Once upon a time (December 18, 2013) in a land not so faraway (Cape May Airport), we brewed batch number 278. It was 15-barrels worth of SOJO, our South Jersey Secession Session Scottish Ale – malty, medium-bodied and oh-so tasty.
We know what you’re thinking:
Geez, CMBC, you’re up to batch number 572 now! A lot has happened since that December day. This was so long ago, you only had seven employees, compared to the 39 you have now. And you only brewed 1400 barrels a year, as opposed to the 4500 barrels you produced in 2015. Heck, Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch” was still on the Top 40 list back then! Why are you dwelling on beers of winter’s past?
Here’s the thing — We didn’t put that batch of SOJO on tap in our tasting room, at least not all of it. And we didn’t ship all of it off to accounts in Jersey or Philadelphia, either. In fact, this was so long ago, we weren’t even distributing in Philly yet.
Instead, we added 20 different yeast and bacteria strains from a local supplier to 50% (about 220 gallons) of the brew before stowing it away in a warm room ideal for microbial growth, and going about our regularly-scheduled program.
While we kept working – hiring new employees, brewing on a relatively new 15-barrel system, and dreaming about the day we’d be able to move into a second production facility – the beer soured. What ended up fermenting was essentially an early version of Turtle Gut, the delightfully tart American sour made with a slightly different microbial mixture that would eventually kick off our sour program.
On May 29 last year — a year and a half after we brewed batch number 278 and the month we realized that dream of a second production facility — we combined our stowed-away SOJO with a fresh batch of this Turtle Gut, by now a fan favorite. The mixture of aged beer and new — and all of the beautiful bacteria strains therein — was poured into nine French oak, freshly-dumped wine barrels and left to age again.
“I’m happy we had the foresight to sit on it,” says Chris. “We could have bottled it and had a simple release, but we sat on it and blended it and sat on it again. Now, not only do we have a releasable amount instead of a limited one-off, we have a more complex beer that tastes even better than a year ago. This is hard to do. It’s risky because you don’t know what you’re going to get. There could be oxidation or contamination. But we decided to wait it out for the full two years. It takes guts.”
No pun intended.
You know that saying, good things come to those who wait? This week, we tasted from those nine barrels, thrilled to see not only that our patience paid off, but that each barrel produced a slightly different flavor profile.
“Some were more funky, some were more tart, and some picked up on the residual red wine flavor of the wood,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink. “We blended all 530 gallons together in our blending tank, which is where the brew is now.”
Some time in the near future, a six-man team will package this yet-to-be-named beer into 2,500, 750ml champagne bottles, which can handle the pressure of refermentation. (The beer is bottled flat and a refermentation takes place in the bottle to produce the carbonation.) Then we’ll cap them off and introduce them to the world as the first in our brand-spanking new reserve series: Stow Away.
In the meantime, get excited.
“This is serious beer geekery,” Brian says.