light-colored rye ale with hints of pepper.

But an anniversary would be incomplete without a cake! The talented team at Ten Belles Bread imagined for the occasion a special creation made with 6 individual cakes which represented the logo of the brewery, with a specific recipe inspired by our anniversary beers.

 

Thank you everyone for being with us on that day, by your presence despite the changing weather, or by thought! We look forward to meeting again at the workshop, or for other occasions, in other places, to explore new flavors, enjoy new recipes of freshly brewed beers and share together our curiosity and passion for beer and taste.

 

Hugs + Hops

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Mike tells us the story behind Hugs + Hops, our collaboration brew with 21st Amendment and Independent Brewing Co.

Steve and I worked with Shaun in 2005 at the 21st Amendment Brewpub in San Francisco where Shaun is the co-founder and brewmaster. I was a newbie, having only homebrewed a handful of times but Shaun had graciously taken me on as an assistant brewer. Steve had a full-time job, but had worked previously in the brewery, and so was the experienced, on-call brewer, who came in to do things beyond my abilities, like run the DE filter, teaching me in the process. Here, we “brought the band back together” to collaborate on a beer.

I had had an email exchange with Steve about a year and a half ago where we threw out the idea of somehow brewing a beer together, which was the moment I began to learn of his deep love for Kuyts — a style I’d never heard of. Then Shaun passed through Paris a year ago and the idea came up again and began to take shape. Shaun set up a conference call in the summer, and we nailed down enough of the details to move forward. Steve wanted to make a Kuyt of course, I wanted to use some new French hop varietals, and Shaun wanted to make a big IPA. And so in the spirit of collaboration we decided to make a Koyt IPA with some French hop varietals.

The beer, which we’re calling Hugs + Hops, ended up being 50% malted oats (a mix of standard malted oats and Simpson’s Golden Naked Oats), 20% wheat, and the balance with a mix of vienna and pilsner malt. In order to deal with the lack of husk material from the wheat and naked oats, we also used a good amount of rice hulls, which our malt supplier Soufflet kindly tracked down for us. For hops, we used Australian Galaxy, German Magnum, French Mistral, and French experimental P10/9 from Cophoudal in Alsace. The result is a highly aromatic and hoppy beer, with aromas and flavor of peach, guava, and melon, with a deep malt richness and mild residual sweetness from the oats and wheat. We brewed 25HL in Bonneuil.

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A traditional Kuyt from the Netherlands wouldn’t be so hoppy, nor would it employ French or Australian hops, so this one is pretty far outside of style aside from the malt bill. But interestingly, some consider the Dutch kuyt to have been an earlier adopter of hops and of higher hopping rates than British pale ales and IPAs, thus making it a forefather of sorts for modern hoppy beer. At least this is what Steve tells me.

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This collaboration got me thinking about collaborations in general, about why we do them, when we do them, and with whom. I don’t think a brewery really needs a reason to collaborate on a beer with any other brewery, but some collaborations seem to make a lot more sense than others – and I really liked the feel of this one. Here my two former mentors and I were able to get back together as friends for the first time in 11 years since the last time we all met at the Zythos Festival and traveled together in Belgium. Aside from giving us the chance to stir through nostalgia and compare notes on our respective and very different brewery situations, the collab allowed us to deepen our connections – accompanied of course by a few beers! Hugs and Hops.

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Bonneuil: our new brewery

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A few weeks ahead of our first “open day” in our second brewery in Bonneuil on March 18, Mike recounts the installation phase which kept us busy a good part of last year.

We got the keys to our new building on April 15, 2016, and bottled our first batch of beer on September 28th, 2016.

Before those milestones, however, we spent more than 6 months looking for the right spot. We visited about 20 sites in the Eastern suburbs of Paris, and gradually expanded the search geography away from our home base in Montreuil as we exhausted closer options. The search period was exciting as we could begin to visualize our future in new and different physical spaces, but in the end it also proved to be quite a challenge to find a space that fit all of our needs and hopes.

In the end we selected a building in an industrial park 15 km south and east of Montreuil, in Bonneuil-sur-Marne. We were immediately drawn to the shape and condition of the building and to the park itself, which had much more greenery than nearly any other site we visited. The building had a little too much office space, was a little expensive, but the large square shape with plenty of natural light was mesmerizing.

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For the bulk of the brewery purchase, we selected the Slovak producer Processing System Solutions, or PSS. They made a great impression on us when we met at the brewery trade show BrauBeviale in Germany the year before. They showed a bit more enthusiasm, professionalism, and willingness to go further than other makers in terms of providing a complete package. Most manufacturers would provide tanks, mills, and other basic necessities, but PSS, as a large producer of stainless steel products, was able to do more extensive and customized work with a much shorter lead time. They were also keen to take extra steps to subcontract other brewery elements and incorporate them into the overall project, greatly simplifying the project and installation.

The installation itself was at times exhilarating, and at others extremely frustrating.

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My rusty forklift skills were tested again and again as the 8 tractor trailers arrived in the first three days, with the Slovaks smoking cigarettes and chuckling as I slowly and carefully removed massive amounts of (expensive) stainless steel from the trucks. Much stressful improvising occurred as we found the forks of the forklift were not quite long enough to handle all of the skids. After everything was inside there was a strange moment where our empty 1000m2 actually looked like it was getting filled up.

While standing up the tanks and brewhouse, the lauter tun slipped and hit the ground. That was scary — but it was OK.

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We had between 3 and 6 technicians from PSS on the ground at any given moment for most of the month of August, including a father and son (family business). Communication was limited for the most part to gestures, pictures, and phrases from Google translate. There was no miscommunication about their fondness of beer, however, as nearly one case seemed to disappear each day.

After several weeks, when their seemingly endless supply of canned meat and fish must have run out, the technicians made the great discovery of the large nearby supermarket where they could each buy their own entire rotisserie chicken for lunch, which they seemed to do almost every day thereafter before the daily siesta. Around this time, they also discovered they could blast polka from their car radio.

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We had several crises as we needed to install a chimney at the last minute and also needed the gas company to inspect our new gas hook-up. Both tasks seemed nearly impossible at moments, complicated by the fact that we were in August, the month when everyone is on vacation.

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In the end, we began our first brew Friday around 3:30PM on the 9th of February (Mission Pale Ale of course), following several brews with only water, and a full cleaning program. For once everyone stopped their welding, grinding, or running electrical lines to turn to following the process and checking their work. We were able to have a nice moment as a team and open a magnum of our Anniversary IPA from earlier in the year. We would finish that night after midnight…

For bottling, we worked with a local re-seller and automation specialist, eventually purchasing most elements of the bottling line from Italy. In Montreuil, we chose an extremely basic solution for bottling, which requires two to three people to bottle about 100 liters per hour. Here, on the other hand, we opted for nearly as much automation as possible. With the same number of people now, we can bottle up to 1000 liters per hour. At the previous brewery I worked at, we needed four to five people to do the same work. We also selected an advanced bottle filler to minimize the amount of oxygen entering each bottle. Oxygen causes beer to age rapidly, so for freshness, the less oxygen the better!

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Every brewery expands in order to make more beer. In Montreuil, in order to produce more, we added more and larger tanks and brewed as much as possible, but with the limits of space and longer and longer bottling (and delivery) sessions, we became structurally limited and maxed out at a capacity around 700HL / year.  

In selecting our original brewery size for Montreuil, we intentionally wanted to start small in order to be able to sell the freshest beer possible with enough flexibility to offer many different beers at the same time. We accepted the inconveniences and inefficiencies that came along with such a small system. As we planned our new brewery, we recognized the needs to increase our efficiency in packaging, increase the quality of our packaged product, and to reduce our environmental impact, particularly in terms of our water and energy usage, but also with our effluents.

We gained some flexibility by brewing our Trouble #6 and Mission Pale Ale at Brasserie Rabourdin for the past year, which allowed us to brew more of our other beers and continue to make special beers in Montreuil. Now, we can take advantage of having two breweries of different scales to test new recipes, release new offerings, and make beer of a higher quality than ever. Just before the end of the year, we released our first one-off brew made in Montreuil, a rustic, dry-hopped pale ale hopped almost exclusively with German grown Cascade hops. Stay tuned for more limited edition offerings and possibly some new permanent offerings as we gradually transition our core beers to Bonneuil!

Summer of Hops

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The end of July and beginning or August marks the return of our Summer of Hops Series : as many people leave town on vacations and many places close for a few weeks, we take the opportunity to brew some special beers for those still around. As last year, expect 3 special beers, starting with Dwarf Hops Club which will be available from next Wednesday July 27 at several bars like La Fine Mousse, Les Trois 8 or Le Supercoin, and from Saturday July 30 in growlers at our workshop.

Here is the program :

– Dwarf Hops Club, 5.5%

Extra pale ale brewed with oats and lactose and four different varieties of “dwarf hop” varieties including experimental ADHA 484. Expect fresh peach hop flavor and aroma layered over a creamy malt body. More information on dwarf hop scan be found here : http://www.adha.us/

– Golden IPA, 7.1%

A golden ale rich in hop character. Potently charged with Summit, Columbus, and Equinox hops, this IPA has a resinous, earthy hop character with a lasting bitter finish. Orange pith, lime zest, and green pepper.

– Strissel & Fils, 5.3%

A light bodied amber lager (first one for us !), Strissel & Fils blends traditional Alsatian hops with new experimental variety GJ2, all of which stem from the classic Alsatian variety Strisselspalt (hence the name, Strissel & Sons). Expect a crisp lager with malt complexity and a robust Old World hop character. Herbal, floral, exotic fruits.

 

Mark your agendas now : there will be a Summer of Hops quiz night at Le Supercoin on August 24 with the 3 Summer of Hops beers on tap.

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Thanks again to David Rager for the designs !

 

Deck & Donohue part II

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That’s it! We finally found the spot we’ve been looking for: by the end of the year, Deck & Donohue will add a second brewing site to our workshop in Montreuil.

For two years, your enthusiasm for our beers has exceeded our expectations and the Montreuil workshop Montreuil has been breaking at its seams for many months: a lack of space, pallets spilling out into the shared space with our neighbors, and long, long bottling days. The team has grown to keep pace, but spending eight to ten hours bottling one at a time several times a week continues to be a mighty effort for the whole team. We have been able to count on the Rabourdin Brewery in Courpalay to accommodate us to brew our Trouble # 6 and several other special editions, but the idea was always for this to be temporary. We are very pleased to establish a second site of production to be located in Bonneuil-sur-Marne, 15km from Montreuil. Works will begin soon, and we’ll share our advances as they come!

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What will not change

Our ingredients remain strictly the same, our recipes will not change, and our commitment to quality and excellence in all stages of production remains unchanged. We will continue to self-distribute and keep close to us the same the same concerns for proximity and responsiveness that has driven us from the beginning.

Montreuil will remain open for direct sales on Saturdays, and as things go we’ll try to extend these hours little by little. We really appreciated by the warm welcome we have received in Montreuil over the last 2 years and even though we weren’t able to find a new location in the city, we remain strongly attached to Montreuil and our neighborhood.

What will change

Having a greater capacity will allow us to perform the incredible feat of delivering all the beer that our current customers order! Often these days we are out of certain beers for a few days and are forced to “ration” deliveries. This production capacity will also certainly allow us to offer our beers to new customers.

Having a second production site will also recover brewing time in Montreuil, creating opportunities to offer more new beers. Expect new one-offs and collaborations with clients and beyond soon!

Upgrading our brewing and packaging equipment will give an immediate and significant upgrade to the quality of our beer. These improvements will also close a lot of efficiency gaps in our production, leading to a more energy efficient and less water consuming process. Finally, we’ll free up more time to work on new recipes, more events, and more opportunities to share beers with you!

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