Blending beer is exactly what it sounds like. Practically, it involves a brewer sampling multiple beers and then determining (with specific measurements and careful sensory analysis) the right combination of flavors. In barrel-aged beers, this involves pulling nails from the front of aging barrels and sampling the liquid therein.
To back up a step, we need to be clear that barrel-aging beer carries an element of risk. No matter a brewer’s skill, discipline, or attention to detail, barrels of beer will ultimately have a degree of variability. Meaning, two barrels made from the same materials, and filled with the same beer and aged for the same amount of time can turn out two different beers. As Jason, our brewmaster, describes it: “Blending beer can be seen as a form of ‘quality control’ when dealing with barrels.” Inevitably, a brewer will find a barrel with a character that’s too acetic (vinegar-y), tannic (bitter/dry), or even chemical-y (just like it sounds). Those barrels will not join the blend, and may have to be dumped.
Probably one of the most intensive examples of blending at Allagash is Cuvée d’Industrial 2017. Jason created this beer by blending twenty-four different barrels from our wild beer cellar. Barrels used in the blend included: chestnut, port, rum, aquavit, American oak, Sauternes, and red wine. The resulting beer featured aromas as diverse as apple, grape, caramel, and clove, thanks to the various yeast, bacteria, and types of barrels in which these beers were aging.
Finding the right barrels for a blend like this literally takes months. For the 2017 blend of Cuvée d’Industrial, Jason started out with over 400 potential barrels from across our wild beer cellar. It’s impossible to taste that many beers (effectively) in one day. “I like to keep an open mind for what I’m looking for, at first,” said Jason. “With time, I start to get some semblance of a foundation for the beer. After I figure out that foundation, then I’ll start to look for beers that will complement it.”
There are other reasons to blend beer. Very generally, those break down to three categories. Blending barrels of the same beer that have aged for different amounts of time—a process we covered extensively in our blog about brewing Coolship beers. There is blending barrel-aged beer with non-barrel-aged beer like we do for Curieux, our Tripel aged in bourbon barrels. And lastly there’s blending various beers into one final product, like Cuvée d’Industrial.
We hope this shallow dive into the deep waters of blending gives you some insight into this vital brewing process.