It’s been a long time since we’ve taken the time to talk about our Barn Owl series, and given the fact that the versions we’re currently blending and releasing have now graduated into the double digits (we’re about to drop #11, 12, and 13 in the coming weeks), we felt it was a good time to revisit its history and reveal our current approach to these eclectic blends.
It was almost three years ago, during the final preparations for Motley Cru 2015, that we made a fortuitous discovery of sorts. In combing the 200+ barrels for those that were ready to blend, we’d found more than what we needed. This was a new problem for us! There were funky, fruity, sour, and interesting beers ready to go, and even more that we sensed would be ready soon after. We were entering new territory, both in terms of mixed fermentations and the very foreign notion of surplus, and we unanimously agreed that a series of small batch blends would be the best way to respond to this growth, and ultimately, reflect the diversity of the expanding barrel program.
Now that we have quite an array of barrel aged releases in a year, it’s strange to think back to 2015 (somehow simultaneously so long ago and not so long ago) when aside from a lonely annual MC release, the only other barrel aged beers were ones that we recreated and released in versions. Farmageddon, Donkey Venom, Bring Out Your Dead, and Grandma’s Boy are all fantastic and exciting beers, but they don’t differ so much from year to year. Yes, barrels are not uniform, and bugs have a mind of their own at times, but we are shooting for final flavours to land within a well-defined window, and it’s blending that allows us to hit the mark. But in tasting all the beer that we did for our 2015 Motley, it became clear that putting some of the unique barrels in large blends would probably subdue the flavours and dilute some of their potential. Barn Owl would be a much more malleable forum for rogue barrels and outliers – each batch could be as little or as large as it needed to, in order to strike a good balance, and showcase the gems.
Our approach to these blends has evolved over time, I think in a large part because we’re open to change. With travel, collaboration, and exposure to the greater landscape of international beers, we find ourselves gravitating towards new flavours and fermentation styles. Back at home in the brewery, we tend to apply a simplistic but effective rating system when tastings barrels. Here’s our general rubric:
1 = excellent as is (dope/yumtown/winning at life)
2 = good (impressive but wouldn’t quite make it as a stand alone barrel)
3 = blendable as a minority (might be on the more subtle or intense ends of the spectrum, and perfect to round out or bump up a blend)
4 = needs more time (started from the bottom…)
5 = dumper (don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya)
What accompanies these number ratings is qualitative note where we’re able to express more of our nuanced thoughts (this is assuming some of us possess that kind of psychological depth) and feelings about each barrel. These notes also tend to be pretty funny when read at a later date, often because they reveal genuine excitement, exhaustion, and of course, disagreement. Together these two streams of information get filed away, and throughout the lifespan of an aged beer we’re able to chart its path to eventual release, or honourable discharge down the drain.
These days it seems that sometimes an ingredient (like honey or cranberries) becomes available, and we look to the barrels for complementary beers, while at others we find 2 or 3 barrels that we’re excited about, and then it’s a matter of deciding what could be added to the mix to elevate the beer as a whole. Overall, it’s a flexible model that allows us to take advantage of our barrels just as soon as they’re ready, and though it is bittersweet to make a great beer knowing that it’ll never come into existence again, it also draws a tangible parallel to the impermanence of our worldly existence. My greatest hope is that you’ll enjoy these beers as much as we do making them, but also that concluding a blog post about beer with an overarching analogy about our transient journey on planet earth, will make me seem very profound.
And now, for our current trio of releases!
Barn Owl #11//Barrel Aged Farmhouse Ale with Rosewood Estates Lavender and Wildflower Honey//release date January 27th (for real this time – we’re sorry to newsletter subscribers for that slip up).
This one is not sour, but rather a farmhouse blend showcasing a complementary balance of soft saison notes with floral lavendar aromatics. Gentle on the palate, with a subtle spicy finish, #11 is a refined libation to remind us that spring is a state of mind.
Barn Owl #12//Dry Hopped Sour Ale// release date February 3rd
A mixed fermentation, tart and funky pale ale with a huge, dank dry hop. Lot’s of bright hop aromatics with a balancing fruity acidity on the palate. Aged 1 year.
Barn Owl #13//Sour Ale With Raspberries and Cranberries//release date TBD (note: we've decided to postpone the previously announced release date to allow the bottles to mature).
Definitely the ‘sour’ out of these 3 releases, with dimension being provided from the mix of berries (heavy on the raspberry with just a hint of cranberry). Aged 18 months.
(All three Barn Owl releases are $14/btl, limits TBD).