Ship in a Bottle
Deciding when to bottle a beer is some serious business. Homebrewers have the luxury of sitting on a brew for as long as they want, letting the flavors settle and the fermentations run their course. However, we want to get it out to you as soon as we can. Yet, if we bottle it too early, not only is the beer not the best it could possibly be, but we run the risk of having several hundred cases of slowly-ticking timebombs. No one wants pieces of glass shrapnel getting embedded into their eyes.
So we asked Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm how he knew when to bottle The Keel.
“The only way to know when something like The Keel is ready to be bottled is to taste it,” he says. “Each beer in our sour program has a desired flavor profile; the balance between the tart sour notes, the level of the woodsy compounds or of any fruit added, the kind of acidity coming through from the lactic and acetic acids being produced, and any funk from Brettanomyces yeast that may be present. We taste these beers often to gauge their progress and keep detailed notes on each barrel.”
In the case of The Keel, that process took about eight months.
“We have a general idea of how long a batch of sour beer should take,” Jimmy says, “but in the end we let the beer tell us when it’s almost ready. We take note when a select batch of barrels begins to approach the flavor profile we want, inform the rest of the company, and plan out a release schedule.”
There are up to three more brews currently planned for the original batch of sour inoculant that became The Keel, but the release schedule isn’t set in stone. We have a general idea of when we’d like to get them out, but “these are the kinds of beers that will ruin any best laid plans if you’re not careful. The best way to prevent that is to let it just do its thing and release it in its own time,” Jimmy says.
“It took a lot of us a lot of time,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink about the bottling process. It was the first run using our fancy new bottler, “so we were working the kinks out along the way.” It took four of the brewers working a twelve-hour day, with six others jumping in for up to eleven hours each.
Check out the video below. (With some epic-as-hell pirate music by Ross Bugden.)