The Rise of Block 15

Nick Arzner in Block 15's cavernous cellars - Photos by "SNOB" Ritch
Block 15 Restaurant & Brewery in Corvallis, OR, does not have hundreds of years of history. It doesn't have cobwebs and dusty bottles and air filled with wonderful clean brettanamyoces to spontaneously ferment its beers. However, if you try some of the beers coming out of the cellars located under an old block in downtown Corvallis, you might just second guess that. On a recent visit ahead of this weekend's release of La Ferme De Demons, we got to try both a Flanders Red and a "white" framboise straight from barrels. We also learned of Block 15's first 12oz bottled beer coming in November.
Nick Arzner pulls samples from a barrel
Block 15 is Nick Arzner's baby, and it has quickly become a favorite of the Corvallis and Portland beer communities alike for its polished standards like a rotating fruit beer tap, single hopped IPAs, and a great chocolatey oatmeal stout. But it's what they are doing in these caverns below the brewery that is really getting people excited. These guys love their whisky and have forged some powerful relationships to have one of the best supplies of used spirits barrels around.


This Saturday, October 22nd, Block 15 is releasing just its 3rd bottled beer, La Ferme De Demons. This is the beer that in its original iteration really put the brewery on the map to Portlanders after winning the people's choice award at the Cheers To Belgian Beers festival in 2010.


La Ferme De Demons is a dark farmhouse ale matured in bourbon, pinot noir, and Oregon oak barrels with two Brettanomyces strains and local cherries.
"Though dark, the body is light-medium with rounded toasted barrels notes, cocoa, and a light cherry finish. The brettanoymyces used inpart both earthy and cherry character and will further acidify with time bringing out even more cherry."
While the first version 2 years ago won the CTBB, this year's is a bit different, with added time to develop and more wild character.
"This year's version is being released at six months matured. Also, we added whole local cherries directly to a few of the barrels, rather than the cherry juice we used in the 2010 version. This beer truly evolves with age. We tasted the 2010 version a couple months ago from the keg. It had developed a significant amount of cherry like acidity and the barrel character had calmed. Truly, one of my favorite beers we have produced and a great one to drink at release and with extended cellaring."

Unfortunately after the Portland release party for La Ferme De Demons at Belmont Station on Wednesday, October 26th, the supply of Block 15 will dry up outside of the pub until sometime next year. Not that there is much of it in Portland to begin with. With the continuous stress of balancing the house year round production with bottles, seasonals, and a barrel program, rather than expanding or pushing more beer out, owner Nick Arzner plans to concentrate on keeping the high quality at the pub up to standards first and foremost. It seems like expansion is the natural answer to this problem:
"Currently, we are treading water. We have maxed out our production and barrel space and would have to sacrifice quality for quantity. It is a bit frustrating, as I have a lot of unique ideas that will sit on the back burner for now. We are going to take the next 6-12 months to sharpen our skills and enjoy what we have created before deciding which direction, if at all, we want to grow."
Outside of the new bottle release and house beers, there are some really interesting new barrel-aged experiments maturing in barrels. We sampled both a Brandy Barrel-Aged Flanders Red and a Framboise made with Golden Rasberries. The Flanders Red is being aged in the same Brandy barrels that first held Figgy Pudding (Block 15's first bottle release) and is the first mixed fermentation the brewery has produced with their open fermenter, or koelschip. The grist is modeled after a traditional Flanders Red, but with higher gravity, and should finish out around 10%abv. The first blend of this beer should be out no later than fall. The Framboise White, as it is being called, is a double Witbier matured in Chardonnay barrels with Golden Raspberries. I was wondering what inspired using Golden Rasberries, as I had never heard of them being used and they are expensive. Nick says:


"Last summer I made a golden raspberry sorbet and was blown away by the character. The most unique attribute is a wonderful rose petal aroma and flavor. Normally, golden raspberries are very expensive. A huge benifit of being a brewpub is that we work closely with several local farms for our kitchen. Through these relationships we are notified when they have excess of different products.This year, we were fortunate enough to land a large amount of golden raspberries at a very reasonable price."
Framboise White pours a typical blond golden color with aromas of raspberries, but not quite the same juicy quality of red raspberries. Like Nick says, these have more of the floral character that works quite well with the Witbier base. Expect this beer out sometime between spring and next fall as well.
One of the beers I am most excited about, though, is Block 15's first beer to be sold in 12oz bottles. It will be sold alongside Figgy Pudding in November:




Imagine is a blend Belgian Imperial Stouts matured in eight bourbon barrels for19 months and weighs in at 15%alc/vol. This beer combines the character of Russian Imperial stouts with the dark candi sugar and yeast of Belgium, and the spirit of American craft brewers. Blending vintages brings in the nice smooth oxidation of the old barrels, with a more upfront warming effects of the 8 month barrels. Imagine will be release every other year.

Imagine is a thoroughly strong beer, so in thinking a 750ml bottle might be too big, Nick Arzner decided to bottle in 12oz with custom caps. There are only 40 cases of this beer and they will be packaged in black gift boxes that will only be sold at the brewery on November 19th  alongside the next Figgy Pudding bottle release. Imagine will also tapped at the pub on 11/11/11.



3 comments:

  1. Ezra, this is a fantastic report--thanks!

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  2. Awesome! I can't wait to get out there and try some of the brews as well as the food!! Keep up the good work Block 15!

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  3. Awesomely gnarled Cantillon Keg!

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Try not to be a dick.