Breakside barrel and art for Ziggurat
Breakside Brewery has a reputation as one of the best IPA and hop-centric breweries in the country, but, before that they were known for their wild experimentation and now may want to be known for their mixed culture barrel-aged sour program. Breakside opened in 2011 in the tiny Woodlawn neighborhood of outer NE Portland as a restaurant and tiny 3 barrel brewhouse. The brewery didnt waste time getting into barrel-aging then but didnt fully explore the possibilities until opening their production facility in Milwaukie in early 2013. Brewmaster Ben Edmunds says they have been experimenting since the opening of the Milwaukie brewery and now have over 450 oak casks from gin to maple barrels.
At the Milwaukie Production Facility barrels are sorted into clean and wild rooms to reduce the risk of cross contamination. So-called “bugs” or the wild yeast and bacteria are present in many sour beers helping to lower their PH, develop acetic or lactic acid, add funk and complexity like notes of pineapple and hay but are hard to contain, love living in the crevasses of barrels and are known to make their way into surrounding tanks and vessels. Breakside has been developing a sour/wild program that first saw the light of day in 2015.
“Nearly all our wild stock is in 200 wine casks” says Daniel Hynes, head of Breakside’s barrel production. “Of this, 50 of the casks come from our original B-sides series. There is a mix of pinot noir casks from Winters Hill and Archery Summit.” Breakside’s B-Sides is a limited series once only available to an exclusive brewery membership club, each release was a multiple barrel blend of different beers and vintages that together make something special. While the now soured and tart wine left over in former wine casks is very complimentary to mixed culture wild ales, brewers also use the hard to get Old Tom Gin barrels that are integral in the use of beers like Bellwether – an Imperial Wit with lime leaf with a light sourness and huge gin botanical and lime explosion.
Coming from the same barrels as the B-Sides — Breakside Sour: A New Series of Wood-Aged Sour Beers debuted this year with gift wrapped and packaged offerings in 500ml bottles. Breakside Sour series is the first major release of some of the more award-winning and loved barrel-aged beers from the B-Sides releases of 2016 and 2017 in new updated blends in larger quantities. Like the B-Sides, these sour beers require atleast 9 months (or longer) of aging (average of each beer is 12 months) before going into the final blend. All of the beers in this series are designed to be part of a blend, not as final products themselves. While Breakside says these beers are not what “keep the lights on” they do call them labors of love that are challenging, beguiling and complex and it’s hard to argue if you are a fan of true mixed fermentation wild sour ales. “They do seem to get less attention than our more mainstream, hop-forward offerings”, admits Ben Edmunds, Breakside’s longtime brewmaster.
Breakside’s Ben Edmunds (left) and Daniel Hynes
Breakside develops the Sour series with three different beer bases that are added onto with spices, fruits, hops, etc. with the layered complexities of former spirits or wine casks and the benefits of time and age. “We’re very focused on honing the 3 wort/beer streams that we currently use for all of the sour beers,” says Edmunds. This is a method similar to the one that Peter Bouckaert pioneered at New Belgium Brewing when they helped introduce true Belgian-style lambic-inspired sour beers to the U.S. New Belgium still uses two base beers for their Lips of Faith foeder sour series, one is light bodied and in color called “Felix” and another is a darker roastier sour called “Oscar.” At Breakside they produce one of the base beers close to what a traditional Lambic would comprise with unmalted wheat and aged hops that undergo a very long boil.
“This is the stream that we produce the most often and are most excited about, as we think it promotes a lot of nuance and character similar to Belgian-style wild ales from some of our favorite lambic producers,” explains Edmunds. That Lambic-style base is actually not very sour/acidic and so the brewery uses another base streat of very high acidity that Edmunds says works especially well with co-fermentations of fruits like peaches, nectarines and cherries to amplify their bright sourness and add back in the fruits natural fresh acidity. The third base stream is a Brettanomyces forward beer with a farmhouse ale base that’s going to add more nuance, funk, and spice notes to really round out a complex melange of barrel-aged beer flavors.
#2 in the Breakside Sour series is a showcase not only of barrels and wild ale but especially Mango. This particular beer struggles but succeeds in expressing this complex and tropical imported fruit with the the acidity and funk of Brettanomyces. Qualia is a blend of 15 barrels of mixed culture beers with all the juicy, fleshy meat of a mango reminiscent of juice milkshakes and tropical island beach vacations. Qualia is 6.7% ABV and 3 IBU’s.
Ziggurat is #3 in the new Breakside Sour series and was released in July. This brettanomyces forward wild ale is a blend of 13 cascks from the breweries barrel cellar. The majority of the barrels were of a spontaneously-fermented (meaning no yeast/bacteria was pitched but what comes naturally from the air and environment) wheat beer that was made in wood, having never touched a steel tank. To round out the flavor the brewers used beer from some of their favorite gin and pinot noir barrels with many that were over 4 years old. Ziggurat is 6.9% ABV and 15 IBU’s.
A follow-up take on one of the most popular of Breakside’s B-Sides releases – #MakingFriendsMakinMemories. The original beer was a version of a Framboise, a mixed culture wild ale full of raspberries with a great light pink color and refreshingly light and effervescent body. #MoreFriends #MoreMemories is definitely a different beer but also showcases raspberries. This edition is a blend of 18 barrels with more than 1 lb per gallon fo fresh raspberries added. #MF MM has a medium acidity, moderately high funk of Brettanomyces yeast and strong notes of red berries. 6.6% ABV and 12 IBU’s.
Quiesence – the next beer in the Breakside Sour series is a mixed culture ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels that is set for release this November, 2018 with another in the series tentatively planned for late December.
“Many of our wine casks are on 3+ fills and are really starting to develop their own uniqueness making them valuable assets to our blending stock” says Daniel Hynes, Breakside’s Barrel program lead brewer. “Over the next months we will be adding 100 new casks to add to our sour program. Fifty of these will be neutral oak selected to provide a counter balance to our fresher pinot casks.”
Sour and wild ales aren’t the only beers hitting oak at Breakside, longtime barrel-aged brewery favorites like Bourbon Barrel-Aged Aztec or Fourth Wave are getting lots of new “clean” cask aged beers to play with. The brewers have obtained some exciting rare former spirit barrels to play with that will make themselves into rotation, such as the return of “The Oligarch” an Imperial Stout that will debut in a bourbon barrel-aged form with a special edition aged in Maple Bourbon barrels that held maple syrup from Bissell Maple Farm in Ohio. Look for The Oligarch in January 2019. Coming this November we can look forward to an Apple Brandy barrel-aged version of Fall Apple Ale with barrels from Clear Creek Distillery.