I know, the title sounds extremely boring, but this is important! After presenting our beer to the public for over a year, it seems pretty reasonable that I at least provide best practices in order for everyone to get the most out of our rare and expensive beer. I’ve recently had a couple customers with less-than-ideal moments when opening an Apothecary bottle that they’d been saving (and spent good $ on) only to find it gush out of the bottle. I’ve heard tales of travelers having corks work out of bottles in their luggage or in the back seat of their car. None of these experiences are even close to the one I intended when taking care of the beer in the brewery, but they are bound to happen, aren’t they?
First, be aware that if our brewery was fully contemporary (and less unpredictable), all of these issues could be handled, and would have been handled, long ago. I probably would have had a business plan, and I definitely would not be brewing Sahalie, (TBFKA) La Tache, or any of the other brews I am so excited about. As I follow the beer around in my brewery, I can’t assume that I’ve reached a sorcerer’s ability to make happen predictable occurrences. We are on a path to discovery, remember? This brewery excites me because of the unknown that lies ahead and I’d better get the message that it’s not always going to be picture perfect. Can you see me pacing back and forth in the brewery talking to the beer like this?? What do you tell someone that saves a special beer for a year, opens it, and finds it ricocheting off the ceiling instead of ending up in their glass? The truth, I guess. You are investing in this process, just like me.
In developing the idea of these beers and their production method, I intentionally rode the edge of what I knew about brewing culture. One example of this is the high levels of carbonation. The beer, in a multitude of ways, was intended to slow time down.
Specifically: The beer first must be moved from cellar to fridge (at least an hour prior to serving).
The string-tie eye-candy hopefully encourages some sentimental tendency to the past and how things used to be accomplished (dawdle as long as you like).
The cork is ridiculously difficult to remove, and because you spent big bucks on this bottle, you are determined not to fuck it up.
You take a couple breaks and ask anyone if they want to help.
They all decline because they know how much this bottle means to you and that they are in a position to ‘get some’.
Hopefully they present you with a few words of encouragement.
The cork is worked out gently, but sounds off with a deep thump as the cork is removed (finally!).
Bubbles generate in the neck of the bottle, and this is where restraint is king; a quick dump into a glass at this point would result in catastrophic foaming.
A very slow, gentle pour into a tilted glass releases carbonation…and the clear beer.
Not every batch acts this serious, but any aged batch of Apothecary will present this situation, specifically due to the wild yeasts in our house yeast culture. They continue working long after the beer has been bottled. If you have a bottle of Apothecary beer over a year old, get it very cold and pour a trickle into the bottom of the glass. Swirl it a bit while keeping the bottle tilted and begin the slowest pour of your life.
Does this sound too serious?? Perhaps, but it is totally necessary to understand this goofy Apothecary picture. The picture where process takes the place of boastful ingredients. Each batch is dated; there are only about 300 bottles per batch date. These batches are single-barrel vintages, meaning that they carry the influence of the specific barrel that developed and matured this beer. We have almost 30 barrels now, and as time goes on, I expect to learn more about each and every one of them. Jim, Sr., Marsha, and George. Leonard, Martin, Jackson, Mildred, Ed, Hank. Ginny and Erma. Sahalie, Spencer, Patricia, Martin, Bobby Wak-Wak, Bud and Irene. Paul and Pauline. Martha. Reno. There are quite a few that have yet to be named. The point is, the high carbonation has quite an intentional purpose. I go to great lengths to ride the very edge of this experience, because I believe that it’s worth it.
Our bottle fermentation, from virtually still beer to fully carbonated is huge. Contemporary beer arrives in bottles/cans/kegs already carbonated. Our beer is placed into bottles, still, after residing in barrels for long periods of time. We add specific amounts of sugar in various forms and yeast to encourage a massive bottle fermentation. The carbonation is almost twice typical beer when fully matured and realized. The fact that this process happens within every bottle gives the beer character it would not achieve otherwise. Secondly, upon pouring this beer (carefully, now) the wild carbonation helps to open up the beer. As the carbonation gently agitates the beer, it releases aroma and flavor, just as using and aerator for wine. Do NOT use an aerator with our beer, please! Allowing this process to happen prior to consumption will ensure that you’re getting the full experience. If you consume directly after pouring into a glass, the beer will seem prickly and sharp. Allow it a bit of time, admire the tiny bubbles that were produced by some pretty impressive organisms and take a good whiff of the esters the bubbles are pushing up toward your nose. All of this was very intentional, and meant to produce a unique experience, from beginning to end.
As for transport and storage, it’s pretty simple. Do not leave in a car without a cooler to reside in. Temperatures can get well up over 100 with sun through the windows. At home, store at 55 or GFT (Garage Floor Temperature) in an upright position to keep yeast at bottom of bottle. The corks are agglomerated with a natural cork disc and do not need to be in contact with the beer. Electrical tape wrapped around the cork and bottleneck works well for plane travel (as does the wire hood from your last bottle of Russian River). Soon, we’ll have a shorter and more entertaining version of this on the website (with photos!), but all in good time… Enjoy, and always let me know your experience with our beer. It really helps and is a defining piece of our existence.
Dang-a-lang! And I am not kidding in the least. That pellicle is evidence of something truly amazing at work here.