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“It will make your taste buds dance.”

Phantom Crew

Our Barrel Aged Series has been taking off lately, garnering great reviews from BeerConnoisseur and our fans alike.

We’ve been so proud of this series that we don’t want you guys to have to wait for the next release, so we’re doubling up our releases from the Brewtique next Saturday.

Last week, we told you all about Higbee — our Golden Sour Ale named for the ghost of Thomas Higbee. This week, we’ll bring you up-to-speed on our Flanders-style Red Ale, Phantom Crew.

Down at Cape May Point, in addition to numerous other historical oddities, there lay a World War II bunker. Suspiciously out-of-place, it looks like a gigantic concrete beetle on spindly wooden legs, waiting patiently for an attack on the homeland that never came.

Battery 223, as it is officially known, was one of three fortifications built for Fort Miles. Headquartered in Cape Henlopen, this fort was part of the now-abandoned Coastal Defense program and includes our beloved Tower 23 as part of its defenses.

You see, back in the 30s, just before we entered WWII, there was a concern that our shores were wildly vulnerable to attack. Throughout the course of the war, technology evolved — we built the atomic bomb, ensuring that the rest of the world cowered in fear whenever our name was mentioned — and airplanes and other instruments of war became more widely-used. Batteries such as this one became obsolete.

So, now Cape May has this rather large structure sunning itself on the beach like some overweight, concrete tourist.

Unlike the tourist, however, this bad boy held a 6-inch battery and could survive a direct hit from battleships and aircraft. Our visitors would not be as lucky.

The battery’s guns were never fired at an enemy, but, apparently, there are two guys who didn’t get the memo. On occasion, you can find them hanging out on top of the structure, smoking, sharing a mundane conversation about life back home.

No one’s been able to talk to them to find out why they’re still around. We like to think that they were stationed there at some point during the war, built a friendship, then the winds of war scattered them throughout the European theatre where they eventually met their end.

Nonetheless, they still reunite at Battery 223, because they love Cape May as much as you do.

We think their reunions would be made so much better with the addition of a special brew, perhaps something like Phantom Crew.

With a harmonious blend of malt and acidity, a touch of funk and a tannic quality tying things together, Phantom Crew is very fruity up front while remaining reminiscent of the barrel’s past life.

We brewed a Flanders-style Red Ale for this batch back in December of 2015, making this one of the first brews to be barreled for this series. It’s based on an extremely traditional and true-to-style Abbey Dubbel we first brewed in November of 2014.

Sometimes referred to as a Flemish Red, the base is a sour red ale popularized by Brouwerij Rodenbach. Very well-rounded with a rich malt backbone and subtle fruity undertones, notes of plum and dates predominate in the finish. A hefty dose of Belgian candi rock sugar adds a sweet, almost molasses note to the background.

“The beauty of this beer going into the barrel was the residual sugar left at the end of primary fermentation,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink.

“All of that residual sugar gives the bacteria more to play with,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm, “and the long aging time gives them more time to play with it as well.”

“If a beer like Devil’s Reach or Misty Dawn goes into a barrel, there isn’t a ton of food left over for the microbes to play off of,” Brian says, “but this beer had tons of long-chain dextrins for the blend of more than twenty microorganisms to slowly eat away over the year-and-a-half aging portion.”

As the bacteria consume sugar and produce more lactic acid and other flavors, the pH of the beer drops, so over time the conditions in the beer change, favoring different bacteria strains.

“You really get a very complex palate,” Jimmy says. “It’s almost like a symphony: at one point the strings might have the melody, and at others it’s the horns, or maybe even the chorus, but in the end they all come together in this great harmony.”

When this is combined with the micro-oxidation that takes place over the extended time in the barrel, some of the harsher notes are rounded out. As such, unlike many of the other brews in our Barrel Aged Series, Phantom Crew is more a result of its aging process than the base beer.

“At the end of the day,” Jimmy says, “there’s no shortcut to a Flanders Red. Some other sour ale styles can be mimicked, but they’re never quite as complex.

“With a Flanders Red Ale, the time is a part of the recipe.”

The result is a wildly complex brew, with unparalleled depths of flavors.

“Many in our Barrel Aged Series had such unique flavors,” Brian says, “that if you sipped on a glass over an hour or so, rolling the beer around your tongue you’d notice all kinds of subtleties and nuances that weren’t there at the beginning. Phantom Crew has all of that and then some. The base beer going into the barrels was far more complex — probably our most complex base brew — which really comes through in the finished product.”

Jimmy wholeheartedly agrees.

“We used these unique Belgian malts that are nutty and perfume-like with hints of dark fruits and toffee, so Phantom Crew is malty, but it’s also fruity,” he says. “It’s an acidic sour, sure, but it’s got a wide variety of fruits, raisins, plums, cherries, apricots, and a touch of candied apples, then there’s also a touch of these rustic notes like tobacco and leather, all along with a hint of wood.  

“It’s crazy!”

Expect pure delight with Phantom Crew. Our sour programs soar with this new brew, taking it to a whole new level.

“It will make your taste buds dance,” Jimmy says. “I’d love to be a fly on the wall while some fellow beer-geeks all sip away at it, listening to them shout out the various flavors as they pick them up. It’s really going to be something else.”

And it’s the perfect brew to honor those two brave servicemen who wander Battery 223, forever seeking, a little wistfully, the dramatic turbulence of the battles they never fought in Cape May.

We hope they get the chance to share a bottle of our aged Flanders Red.

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