Our first public release of a Prairie Dog barrel-aged beer. Starting as our house Porter, we aged the beer for several months in a French oak barrel that had previously been used to age red wine (style unknown). During its life in the barrel, the beer picked up loads of oak, vanilla and stone-fruit character (cherry), and underwent a secondary fermentation with wine yeast, drying it out significantly. To sweeten the beer back up, we blended it with more of the straight porter and added a hint of natural vanilla to round out the edges.
|Appearance:||Dark brown to black, transparent if held to the light. Not much head.|
|Aroma:||Vanilla, cherry and other stone-fruits combined with chocolate liquor.|
|Flavour:||Similar to aroma, with vanilla and milk-chocolate character dominating over the fruit character. Roast is rounded out, not harsh. Malty finish with caramel/toffee notes.|
|Mouthfeel:||Smooth, low-medium carbonation. Bitterness is present but balanced against malt. Fairly dry, medium-bodied.|
|Hops:||Spicy character from Chinook hops.|
|Malts:||Floor-malted heirloom Maris Otter malt (from Britain) forms the foundation of the beer. Red Shed (Penhold, AB) Chocolate Malt, as well as Belgian and German specialty malts.|
|Other:||Madagascar vanilla. French oak barrel that previously held red wine.|
As you can see in the video above, making this beer required some hefty product losses. It was our first foray into filling a wine barrel with beer, and we lost quite a lot of porter while the beer hydrated the oak barrel staves. All in all, it took about 8 hours for the barrel to hydrate enough that it stopped leaking! We learned a lot from that experience, and thankfully it was all worth it in the end, as the beer developed a ton of complexity from the barrel-aging process, which took about 3-months to complete.
As noted earlier, we started with our base porter, transferring about 220-litres into the barrel from a brite tank (finished beer), losing about 30 litres in the process. After about a week in the barrel, we noticed that the beer had started re-fermenting in the barrel, indicating that the barrel contained either a wild yeast or that some wine yeast had been left in the barrel and survived until we’d added the beer (we didn’t try to wash out and sterilize the barrel because we were concerned about rinsing out the red wine character that we loved so much about the barrel). We tasted the beer out of the barrel about once a month, and noticed that it had indeed picked up a beautiful fruity red-wine character, continuing to dry out as it fermented.
Eventually the beer had dried out so much that the porter’s roast character became too out of balance with the remaining sugars, and we knew that we’d have to blend back some of the original porter along with the barrel-aged stuff to bring back some of the sugars. This was a good thing, though, because the barrel character had grown quite intense, and blending with original porter meant that we’d have more finished product to package.
We waited to package the product until no more fermentation had occurred for several weeks, to be sure that whatever yeast was working on the beer had nothing left to do (by this point, the beer was at about 8% ABV in the barrel). We sat down for a blending session (Gerad, Tyler, and Charles), and tried blending the beer in glasses with the straight porter. We found that a 2:1 ratio of straight porter to barrel-aged porter retained plenty of barrel character but added enough sugar and body to balance out the beer, although the roast profile was still a little bit intense. Brewmaster Gerad suggested adding a hint of vanilla to round things out, and thus, our blend was finalized.
We transferred the product out of the barrel and back into a small mobile brite tank that we dedicate to barrel-related activities (to keep things separate in case of contamination from the barrels), in which we’d already placed 400L of straight porter. All-in-all, we finished with about 600-litres of product, to which we added a very small dose of Madagascar vanilla extract (the real stuff). We finalized carbonation of the beer in cold storage, where we held it for several weeks after packaging, prior to putting it on tap May 03, 2019.