In December 2014, a friend of a friend acquired a 53 gallon barrel that had previously held Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve whiskey for 9 years. It made its way from Kentucky to Ann Arbor, then came along with me when I moved houses in 2018. It currently resides in my basement.
Since then we’ve rotated beers through it. In order of fill date:
- Imperial Stout (Jan 2015)
- Scotch Ale (this beer naturally soured)
- Oud Bruin (we pitched 8 packs of Blackman Flemish Sour Mix)
- Tart of Darkness Stout (here we introduced Brett C., actually a strain of Brett Anomalous)
- Dark Saison
- Belgian Golden Strong
- Belgian Golden Strong, again (back by popular demand)
- Berliner Weisse (Jan 2019)
- Flanders Red (July 2019)
- Witbier (Jan 2020).
We empty + refill every six months or so. The brewers are a rotating cast, with people dropping in and out. We typically aim to bring 11 shares of 5 gallons each, filling the barrel to the top and leaving some extra to top up the angel’s share.
This barrel has produced consistently good beers and the sour character is now well-established. Beers from this barrel have won silver and gold medals in the American Wild Ale category at the 2016 & 2017 Michigan Beer Cup. Brewers often perform a tertiary fermentation on fruit – tart cherries are a favorite, this being Michigan – and sometimes blend with young or clean beers to cut sourness to taste.
Summer 2020 update: Due to COVID-19 it was not possible to empty and fill the barrel in summer 2020, an activity which requires several people in a close space. We decided to switch to a solera project. This beer will sit indefinitely, with participants having the option to extract 5 gallons of sour beer and swap in 5 gallons of fresh. Such a swap only requires one person.
Whenever it again becomes possible to do another full empty/fill cycle, we will evaluate the barrel’s state. In the meantime, what better substance to keep the barrel full and wet than beer? Even if that beer ultimately becomes too sour to drink.