quercus sessiliflora

While people often overly romanticize the work of a brewer, there is one aspect of it that is full of excitement, mystery, and sometimes breathtaking results. We’re talking about long-term maturation in oak barrels, but before we get to the beer, let’s begin with the wood.

Oak is incredible. Very strong and capable of directly contributing a truly distinct character in a beer, it’s properties vary from species to species, forest to forest, and even tree to tree. The typical barrel is made of wood harvested from 100 year old oaks which is then seasoned one to three years. During their construction the interiors of most barrels are toasted to some degree to provide different flavor profiles. The porous nature of the wood allows small amounts of oxygen to contact the beer and promotes slow and extended fermentations that cannot be rushed. Barrels used for sour beers are often dosed with several strains of bacteria and yeasts which ultimately take residence within the wood permanently, varying in their proportions and viability and making each barrel unique. If a barrel was previously used for another beer, or a specific wine or distilled beverage, it will retain some of that character which also differentiates them greatly and provides interesting blending opportunities. In this modern world bent on absolute consistency in production, the ageing of beer in barrels presents a chance for the brewer to cross his fingers, exercise his patience and embrace the complex and sometimes unpredictable maturation that takes place.

Upright Brewing Company recently acquired over twenty used wine barrels from the very friendly folks at La Bete winery in McMinnville. Some of them have been dry for a while and have irreparable leaks, but we have been able to restore at least sixteen so far back to working condition. Most are crafted from French oak and held pinot noir for years, saturating them with concentrated fruit aromas. We plan to use these barrels for our inaugural batch of beer later this year, a light, dry and refreshing farmhouse-style wheat beer that will spend most of the winter and spring on the oak with a healthy dose of cherries, the first of many fruit beers to follow.