Our journey is on its final stretch. Catch up with parts one, two and three.
We spent day six with the Van Steenberge brewery. As usual, this brewery has been in the same family for generations and produces some top notch Belgian ales including favorites such as Piraat, Gulden Draak, and Augustijn.
Van Steenberge Sign
The brewery itself is very large and sprawls around several acres and has its own water source. They have been on this same property since 1784. Van Steenberge pioneered conditioning beers (carbonating naturally) in kegs and has a lot of space dedicated to conditioning rooms which hold bottles and kegs at slightly higher temperatures to allow the yeast to reactivate and carbonate the beers. Currently Van Steenburge produces about 65,000 barrels a year, of which 75% is exported. This is done on an impressive 100 hectoliter brewhouse that turns out six batches a day.
Van Steenberge Brewhouse
What impressed me most at the Van Steenberge brewery was their yeast management program. They use seven different yeasts and only use yeast for three generations. They use two different yeasts for bottle conditioning, one for flavor and one to remove oxygen. Yeast management is crucial when so many of your beers tip the scales at over 10% abv.
If you haven’t been following along, Nate Hadley and myself have been traveling through Belgium tasting beer, sight seeing and learning all about the culture! This is day four and five of our journey.
Hop Farm in Poperinge
We spent day four with the Van Ecke brewery, makers of Poperings Hommel, among others. Our first stop was a hop farm in the town of Poperinge. This was by far my favorite stop of the trip to this point. It was a small, family farm called ‘t Hoppecruyt. We toured the fields, which were just past the initial sprouting phase and the vines were starting to climb.
We spent day 2 of our journey through Belgium exploring the city of Antwerp with our friends from Troubadour. The biggest news of the day was Nate Hadley’s arrival. Our poor Naperville beer manager was bumped on his flight over due to the flight being overbooked. The flight he was hoping for standby on was also overbooked and then cancelled due to mechanical problems. He spent a night in Washington DC and finally got to us today. His luggage, however, did not. At least he’s here!
Troubadour beers are outstanding across the board. They have a Blond, Obscura (a light stout), Magma Triple IPA, Westkust (a black IPA), and an imperial stout. It’s great to see a Belgian brewery embracing US Craft brewery ideas and creating hop forward beers in a country typically completely devoid of them. If you haven’t had Magma, do yourself a favor and pick one up. There also may still be some of the limited edition Sorachi Ace Magma floating around at some of our stores.
We started our day with a little sightseeing in Brussels. We hit the usual spots, including the Atomium, which is a remnant from the 1958 worlds fair. It’s over 100 meters tall. Pretty cool, especially considering that all we have leftover from the worlds fair in New York is some rusty flying saucers in Jamaica Queens. ( There is also a significant remnant from the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Richmond, VA. It is now the Belgian Friendship Building at Virginia Union University, and it is a National Historic Landmark. -ed.)
We also checked out the iconic Mannekin Pis. It’s very small, maybe 20 inches or so, and not much to look at. So I did what any forward thinking beer nerd would do and popped into Mort Subite for a glass of their house blended lambic, whose deliciousness words cannot describe.
The Whiskey Hotline’s next stop on the road through Kentucky and Tennessee? Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. You might remember our visit last summer. What has changed since? When we were there last July, the first floor of their newly renovated Warehouse A was half full of barrels. Now, the entire warehouse is nearly full. The place is buzzing. On our last visit, they were gearing up to build a grain mill and two bed & breakfasts. The mill is finished – a shipment of corn arrived and we got to watch it go up an auger and into a hopper. That was cool. And at least one of the B&B’s is done. It seems like they start a project every week, and finish one every four.
What did we taste? KBD resumed distilling in January of 2012, and we got our first taste of their young rye and bourbon after just 13 months in wood. Excited to taste them over hte next few decades. Also, they’re distilling using seven different mash bills – we were able to sneak back a bottle of their wheated bourbon recipe white dog. And it’s fantastic. After our delicious (and popular) last batch of Willetts, you know we want another round. So keep an eye out for more Binny’s Handpicked Willetts in these ages: 4 year, 6 year, 7 year, 8 year, 9 year, 10 year, and 22 year (!!!).
Day two on the Whiskey Hotline’s road trip? Corsair Artisan Spirits’s Nashville, Tennessee distillery. These guys are doing exciting things.
Listen, we’re always the first to knock the use of smaller barrels. You just can’t make a traditional bourbon, put it in small barrels, and expect it to taste good. That’s what makes Corsair different. While they do age in 15 gallon barrels, they play with the rest of the formula too: using experimental grains (quinoa?!), flavoring with hops, trying new mashes. At the same time, Corsair mostly produces mostly whiskies from malted barley, and have experimented with fifty different smoked barleys and seventy different hops.
By the way, Corsair just filled their first 30 gallon barrel last year. We tasted it; it isn’t ready, but when it is, there’s a good chance it winds up being a Binny’s Handpicked cask. We’ll revisit it soon. Did we bring back anything else? Watch for more of their delicious Triple Smoked.
Also, somebody at Corsair hearts monkeys.
What could be more tempting than sneaking a peek at somebody’s mail? Here’s your chance to see the kinds of letters we get every day. Have a question of your own? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am extremely concerned about whiskeys being called bourbon, yet being aged in sherry/wine/brandy casks. Isn’t there a strict law about what can and cannot be called bourbon?
Yes and no. The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (pdf) covers what needs to happen to whiskey before it can be called bourbon:
- It has to be made from at least 51% corn.
- It has to be aged in NEW, charred oak barrels.
- It can’t be distilled higher than 160 proof and can’t be put into a barrel for aging at higher than 125 proof.
- It has to be bottled at 80 proof or higher.
Bourbon that you see with sherry or port cask aging is FINISHED in those casks. These bourbons generally spend several years in the legally required new charred oak barrels, and then are finished in refilled port, sherry or whatever barrels for a short time, usually 3-9 months. Angel’s Envy is a great example of this – a bourbon that saw years in charred oak barrels that then sees extra time finishing in port casks, giving it its characteristic gobs of round fruit.
A couple big updates on Brophy’s Barrel.
First, I pulled the Founder’s Curmudgeon out and tasted it side by side with fresh Curmudgeon on tap at the South Loop Tasting Room.
Fresh off the tap, the Curmudgeon is great stuff. Full of bready malts on the nose, sweet cereal grains on the palate balanced by a nice bitterness. After spending a week and a half in barrel, the beer has gained a slightly ruby hue. On the nose it’s a little rubbery, with hints of burnt sugar. There is a faint suggestion of rum on the palate, flavors the barrel passed on from the Lemon Hart 151 that was in the barrel before – more burnt sugar than true rum flavor. It seems to have lost some body.
Overall, I think this barrel may be heading into retirement. It’s been through about six aging cycles, and seems to be more of a “neutral oak” vessel than anything else right now. But before I set it out to pasture forever, I’m going to test this theory by filling it with vodka. If it really is neutral, it shouldn’t affect the vodka more than some flavors from the Curmudgeon. We’ll see soon!
Bonus Barrel after the jump…
It’s been a while since our last update, but Brophy’s Barrel is still going strong. Actually, things got busy around here shortly after we took out the Lemon Hart 151. We didn’t put anything into the wood, so it sat dry for a few weeks. These miniature barrels do have a limited lifespan – just like real barrels – and we’re starting to worry that ours is nearing its end. How many different beverages have been in this barrel? We’re losing track.
So what do we do? Give up? That’s not like us at all. Barrel triage – we rehydrated the barrel by submerging it in water over a weekend. Here’s the newly refreshed barrel right out of the water: