A Thoughtful Approach to Brewing and Blending
On Saturday, February 8, Denizens Brewing Company is hosting a barrel-aged night at their Silver Spring Beer Garden, which will focus on two new bottle releases, Chapless Horseman and Call Waiting. These are the brewery’s first beers in glass since 2015. On Saturday the brewers will be onsite to discuss the beers with customers during the event.
Call Waiting is a Scottish Wee Heavy aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrels for four months and finished on Vigilante Coffee beans, at 7.9% ABV. The second bottle is Chapless Horseman, their Russian Imperial Stout (Shirtless Horseman) aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrels for four months, at 9.1% ABV. They’re for sale to drink onsite at either of the taprooms or in to-go bottles, which are 375ml. Expect to see many more styles coming out throughout 2020 in bottles from Denizens.
We asked Denizens Chief Beer Officer/Founder Jeff Ramirez to share details on the Chapless Horseman and Call Waiting process. We also asked Chief Brand Officer/Founder Julie Verratti to share insights on selling these, and other, beers. We hope you enjoy reading as much as we enjoy publishing!
Jeff, is this the first time you’ve put beer brewed at the beer garden & barrel house into bottles?
No, we did smaller volumes in 750 ml bottles in 2015 of some barrel-aged brands with a more manual filling operation. However, when we took on packaging in cans at our Silver Spring location most of our throughput for seasonals was taken up with core brand production, so our barrel-aged products were more valuable to us in draft sales at our Silver Spring taproom. Now that we have opened our Riverdale Production House and Taproom, we are able to put these specialty brands in bottles that we brew and age in Silver Spring and still keep a diverse seasonal offering on draft. These two bottles are the first of many more to come in 2020 with the purchase of a small bottling line located in Silver Spring.
Why did you brew a barrel-aged version of Shirtless Horseman?
We barrel-aged Shirtless Horseman to create our Chapless Horseman brand because in my mind bourbon-barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout is a no brainer. The big flavors of these stouts hold up well to big oak, spirit flavors, and aging in general.
Tell me about the barrels, barley, hops, and yeast used. Anyone else who was instrumental in the creation of this beer?
Our RIS uses a range of roasted and crystal malts in addition to 2-row barley. We also use a small amount of lactose for silkiness in mouthfeel. The hops are Cascade and not dominating in flavor profile, and the yeast is our house ale strain. Dave and Lily at the Silver Spring brewery produced and blended these beers. Besides those physically making and blending the beer, our Head of Packaging and Quality, Tim, was instrumental in getting these beers into bottles that will enable consistency and a longer shelf-life. My background in brewing at the Iron Hill Breweries, who I think more often than not have won medals at GABF with their Russian Imperial Stout, and brewing stouts for Stout Month at the Mountain Sun Breweries in Colorado allowed me to work within this style a bunch and hone a recipe for Denizens. Stout Month is basically a stout tap take-over for the month of February at all the Mountain Sun Brewery and Restaurants where they showcase their own and some local examples of stout.
What made you want to put these beers into bottles instead of cans or kegs?
A few things. First, our canning line is located at the production house, so that is the first major obstacle, but even if it was at the same location we wouldn’t want these mixed culture sour beers (soon to come to bottles) going through the same machine we are using to fill our Born Bohemian Pilsner cans. Second, I think from a branding perspective it allows us to give a whole different look and identity to these beers when sitting on the shelf next to our cans, and even though bottles are falling out of fashion for craft beer brands, I think consumers who are seeking out these styles of beers associate bottles with barrel-aged products. Lastly, the types of beers coming out of our barrel house hit a wide range of styles, which require different levels of carbonation and possibly even bottle conditioning. Filling in bottles under counter-pressure versus our atmospheric Wild Goose can filler will allow us to package beer with higher levels of carbonation and retain those levels.
What makes these beers special?
These beers are special because there are multiple steps after the initial brew and fermentation that require human interaction with the beer. First, splitting that batch into multiple barrels gives different life paths for the beer in each barrel, and no barrel will do exactly the same thing as the other. One bourbon barrel holds 1.67 BBLs of liquid, but the batch of Chapless Horseman is a 15 BBL batch, so this beer requires 9 different barrels to age in to account for total volume. Next, we taste barrels in monthly increments depending on what the beer is so that we can make sure flavor is progressing towards our goal, but we also want to make sure that we are not allowing the wood/spirit character from the barrel or secondary fermentation character of our cultures to progress beyond our intention. The final process before scheduling packaging is blending the beer back together. We take notes on each barrel and blend back the batch to taste, meaning we may use 100% of the barrels, or we exclude a barrel since blending it makes the beer worse in our opinion, or we may only use a small portion of one barrel in the total blend.
Julie, tell us about these beers.
I like these beers because they are delicious. I am so proud of the work that Jeff and his team have put into making these types of beers over the past 5.5 years. These batches are the best I’ve tasted so far, and I think beer drinkers will be very happy with the results. They are dark, flavorful, balanced, and perfect for the winter months.
Do you think darker beers are harder to sell than paler beers or IPA?
It depends on the time of year. In the spring and summer it is absolutely more difficult to sell darker beers. There are definitely people who drink dark beers year round (myself included), but that is not the norm. IPA is always going to sell more year round, however, I find that I appreciate old school west coast IPAs more in the winter and the more modern hazy style IPAs in the spring and summer.
Were there hurdles to selling bottles in both locations?
Not really. We have limited wholesale beer licenses for each location that allows us to self-distribute the beers between the two locations. As long as we are paying our taxes (which we always do!) we are good to go.
Who should have praised heaped upon them and why?
Jeff Ramirez, Dave Vogelpohl, Tim Fothergill, and Lily Schulz definitely deserve praise for these beers. The recipes are Jeff’s brain child, and Dave and Lily are the Head Brewer and Brewer at our Silver Spring location, respectively, who helped brew and blend these batches. Tim is our Head Packaging and Quality Manager, and made sure the packaging in bottles went off correctly, incorporating QA and QC procedures throughout the process.
What else should the beer drinking public know about these?
These beers are a limited release and if you want some you should hurry up and get them while you can. We currently have them in both our Silver Spring and Riverdale Park locations until they sell out. Available to-go and for consumption on premise. We’re also hosting a Barrel-Aged Flight Night on February 8th which will feature both Chapless Horseman and Call Waiting. It’s a great chance to come sample them and then take some home with you. We are sending VERY few cases into distribution, so if you are the type of person who doesn’t ever leave DC Proper, then you should head directly to Craft Beer Cellar, Odd Provisions, or Wardman Wines, the only DC accounts that are getting cases of these brands.