April 1, 2015

Pyramid Technique to Stacking Barrels


Picture: barrels stacked at Cantillon.
I knew I wanted to stack my barrels in the fashion I saw on images of Belgian breweries.  I've had this image of Tilquin's barrel cellar on my computer for the last couple years.  There are a few factors that went into my decision to pyramid stack; my space is relatively small, I want to store as many barrels as possible, and the barrels don't get touched for 2-3 year spans so moving them around isn't a huge concern.  The benefits, as I saw it, of the pyramid stack is that you can fit more barrels into the same space, and you don't have to buy metal barrel racks.  The drawback is that, once in place, there is no moving them.

The concept is pretty straight forward, but there are small details you can glean my looking at the images other brewers have posted (and some details you just have to learn by doing).  First, you don't put the barrels on the ground, but on top of wood beams which are elevated off the ground themselves.  The message there, if a barrel is going to sit in one place for the next 2-3 years, it better not be in a puddle of water!

Barrel Track

The first step is laying out the track.  I used some reclaimed 4x4 timbers and propped them up on cement blocks.  I think you could use 2x4 boards just the same, but I preferred the additional strength of a 4x4.  As you can see from the pictures above, Tilquin uses large cinder blocks to lift up their timbers, where Cantillon uses much shorter blocks.  I opted for a shallower, patio paver block.  It is high enough to allow water to drain freely beneath it, and that is all that really matters.  You want the blocks to be spaced out enough to allow water to escape, but not too much space that the barrel weight will bend the wood beams.

Wedges cut for stacking barrels

Barrels get placed in line along the track.  The next part is stacking the barrels.  To do this I needed to cut wedges.  Each barrel requires 4 wedges, so there was a lot of cutting to do.  As you see in the picture above, there are two types of wedges.  The wedge on the left is a straight cut and a 25° cut. This is used on the bottom row atop the 4x4 timber track and lock those barrels in place (image).  The wedge on the right is two opposing 10° cuts and go on top of one row of barrels to lock in place the barrel resting above it (image).

The details of actually stacking the barrels is one of those you just have to learn as you go.  I thought it would be pretty simple and easy, but unless you have perfectly identical barrels (I would recommend purchasing barrels from the same cooperage/winery), they aren't going to stack perfectly simple.  It took a bit of figuring, but eventually we got the hang of stacking, centering, and leveling one barrel at a time.

Pyramid stacked barrels at the Geuzeria.

December 5, 2014

Lambic Brew Day, Coolship Party, and Bottle Release!



On January 23th, 2015 we will be brewing a traditional lambic with O’so Brewing. The Coolship Party party kicks off in the evening when we open up the brewery to the public. Our coolship (a large open vessel used to draw wild yeast and bacteria into the beer) will be filled with the lambic wort brewed that day. Everyone's invited to see and experience this unique coolship process!

To celebrate, we will release 3 limited-quantity lambic-style beers for purchase. This year, fans will be able to reserve bottles online through Brown Paper Ticket starting at Noon, Dec 10th. http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/957009

Facebook Event Page

O’so Tap House
3028 Village Park,
Plover, WI

The Fox and the Grapes – 5.5% ABV – Lambic-style beer with Foch Grapes


Artwork done by Molly Wallner Morton. This is our second label in the Fermentation is Art series, where we collaborate with local artists. Molly will be in attendance at the party, with signed and numbered prints of the original artwork for sale. The artwork is available first come, first served

Framrood – 5.5% ABV – Lambic-style beer with Red Raspberries


Door Kriek – 5.5% ABV – Lambic-style beer with Door County Tart Cherries

September 8, 2014

The New Barrel Warehouse

It's exciting to announce we have signed a lease on a barrel warehouse in Madison.  It is currently an old run down building that hasn't been used in 30+ years, but it will be completely renovated this fall and ready for us to officially move in on December 1st.  I'm a big believer in showing you guys the ugly side of things as well as the pretty side, so here are a few images of its current condition.



As you can see from the outside, it's pretty run down.  The inside is no better.  But, the pretty side to this, is that the building is being completely remodeled.  We (actually my wife) is pretty talented when it comes to building design and remodeling plans.  She laid out the concept, the owners loved it, and this is what the space will become:

The location is one of main draws to this site.  The address is 1604 Gilson St. which is very close to where I live downtown.  On days not requiring hauling wort in a truck, it will be nice to simply bike down to the warehouse.  No, there will not be a tasting room initially, but yes, it is something I plan to do when barrels mature.

This winter I will be buying wort from a number of breweries, and you can be sure O'so Brewing will be one. My goal in sourcing wort from multiple breweries is to try to build a wider spectrum of lambic barrels to blend with.  The recipe will be the same across any brewery that I source wort from, but differences such as water source, brew systems, local microbes, temperature, etc should lead to having some distinctions between the resulting barrels and how they develop.  This will only help create complexity and depth to the final product.

Additionally its fun to do.  There are some brewers/breweries who are very interested making lambic, but don't want to have wild bugs in their brewery and don't have a coolship nor barrel space.  It's kind of a way to collaborate with the very talented brewers out there.

Its amazing how far this project has come and I want to thank all of you for your support.  When the space is up and running, I hope you will all come visit.

March 27, 2014

Checking in on the recently filled lambic barrels

Last weekend I went up to check on the barrels from our brew day a couple months ago.  Given that this was the first time using a coolship, I was a little anxious to see how they were doing.

Taking a step back, I realize I haven't written anything about the brew day itself.  It was a full weekend and somehow everything went off without a hitch.  There is a great write up here summarizing the weekend better than I could.  The brewers at O'so have got the process down and are very efficient at doing what they do. Compared to previous years (which I have notes posted), there is very to add regarding the brewing.  Post-brew however, the wort went from the boil kettle to the coolship that had been temporarily installed outside under a large tent to rest overnight.
Lambic coolship filling
Coolship filling with lambic wort.  (photo credit)
From literature on the process, I was hoping the wort would be ~70°F the next morning.  We got in around 8:30 am and checked it with a digital thermometer which read 70°F exactly.  I was ecstatic to say the least. The inoculated wort was then pumped into a large tank to ensure everything was homogeneous, and then pumped into barrels.  Some of the barrels filled were straight from the winery and some of the barrels filled were previously emptied lambic barrels.  They were all thoroughly cleaned out with 200°F water prior to filling.

So, back to being up there and checking in on the barrels.  I was able to taste from barrels that had previously held our lambic, but the barrels that were our first use were tucked away such that we couldn't get to them without a forklift.  There was an event going on at the brewery, so I'll wait for another day to check in on those.  I am curious to see if there will be a distinction between the two sets of barrels.

I am a firm believer that, while a coolship imparts a new generation of microflora into the wort, much of the fermentation process is guided by the yeast/bacteria already in the barrel.  Cleaning the barrel, even at the high temperatures we do, will never sanitize the barrels completely and yeast/bacteria residing deeper in the wood will survive.  Through generations of culling barrels, a brewery is able to build a "house flavor".  You will find others who argue the relative impact of the coolship on the fermentation process is greater than that of the barrel.  Its an interesting argument if you really like nerding out about this stuff, and having these two sets of barrels is my way of testing things out.

It was interesting to taste the barrels that were accessible.  At this age there is little you can tell about how the beer will turn out, but I am able to see if its "on track".  First, I am making sure it did in fact ferment instead of spoil.  Given this was the first time spontaneously fermenting via coolship, that concern was lingering in the back of my mind.  But everything checked out.  It actually tasted almost exactly as the previous year's barrels did at this point.  It has a light tartness and an ever so slight brett character. The only difference I noticed from prior batches was there was a sweet lime flavor.  Is this an impact of local microflora?  In addition to these flavors, there is this phenolic flavor which we've noticed in previous batches as well. Its just an odd stage our lambic goes through. The reason I mention this is so home brewers who may be reading this know that these early off flavors are not a reason to dump your beer.  Honestly, there is no reason to even taste your lambic in the first 9 months.  I just do it for fun and because I can pull out of a sample port below the pellicle line.

March 11, 2014

Introducing Leidel's Cider

Allow me to formally introduce Mitch Leidel and our joint project -- Leidel's Cider.  Over the last year and a half, I have been documenting our cider experiments.  So much so that I added a Cider tab to the blog to separate this work from the lambic work.  We learned a lot about what does and doesn't work when making Brett fermented cider.  Fortunately we had enough success in the pilot batches to start a Cidery this year and take our knowledge to a commercial scale.  Not only is Leidel's Cider the first to bottle a 100% Brett fermented cider, but we will be focusing exclusively on developing this style of cider!

100% Brett Cider - Hebron
Our first bottling - Hebron.  100% Brett Fermented Brut Cider.
I've asked Mitch to tell you how Leidel's Cider came to be and summarize what we've done so far.  So without further ado, here is Mitch Leidel:
18 months ago, I graduated college and moved back to the family orchard to assume management responsibilities. It was the hope of seeing the orchard again be a functioning operation that brought me back. It had undergone several tough years, and almost ushered our exit from the apple business entirely. My duties were simple and consisted solely of managing our retail operation and facilitating sales of our untended cider crop. The future outlook was bleak and uncertain. 
This took a welcome turn after a conversation with Levi Funk, a family friend passionate about wild fermentation. At the time, he was working with O’so Brewery on some special release beers while starting his own lambic operation, Funk Factory. We found ourselves talking of craft cider’s potential, and Levi brought up Brett fermentation as a potentially unique approach. Thus marked the inception of Leidel’s Cider.

Our first move was to determine if Brett would produce favorable results in cider. To begin our experimentation, we formulated a handful of pilot batches. These included a spontaneously fermented cider, a Farmhouse style cider, 11 different brett ciders, and an old world cider technique called a Keeve.

The juice for these ciders was custom blended by incorporating specific amounts of different apple varieties. In developing a blend, there are three main factors to consider: Brix, pH, and tannin. Brix is a measure of sugar content, pH a measure of acidity, and tannin one of bitterness or astringency. When all factors are in equilibrium, the cider is said to be “balanced”. To ensure this happens, a cidermaker incorporates the necessary amount of different apple varieties to achieve appropriate Brix, pH, and tannin levels. While some blend cider after fermentation, we blended prior to fermentation. Our desired Brix level was ~13, an OG of 1.052. The desired pH was 3.3. Tannin levels, although vital, were not a huge factor in deciding our blend as high tannin apples are virtually nonexistent in our region. Because of this, we used readily available dessert apples such as Haralson, McIntosh, and Wealthy. With each variety accounting for roughly ⅓ of the final blend, it had a pH of ~3.3 and Brix of 12.6, or 1.050 OG.

Everything but the Keeve took about 6 weeks to ferment. We then pulled samples to taste and gauge the initial product. The two barrel fermented ciders (spontaneous and saison) resulted in a fairly lackluster product. Nothing groundbreaking there. The panel of Brett, however, produced some pretty interesting results. We tasted everything, made notes, and scored the ciders. They were given a 5 week aging and clarifying period, and then tasted again, noting our findings. At this point, the ciders we felt had the highest potential were selected and bottled. We wanted to see how these ciders continued to develop in the bottle to determine how to create our flagship ciders.

At this time, the Keeve had completed fermentation and was just finishing a few month period of aging and clarification. It was then primed and bottled. We anticipated this period of bottle conditioning to be lengthier than normal because Keeved juice by nature is low in nutrients that feed yeast. This period however, took quite a bit longer than expected, but the final product had a nice Brett funk and a beautiful clarity. In future productions, we’ll likely aid the bottle conditioning process through addition of yeast nutrient. We would also like at some point to incorporate the Methode Champenoise into this cider to further refine the quality.
After assessing these experimental batches, it was conferred we had a handful of commercially viable ciders. We thus made plans to commence commercial production the ensuing fall with roughly 1,000 gallons of Brett “table” cider and 180 gallons of Keeve. The interim, time was occupied by the administrative work of legally and physically establishing a cider facility. As fall neared, equipment was purchased, fruit arranged for, pressing logistics coordinated, and an endless list of miscellaneous tasks completed. We were still fighting the clock to finish preparations when pressing time came. This paired with pressing over five times the previous years production, kept us quite busy.

2013’s pressing was completed at a neighboring farm that utilized a large continuous belt press. In this style of press, pomace is placed between two vinyl belts that transfer it through a series of steel rollers. The rollers extract the juice which is collected in large trays underneath and then transferred into a holding tank. In all, 17 bins of apples were pressed which yielded about 1,000 gallons.

Unfortunately, this press was unable to logistically press for a Keeve, so we had to resort to other means. We used an electric grinder and bladder press rather than the hand mill and crank press employed in previous years. The electric grinder was far faster than a hand mill, milling 3 bins, or 2,400 lbs., of apples in several hours. This yielded ~360 gallons of pomace which was packed into containers, covered to prevent oxidation, and left to macerate for 24 hours. The next day a 30 gallon bladder press was used to extract the juice. Our final yield was 155 gallons, slightly less than our goal of 180 gallons. Keeving is closer to an art than a science as it is never a guarantee a successful keeve will take place. While we were successful on our first batch, the keeving was unfortunately not successful this time. It is an art we plan to continue learning about though. It wasn’t a loss either as the juice went into freshly dumped 12 year Bourbon barrels, a technique we wouldn’t have explored if not for this circumstance.

For our larger pressing, the blend was similar to last years with pH and sugar levels again being our main focus. A decision to use more McIntosh for aromatics was one of the only tweaks made. The pH was 3.3 and Brix 12.6, or 1.051 OG. All juice was pumped into 4 different 330 gallon IBC totes; each tote was filled with a maximum of 250 gallons, leaving adequate headspace. These totes are quite economical and widely used by those entering the American hard cider industry as well as food production of various kinds. We, thus, decided, to utilize these vessels as fermentation tanks for our first commercial production. 
At this time, our flagship ciders have finished primary fermentation, doing so in approximately 6 weeks, and undergone a several month period of maturation and clarification. In addition, our first ever commercial bottling took place just last weekend with 2,200 bottles of our Hebron cider being packaged. Find your liquor store’s cider section and watch it closely as distribution into Minnesota commences soon. And be sure to check out leidelscider.com or follow Leidel's Cider on Facebook for detailed information on future releases.

January 21, 2014

Action packed weekend.

Friday - January 24th
I will be arriving early to O'so to help with the brew day and to get things set up for the bottle release that evening.  The brew day will start at 5:00am to target a 7:00pm flame out and filling of the coolship.  Its a long brew day, but will actually be shorter than it was last year since we won't be filling barrels until the next morning. The O'so Tap House opens at 3:00pm and the bottle sales will start at 5:00pm.  Cash only.
Bottles release on Friday night (L-R): Winds of Change, Scarlet Letter, Dweller on the Threshold, and Sikaru
The coolship is to be delivered Thursday afternoon, and unless Marc decides to take on the task of setting it up that evening, this will be my top priority on Friday.  We are setting it up behind the brewery, but the ground there isn't level, so building up timber supports may be a bit tricky.  Keep in mind the coolship itself weighs ~750lbs dry and will be nearly 7,000lbs when filled on Friday.
30bbl finished coolship at fabrication shop.
One thing I am particularly excited about is kicking off the "Fermentation is Art" series (click link to learn more).  In this series, I will be working with artists to create a piece of original artwork inspired by the beer's concept.  We will have 25 gift sets for sale at the release that include a signed and numbered archival print along with a bottle of Dweller on the Threshold.  If you would like to reserve a gift set, email us.
Gift set featuring Amy Swoboda's Dweller on the Threshold artwork.

Saturday - January 25th
Its back to the brewery early in the morning.  Depending on the weather, it may be very early.  The colder it is, the faster the wort will cool and so the earlier we will have to transfer it out.  I am targeting ~70 degree wort temperature before emptying the coolship.  From there it will go into a mixing tank to make sure everything is homogeneous, and then we will fill barrels.  I cleaned all of the barrels last weekend.  I want to be able to see the effects of using "horny" barrels vs "new" barrels.  "Horny" barrels are barrels we have used for lambic already, and "new" barrels are barrels we have just received from wineries.  Both have been cleaned out thoroughly with boiling hot water, but there will always be microbes living deep in the wood that will come out and play a role in fermenting the new lambic wort.

After barrels are filled we will have some clean up to do and then it is off to Central Waters' 16th Anniversary party. Amazing beer and amazing people make this event a must every year!

Sunday - January 26th
We will make our way back to Madison, where that evening Forequarter will be doing a special beer dinner. The dinner is 6 courses paired with all 4 of the beers we release on Friday and 2 cocktails for $85.  I've been shown a preview of the menu they have designed and you will not be disappointed!
Call Forequarter at 608.609.4717 to make a reservation for Sunday night.
As always, they are doing some amazing stuff.  Hope to see there, especially if you aren't able to make it up to O'so on Friday evening!

December 13, 2013

Lambic Brew Day and Bottle Release


On January 24th, 2014 Funk Factory Geuzeria will be brewing a traditional lambic with O’so Brewing. After 2 years of “practice” and dialing in the Turbid Mash process, we now have a 1,000 gallon capacity Coolship and will be able to spontaneously ferment our Lambic!

To celebrate, we will have 4 limited-release sour and funky beers available for sale at 5:00pm. We invite beer lovers to come watch the coolship filling at the O’so Tap House and pick up these limited bottles. Cheers!

Facebook Event Page
O’so Tap House
3028 Village Park,
Plover, WI


Dweller on the Threshold - 5.25% ABV - Blended American Sour - 450 bottles
Artwork for this label was done by Amy Swoboda and kicks off our "Fermentation is Art" series. In this series we will commission artists to create original pieces of art inspired by the concept of the beer. Amy is a Cincinnati artist and will be at the release selling 25 signed and numbered prints of the original artwork. First come first serve. Proceeds from this bottle will help Funk Factory pay for the coolship. Thank you for your support!

Sikaru - 12.75% ABV - American Sour with Dates - 430 bottles


Scarlet Letter - 5.5% ABV - Cranberry Sour Blonde - 360 bottles


Winds of Change - 5.5% ABV - American Pale Ale with Brett - 3,000 bottles
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