Bourbon Barrel-Aged Sawyer’s Swap
Sometimes, things don’t turn out quite as planned. Sometimes they turn out better.
Take, for example, this week’s release of Bourbon Barrel Aged Sawyer’s Swap: this isn’t quite what we were planning when we brewed this beer, but we don’t think anyone’s going to turn their noses up to a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine.
First off, if you haven’t read the story of Captain “Badass” Henry Washington Sawyer, head over to this blog immediately. This Civil War captain was wounded in battle about a gagillion times, kept going back, had numerous horses shot from under him, got captured by the Confederacy, was traded for the son of Robert E. Lee, then retired in Cape May, building the Chalfonte hotel.
Luckily, the beer is pretty badass, too.
We brewed up a batch or two last year and had every intention of releasing it in beautiful 16oz cans. However, if you remember, fate stepped in… in the form of a government shutdown.
“We were planning on releasing Sawyer’s Swap in cans in February of last year,” recalls Innovation Director Brian Hink, “and being a barleywine, we wanted to give it some time to condition in stainless prior to packaging.”
The plan was to brew up a few batches, can off the majority of it, and put a small amount of it into kegs for a few lucky accounts. We brewed the first batch a few days after the government shutdown, hoping that they’d get their act together quickly enough to allow the TTB — all of whom were deemed non-essential — to get back to work.
Thankfully, Sawyer’s Swap mellows in stainless for about a month, so there was some time built into this process. Regardless, the shutdown went on longer than expected and labels were piling up over at the TTB. Once the shutdown ended, we still had to wait for them to get to the can design for Sawyer’s Swap, so we kept moving back subsequent brew dates of our beloved barleywine.
“We brewed the next batch in the middle of January,” Brian says, “hoping the end of the shutdown was close, but, as the end of January neared and no end of the shutdown was in sight and not wanting to have too many tanks sitting full of a beer waiting for an eventual label approval, we made the tough call to cancel the release of Sawyers Swap in cans.”
It killed us to do it. We love this beer. We know many of our fans feel the same way. We knew that you guys wanted it back in your lives. It had been a loooong time since we’d last brewed it. In fact, we hadn’t brewed Sawyer’s Swap since 2016.
“I have very little experience with Sawyer’s Swap,” says Lab Manager Lauren Appleman. “Before we brought it back last year its last release was months before I even started working here.”
Years, Lauren. It was years before you started working here.
But, without approved labels, even though we wanted to send this killer brew out into the world, we couldn’t do it.
But, fate stepped in and turned a problem into an opportunity.
“Luckily, around this time we were racking Bourbon Barrel-Aged Concrete Ship out of barrels and into stainless,” Brian says, “and with more liquid fermented than we needed for the draft release, we made the easy decision to get those barrels a second use and fill ‘em up with some Swap!”
Thankfully, Sawyer’s Swap is pretty much begging to be bourbon barrel-aged.
“It’s a big, rich, malty, high octane beer to begin with,” Brian said. “It’s a beautiful beer to lay down for a nice long slumber.”
“I’m glad we decided to brew it again,” she says, “and I’m even happier that we laid some down in barrels. This turned out to be a big, boozy beast.”
For Lauren and Matt in the lab, the introduction of a barrel throws another wrench into the already tenuous process of making beer — the lab really needs to be on their toes when we start barrel aging.
You see, we have two kinds of barrels: “clean” and “dirty”. Dirty barrels aren’t really dirty (and clean barrels aren’t really clean, either) — we’re talking about whether or not they’ve had bacteria or Brett in them.
“The barrels aren’t dirty,” Lauren explains, “we just want to think of them as being a possible point of contamination for all of our clean beer over here at production.”
With barrels being made of wood and wood having nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide, the lab runs the same tests on the barrels that they run on beer in stainless, checking for bacteria and wild yeast.
“And each barrel gets a sensory test,” Lauren tells us. “Many times, we can tell if a barrel has gone bad even before all the lab tests simply by doing sensory tests.”
We laid Sawyer’s Swap in some second-use, clean, oaken bourbon barrels for about a year. You’ll get a ton of oak character in the brew — Brian reports that “a lot of the barrel comes through. It’s dry, tannic, oaky, chocolatey with strong vanillans on the nose, and definitely some heat. It has a nice warming quality to it.”
And this is a monster of a beer! We cranked up the ABV to 13% this time around.
“I plan to enjoy this one by shotgunning a 4-pack, obviously!” Brian says.
No, Brian. That is not recommended.
“But no,” he relents, “I will most likely enjoy this out of my favorite tulip glass while staring at a fire, contemplating all of life’s mysteries.”
There are many of them, so maybe you should grab two four-packs, Bri.
Either way, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Sawyer’s Swap releases on Friday, only in the Tasting Room. Grab a four-pack for $18.99 +tax during our St. Paddy’s Weekend Celebration!
See you there!