This Saturday the up and coming Block 15 Brewing out of Corvallis, OR, is set to release its first bottled beer, Figgy Pudding. This is a beer I have yet to try, but it sounds delicious and has a beautiful label to match. Figgy Pudding is an English strong ale matured in brandy barrels and conditioned with figs and a touch of spice.
The spec sheet says it:
"pours a dark brandy color with light carbonation and a fleeting off white head, complex oak, brandy, tobacco, dried fruit, spice and molasses in the nose. Layered flavours of currant, fig, port, and brandy with a velvety texture. A smooth warming finish backed by a touch of sweetness."
After reading that description I decided to catch up with Block 15 Owner and Brewmaster Nick Arzner. We discussed the unique beer, how it was made, what inspired it and what we can expect from them in the future.
Nick: Truly, a 16th century English Christmas steamed cake, Figgy Pudding. I think everyone has heard of Figgy Pudding but has no idea what the hell it is. My curiosity lead us to look up a traditional recipe last year and offer the cake as a dessert option at our Pub. There are several variations, but consistently the cake is sweet and sticky with a touch of molasses, studded with figs and spices then sometimes dunked in brandy and flamed. I was instantly inspired to brew a beer with the cake's character in mind.
Q: What made you decide on it for Block 15's first bottle release?
Nick: I actually aimed for Ferme' de La Ville Provision to be our first release this past summer. The bureaucratic bullshit wheel approving labels took much longer than expected. I turned my attention to Figgy Pudding knowing I could get approval in the time frame we needed. Also, it is perfect timing to have our first release in time for the Holidays. I imagine a lot of bottles in stockings and accompanying Holiday dinners and parties.
Q: When and how did you add the figs (and what kind of figs) in the brewing process?
Nick: After testing the character of several varieties we chose Californian mission figs for their deep rich earthy character. After barrel aging we blended the barrels and added the figs. We cooked the pureed figs to caramelize the sugars and essentially pasteurize them. We introduced a bit of fresh yeast to ensure the sugars in the figs were fermented in conditioning.
Q:You aged the beer in Brandy barrels, which I believe are pretty hard to come by. What kind are they and how did they treat the beer in the aging process?
Nick: I have found a barrel broker out of Kentucky that can procure, with enough time, a variety of barrels. I like wet barrels, so with enough pre-planning time we were able to have them shipped instantly after the broker received them. Brandy barrels are very interesting, first being used in bourbon distilleries before aging brandy. They are the most beat up looking barrels I have seen, but the inside character is wonderfully complex. The barrels lend notes of oak, vanilla, port, caramel, brandy, and plum. We racked Figgy Pudding directly into the barrels and aged 3-4 months depending on the character of the barrel. Instead of topping, we have developed a system of a CO2 feed that blankets the beer which in my opinion helps develop brighter and cleaner aromas and flavors with less oxidation. The barrels previously housed brandy from Guild Wineries & Distilleries.
Q: And lastly, when and what are the next bottle releases that people can look forward to?
Nick: We hopefully will begin a pattern of bottle releases about four times a year. My plan is to only bottle brews that spend time maturing in barrels and evolve with age. Pappy's Dark, our bourbon barrel matured specialty ale, will be released in bottles on February 5th. Ferme de La Ville Provision, a Pinot Noir barrel aged farmhouse w/brett, will be released sometime in June/July. La Ferme' de Demons, a Bourbon/Pinot/ Oregon Oak & Imagine, a 15% Bourbon Barrel Belgian Imperial Stout will be released sometime next Fall. We also have expanded our barreling capabilities by about 120 barrels and have several wild/sour and lambics that should eventually find their ways to bottles.
One can obtain Figgy Pudding at Block 15 this Saturday. There are only 64 cases of 750ml corked and caged bottles available for $14 each.