El Cuatro, part deux

How do you live up to a legend?
Evidently, by doing the opposite.

When I started blogging (way back in 2011) I think I would’ve added a huge disclaimer at this point.
*WARNING*  What you are about to read may begin as a lament, don’t get caught believing it.  It’s a disclaimer so you don’t sue his ass.

But anyway.  Since inception of The Ale Apothecary (way back in 2011), I have had the wonderful privilege of saying ‘no’ to a number of things.  Growth, earthquake insurance, The Man to name a few.  One of the best, however, is when I say no to a question that quite a few folks pose to me.  ‘Have you ever had a bad batch of beer?’  For the longest time, I would share a story about one of the first Sahalie batches up here, where I accidentally squeezed a hop bed and forced the release of haze-forming lipids.  Super interesting, I know, but you have to be able to lay it down from time to time.  This is a true story.  I dumped a batch of beer because I had done something (press & squeeze) to retrieve the precious wort caught up in the hops.  Something I’d done (way back) at Deschutes and should have known better.  These lipids cause an irreversible, muddy haze that cannot be filtered out.  I ended up dumping that beer as well.

Recently, I stopped sharing that story with folks who asked this particular question.  I simply have said ‘no’.  Never a bad batch.  The batches weren’t bad.  In both cases, I made an error in judgement that could have been easily avoided.  Also, in both cases, the error occurred very early in the brewing process.  The first day the beer was born, no less.  This year’s El Cuatro may go down in Apothecary history as ‘an error in judgement’, but most definitely not as bad beer.  And most definitely not in the early stages of the beer’s life, either.

One of my all-time favorite blog posts had to do with El Cuatro and his swagger at living in the unknown.  Embracing the present for whatever it brings, yada yada yada.  It was true.  Amazing beer.  Beer that really shouldn’t have been.  There was very little reason for it!  As much as I’d like to take credit for it, I can’t.  Sahalie, (TBFKA) La Tache, Sahati I will and do take credit for (thank you very much).  I would offer these as very cerebral and thought-out beers.  Beers with a purpose.  What can be higher purpose than providing for a family, for crying out loud?  Honor, integrity, our freaking core values in these bottles!

Ask me what my other favorite blog post is, and I’d say this one.  Ask me which one of our beers is my favorite, know that I have never said El Cuatro, but I think I’m going to change that today.  Right now.  Even though I don’t want to.  Because he scares me.

El Cuatro spends over a year in brandy barrels.  Well, most of it does.  We do a little blending to address the heat from the brandy barrel.  Last years’ version was made of the first 4 batches we ever did up here at The Ale Apothecary.  They were brewed to make way for Sahalie, as a way to get to know the brewhouse.  I put it in brandy barrels and forgot about it, went along making my brewery.  When it was time to bottle, I blended a little Sahalie in to cut the brandy heat (This year we used El Cuatro aged in the original use barrels that were much mellower).  El Cuatro was a necessary means to an end, and I was extremely fortunate for how well it turned out.  It was mind-boggling, to be honest.  Martin Cizmar of Willamette Week really put it in perspective with his review last year, but seriously, how do I follow that up?   Quote: “It’s a bready and wild brew that smells like the sidewalk outside a French bakery and tastes like a fizzy cocktail made with pear brandy and Grand Marnier.”  Ok.  More of that coming right up.  I’m on it, like a good hard-working American.

This year, El Cuatro came out of the barrels high in residual carbohydrate.  Higher than last year by a long shot, and also higher than all of our other beers which spend less time in barrels.  The key for our barrel-aging has to do with wild yeast activity on these complex carbohydrates.  Once the carbohydrate is consumed by the yeast, the beer is done.  Done is relative sometimes.  It’s been a year.  Everyone (it seems to us) is expecting more El Cuatro.  At least another brand to choose from!  I am expecting to utilize the beer for this quarters’ income.  I have also been thinking that perhaps I should have left this beer in the barrels longer.  But it tasted so good!  I went ahead and bottled up this year’s El Cuatro knowing that it had rather high levels of carbohydrate.

While these levels in El Cuatro are lower than champagne, it’s not by much.  Beer has protein, which is good for mouth feel and head retention (i.e. bubbles), so it could be a real challenge for the typical El Cuatro consumer to get this beer in a bottle.  GET IT COLD, MAN!  POUR SLOW!  Hopefully it won’t become recommended to have a pitcher handy when opening…and it truthfully may.  It’s true that most of those sugars could have been denatured and have come from the extra crystal malt.  I mean, it was in the barrel for a year, but all the same I probably shouldn’t have added any sugar on bottling day (I may be over-reacting even though it’s extremely rare for me).  Point is, the beer is amazingly delicious.  The color, because we didn’t have to blend Sahalie in, is absolutely gorgeous.

While we’ve had a few issues with over-carbonated beer, this one might take the cake.  If and when you get this beer in a bottle, you can curse me all you like.  But I’m 1oo% positive that you won’t feel like cursing El Cuatro.  He’s just a victim of the times.  And maybe the place, too.


About paul

3 responses to “El Cuatro, part deux

  • Jeff Clough

    Great post, Paul. Looking forward to some El Cuatro again. Last time I had some was an EXPERIENCE!
    It appears to me that you do not even know HOW to make a bad beer! Keep on keepin’ on, dude!

  • Miles "Hops" Wilhelm

    Great…now I’m thirsty

  • Jim Bonomo

    Shared one this evening. No problems with carbonation, perfect head and body. Flavor is way different than batch one, certainly more tartness and the barrel flavor is better integrated. I think people will be pleasantly surprised especially after reading this post.

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