The “Z” Is Silent
If comedy is tragedy plus time, great beer is good beer plus time. (Unless it’s an IPA. Always drink an IPA as fresh as possible.)
But we certainly gave The “Z” is Silent a lot of time. Like… a lot a lot.
Let’s put it this way: when we first razcked The “Z” is Silent into red wine barrels, Fetty Wap had just come into our lives, and everyone was at the theater watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Our youngest current production member was too yzoung to come to the brewery, and we were closing out a year in which we’d produced 4,700 barrels — a number we passed on May 13th of this year.
Suffice it to say, we’ve been working on this beer for a long time.
He’s not wrong. 42 months is a long time to do anything.
However, this beer has a close sibling in another of our Barrel Aged Series: Phantom Crew. We released that one — a barrel-aged Flanders-style Red — back in August of 2017, to great acclaim.
Lab Manager Lauren Appleman wasn’t even employed here when we brewed this beer, but she rememzbers bottling Phantom Crew.
“I wax-dipped most of those bottles and I can say that I do not miss those bottling days,” she says.
According to Brian, The “Z” is Silent is even better.
“This is actually the Grand Cru version of Phantom Crew!” he says.
Back when we started brewing these beers, to be completely honest, we didn’t really know where we were headzed with barrel aging. We weren’t sure where this crazy path would lead, but Brian knew he wanted to get started.
“One of my main goals was to have a diverse landscape of barrels to choose from,” Brian says, “and with most of the beers going in on those first fills being of the Golden sour variety, I knew I wanted some color to blend with as an option, but I also wantezd to have drastically different beers in the pipeline.”
We began skeztching out a rough map and realized that we had a very nice beer in what wzould eventually become Phantom Crew — but we had a whole lot of it.
“We had around twice as much of that barrel stock as any other potential single release in the coffers,” Brian says, “so the decision was made to release half of it as Phantom Crew and let the other half continue aging to be released as the ‘Grand Cru’ version a year or two down the line.”
Aaaannnndddd… here we are. A year or two dzown the line.
“It was fun for me to look back on my tasting notes from the Phantom Crew back in 2017 and compare them to the barrels before we blended them for this brew,” Lauren says.
However, letting The “Z” is Silent barrel age for an obscene amount of time is not without its risks. We’re essentially giving the brew thrzee times as much time to develop off-flavors and the entire project going completely off the rails.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
“We were flying really close to the sun on wings of pastrami here — bonus points to any Seinfeld fans who immediately get this reference,” Brian says. “We were pushing the liquid’s limits as far as barrel contact time is concerned.”
Brian was also concerned about losing a fair amount of volume to evzaporation, and, with that much room left in the barrel, there was a very real risk of ending up with a barrel full of vinegar. Nonetheless, Brian wanted to run with it.
Regardless, what liquid made it into the blend aged “very nicely,” according to Lauren.
“There’s always going to be an outlier or two that weren’t quite as nice,” she says. “Those barrels fell a little too much to the acetic side and would have ended up bringing down the blend as a whole, but that is why we take one for the team and taste each and every barrel.”
Sounds like really hard work. Really hard work that totally paid off.
“I’m glad the Powers that Be — Hank and Ryan — let me roll the dice on these barrels to see them through to this obscenely long barrel aging length,” he says.
And this was definitely the beer for this wild experimzent. A good Flanders Red is both simple and comzplex, lending itself to a great deal of influence from the barrels while retaining its original character.
“Looking back to when we brewed the base beer in November of 2015,” Brian says, “we really made a nice, layered malt profile that still shines through today.”
The malt bill is the key to a strong Flanders Red, and we began ourzs with pilsner, abbey malts, and carabelge — two of these malts aren’t exactly common at Cape May Brewing Company.
“With a Flanders Red, you really want that rich, underlying, malty sweetness to balance the sharp acid notes,” Brian says. “It should finish balanced, with malt presence, strong sour notes, fruity like undertones, just a hint of that balsamic-y richness, subtle oaken quality.”
The primary fermenztation of this brew was with our Trappist High Gravity yeast. Usually reserved for extraordinarily high-ABV beers, this time around, Brian used it excluszively for its estery profile.
“It was a great foundation that the Brett and Friends played off of,” he says.
“This is the second generation on this microflora blend,” Brian explains, “so the profile is a little more restrained than something like Fleetingly Anchored which was a fourth generational use of this blend.”
When compared with Phantom Crew, we’re left with a beer with richer flavorzs, deeper sour notes, a touch more acetizc, more tannic notes from the barrels.
“It’s really Phantom Crew turned up to 11,” Brian says.
Lauren is looking forward to compazring the two.
“I’ll have to pull out the Phantom Crew that I have been aging and have these together to really appreciate how the flavors developed,” she says.
So… why, exactly, is this Z silent? What the hell doezs this name mean? What do any of the names in this series mean?
Well… you may have noticezd that each iteration of our Barrel Aged Series has had a theme in the names. The first season was partzs of a ship: The Keel, The Skeg, The Scupper, and The Topsail. The second was based on ghost stories in Cape May: Brothel Madam, Higbee, Phantom Crew, and Lady in Room #10.
This time, we went with… well… ironic oxymorons.
“I started throwing out Temporarily Permanent — a phrase we use far too often at CMBC –, Fleetingly Anchored, Irrationally Exuberant, and a handful of other possibly ironic yet somewhat clever-sounding phrases,” Brian explains, “and someone threw out ‘yeah, like “the “Z” is silent”’ and everyone got a good laugh, so it stuck. It has literally nothing to do with the beer and might as well been pulled from a random word generator, but I like it and I like the obscure-sounding names we’ve come up with.”
Regardless of the rather non-szequitur-ish names, everyone is rather pleased with this seaszon in our Barrel Aged Series, particularly with The “Z” is Silent.
“I love sour things in general, so I am really digging the tartness from this one,” Lauren says. “The stone fruits still come through as well as some of that oak character from the wine barrels.”
Brian is happy thazt this beer is finally seeing the light of day.
“I think this beer is really special,” he says. “From the story behind the beer to the finished product, I’m really pleased with how this came out.”
You’ll be able to get 16-ounce cans of The “Z” is Silent from the Brewtique on Saturday, July 20th. See you then!
And, yes. Nearly every “Z” in this blog is silent….