A Peek Inside the Avery Barrel-Aging Program

From Avery:

As many fans of Avery Brewing are aware, we have an extensive barrel-aging program that defines us in the beer world. Over the last decade, our brewers have been pioneers in the field of barrel-aged strong ales and sours. We released our first barrel-aged bottle in 2009. By 2016, our program had grown to such a degree that we added an off-site barrel warehouse. About half a mile from our main facility, this warehouse is home to our continuously multiplying barrels and new projects!

Our barrel warehouse in January 2018. (above)

Recently, two of our brewers gave us a tour of the barrel warehouse. Travis Rupp is our Research & Development manager and resident Beer Archaeologist; Andy Parker is our chief Barrel Herder and has been in charge of the Avery barrel program since its inception. Travis and Andy are in charge of the six-person team in charge of beer ideation at Avery. Almost every beer that goes through our brewery started as an idea in the minds of our Special Projects team.

The number of barrels in our warehouse varies widely depending on the time of year. Although we have space for up to 6,000, we usually keep our number of barrels far below that. At its peak last summer, our barrel warehouse was home to almost 4,000 full barrels. Currently, we have about 700 full barrels. As we start working on our exciting barrel projects for the year, the number will surely ramp back up!

Tasting among the barrels. Photo courtesy of The Brewtography Project.

A popular trend among breweries with impressive barreling programs is to use foeders, large-scale wooden vessels that allow for oak-aging in greater quantities. Foeders can be a game-changer for breweries that produce such large quantities of barrel-aged beer. Although we do not have set plans for a foeder farm in the barrel warehouse, Travis acknowledges that the idea could be on the horizon. This innovative technique would revolutionize how we make our barrel-aged beers, especially large-scale projects like the Botanicals and Barrels series.

Travis and Andy’s team is unafraid to try out anything new and experimental — at least once! In 2017, they used barrels that once held gin, rum, scotch, Madeira, port, hot sauce, and California wines (both red and white). Even if a project didn’t make it to the Avery Tap Room, every experiment was a valuable learning experience!

Two of the many types of barrels we use for aging!

Time in the barrel can vary depending on style, but typically sours are aged for 4 months and non-sours are aged for 3 months. Of course, this isn’t universally true. Projects with intense barrel character such as gin or scotch will only spend 2–4 weeks in the barrel. Diligent tasting of the barrels means our brewers can pull each project at its peak flavor, whether that means it is oak-, spirit-, or acid-driven.

Pulling nails. Photos courtesy of The Brewtography Project.

One of the most unique projects that comes from this team is the ongoing Dionysian Series. These Tap Room Rarities are grape-grain hybrids: beers whose grist is composed of anywhere from 35 to 49% unfermented grape juice. The newest edition in this series, Urania, was made with Gewürtzraminer grape must and fermented with Champagne yeast. Several of these beers have been 100% steel-fermented, while others are barrel-aged depending on the varietal used. The series name comes from Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and vinting — a natural inspiration! Few breweries are making grape-grain hybrids year-round and this series has found an entrenched spot in the Avery Tap Room.

When asked what project they are most excited for this year, Travis and Andy had the same answer: Barrel-Aged Series #50. This milestone will be a revival of a beer from the early days of Avery Brewing, the days of true experimentation in its nascent stages. Our founder Adam and his dad Larry started experimenting with craft beer before that was the norm. Our Special Projects team will take the original idea of this beer and turn it up to ten, as they usually do! Our Barrel-Aged Series #50 will be available this summer.

Read more about our barrel-aging program here.

About Bil Cord

Founder, owner, author, graphic designer, CEO, CFO, webmaster, president, mechanic and janitor for mybeerbuzz.com. Producer and Co-host of the WILK Friday BeerBuzz live weekly craft beer radio show. Small craft-brewer of the craft beer news sites and one-man-band with way too many instruments to play.

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