Cleaning the Slate — Beer Issues from 2013
Wow, it’s been a crazy year. Our barrel program has come to life, we’ve released approximately 45 different bottled releases this year, and we are starting to fill the large pair of shoes we have created for ourselves. Part of filling in those shoes is finding our weak spots and fixing them. This year we’ve had five releases that didn’t go as planned — we want to tell you about them and what we’re doing to avoid this in the future.
Beers That Have Had Issues
As you may recall, earlier in the year we stopped shipments of Ebony & Oak and issued refunds. This beer began souring and building excess carbonation a few weeks after it was released. While bourbon barrels are usually quite stable due to once having bourbon in them, they aren’t immune from causing beer spoilage. However, usually that spoilage happens during the time in the barrel and we catch it before packaging.
High alcohol content generally discourages microbiological growth, so unwanted microorganisms can be present in some of our barrels and they might not present an issue for us as the beer is strong enough to keep the microorganisms at bay. With Ebony & Oak, we found that its alcohol content was too low.
White Chocolate you may also recall this year did not taste as it did in the previous year when it was first released. Our initial testing showed the beer was a lower pH than the 2012 version, and continued testing showed it had remained at the same pH since being packaged, so we determined it was stable. Unfortunately, we have recently found that the pH has continued to drop, indicating further souring of this beer. We offered store credit for those who purchased the beer and did not enjoy it, and we extend that offer to anyone who has purchased White Chocolate.
Earlier this year, we had an idea to come up with a beer blend that mimicked the taste of a macaroon. It was made of a special blend of some of our favorite beers with the addition of hand-toasted coconut. We expected to get a delicious, coconutty beer with great barrel notes, and a background of pineapple upside down cake from the addition of Barrel Aged 5 Golden Rings. We were very excited at the result, but as time went on, our lab tests have shown that some bottles of this beer, Cacaonut, have unfortunately turned sour due to the presence of unwanted lactobacillus. We believe that when making Cacaonut, unwanted microorganisms (likely lactobacillus) were present in the coconut we added to the beer. Normally when we add special ingredients to non-sour beer, it’s either done at a point in the brewing process where very hot temperatures eliminate the chance for bacteria to thrive; or the ingredients themselves are sanitary and come straight out of sanitary packaging — they aren’t being lovingly hand-toasted like the coconut in this case. The addition of this toasted coconut, followed by time in a cozy barrel meant those unwanted microbes had a chance to survive.
Similar to White Chocolate, some people love their bottle of Cacaonut. There have been bottles that haven’t gone sour, and some have had experiences and reported this beer going sour. We are offering store credit to those who purchased Cacaonut and weren’t satisfied with their experience. More details are explained at the bottom of this post.
Praecocia, our barrel-aged apricot ale that was also released earlier this year to some reports of very strong carbonation (make sure you don’t open it over your tiger skin rug). Praecocia has shown no signs of souring (the pH is the same as when we packaged it), but our lab tests have shown a presence of a highly attenuative yeast in this beer. We surmise that this yeast came from the fruit additions of “aseptic” apricot puree to this beer, as the beer did not test positive for this yeast prior to the addition of apricot. Bottles of Praecocia have had their residual sugar gobbled up by this yeast, making the living beer’s carbonation level increase. The beer itself is still delicious and safe, but bottles could be a bit overcarbonated.
We’re offering store credit to customers unsatisfied with their bottles of Praecocia. While we don’t feel this is a beer gone bad, it’s very important to us that we’re meeting our customers expectations of our beers. More details on our refund policy for this beer are explained at the bottom of this post.
Lastly, we’ve recently discovered souring microorganisms in Barrel Aged Autumn Maple. At this point, the beer tastes as is intended, but we want to get the word out that it may develop into a problematic beer over time. Please drink your bottles soon, and keep them refrigerated until you do. If you come across any soured bottles, our policy is we’ll give you store credit. See the below for more details on this beer as well.
What We’re Doing About It
We are extremely motivated to get these issues resolved and put procedures in place so they don’t happen again, and we’d like an opportunity to tell you about the steps we’re taking.
First, we are testing the microbiological stability of every single clean barrel before the beer is blended together in the brite beer tank. With over 3000 barrels, this is a huge undertaking for our Quality Control department, so now we have two full time employees in this department. We are proud to have a world-class lab onsite at our small craft brewery, and thanks to our lab, we are able to track the health of our living beer at all stages of its life. Not only do we re-test beers weeks and months after their release, we keep archives stored just for lab tests further off in the future as needed. You can read more about our quality assurance practices on this blog post, where more details are explained.
We’ve recently invested in a barrel steamer. This helps seal the barrels, and kills just about anything on the inside surface of the barrel. While it won’t kill microorganisms that can harbor themselves deep inside the wood, it is a great first line defense.
In order to avoid issues with post-fermentation addition of ingredients, we are looking into a few different solutions. Treating these ingredients with ozone gas before adding to the barrel is one potential solution. As we learned as homebrewers, soaking in distilled spirit is another solution, although we need to do it in a way where we aren’t adding a significant amount of alcohol to our beer. The wine industry uses potassium metabisulfite (sulfites) to stabilize wine microbiologically, and we’re looking into that as well. A very last resort is pasteurization, which a few of our fellow craft brewers are now doing for their barrel aged beers prior to packaging. One of our founding tenets is to never pasteurize our beer, so we’ll explore all other options before this. In short, we’re looking for the most effective method that keeps the beer tasting great.
In the case of adding fruit puree to clean beer, we are going to be adding it in the whirlpool rather than directly to the fermenter. Aseptic purees have been pasteurized and should be clean, but that doesn’t mean we can completely trust that there isn’t a risk in using them. Adding the puree to the hot wort in the whirlpool will mitigate against this risk.
Lastly, and very excitedly, we’re completely separating our sour beer production from our clean beer production. Within a few months, all clean barrels will be a few miles away from our sour barrels, so we won’t have to worry about their proximity to each other causing any issues (they currently have a wall separating them). By the end of 2014, we’ll be brewing wort and sending it over to our sour & funky barrel house, fermenting it there, and packaging there. Only clean beer will be packaged at the brewery on a new bottling line, and our existing bottling line will be moving over to the sour & funky barrel house. This will allow greater experimentation and focus on our sour & funky beer production and our clean beer production.
To understand why we’re so excited about this, we should fill you in on what we currently do. We brew a batch of beer at the brewery, move wort to our sour & funky barrel house (which also currently houses clean barrel aged beers), ferment and age it there, and then bring it back to the brewery where we package it on a dedicated sour bottling line. While we keep almost everything separate, we do share the same brite tank between sour and clean beer (and clean it really really well), yet it still concerns us that there’s a potential for cross contamination.
Though we are disappointed to see any beer come out differently than we were expecting, we believe this communication is an important step to take in order to continue being a craft brewery that our fans and friends can continue to support and trust. Certainly, we’d love to have a flawless record of beer releases, but with our continual experimentation and love for unfiltered, unpasteurized, living beer we’re constantly adding new and unusual things into the brewing process and we don’t plan on stopping!
We appreciate your support and sincerely apologize that the aforementioned beers did not meet your (and our!) expectations. We thank you for helping us grow and look forward to continuous improvement (and more beer experimentation!) in 2014.
The Bruery will be issuing a form of credit for bottles of White Chocolate, Cacaonut, Barrel Aged Autumn Maple, and Praecocia purchased through The Bruery Tasting Room and TheBrueryStore.com. If you purchased bottles through TheBrueryStore.com, a special offer code useable on TheBrueryStore.com will be made available upon request for a value matching the retail price, tax and shipping paid for the bottle(s). To initiate a request for an order placed on TheBrueryStore.com, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and include:
- The order number
- Pictures of the batch coding on the side of the bottle(s)
- A brief description of the defect in the beer
For those who received their bottle(s) through an in-person order at The Bruery Tasting Room, a store credit in the form of a gift card will be administered upon request for a total matching the total paid for each bottle(s). To initiate a request for an order placed in-person at The Bruery Tasting Room, please email email@example.com and include:
- An image of your receipt
- The order total & date
- Picture of batch coding on the side of the bottle(s)
- A brief description of the defect in the beer
Requests for credit on the purchase of any of these three beers must be placed before 3/31/2014. Please allow up to six (6) weeks for all credit requests to be fulfilled. Credit will expire three (3) months after the date that it was issued.
- Coupon request period begins immediately
- Last day to request coupon(s) 3/31
- Coupon(s) valid beginning 4/1
- Coupon(s) expire 6/30 or three (3) months from issue date, whichever comes first.