Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Barrel Project: The Acquisition

Bourbon barrels at Hillrock Distillery awaiting adoption. 
This is the second post in The Barrel Project series. On the back of my rather vociferous rant about the container-ship of barrels, I will post here some pictures of our trip to Hillrock Estate Distillery, along with a bit of narrative. In the next post I'll provide some more details about the group nature of the project, including our decision on a recipe and some of the barrel prep.

I had been wanting to do some sort of barrel project for awhile, but never really had the space. When we moved to our luxurious new suburban rental home (replete with full basement), I knew the time was close. After getting the brewery set up and insuring all would be good with the ol' landlord, I began absorbing barreled beer knowledge that I could--by both research and osmosis.

Armed with what I felt was enough of a foundation in barrel practices, I began trolling craigslist, keeping tabs on any "barrel" or "barrels" that came up in our area. This search popped up everything from paintball gun barrels to food grade plastic barrels to Holley two-barrel carburetors. But it was fruitful -- I found a guy just south of Portland East who got barrels from Allagash after their Curieux sat in them for 7 weeks. They were former Jim Beam barrels, and would hold 53 gallons. Maine would be a 7 hour roundtrip drive. Sounded like a sweet deal, and from the few people I talked to with experience with these barrels. Then, by chance, I found an ad from a new distillery in the Hudson Valley, about an hour south of Albany. This was Hillrock.

The floor-malting room at Hillrock. This is
where they germinate all the malt for their bourbons.
The hatch leads directly into the kiln (next picture).  
Hillrock Distillery is pretty unique. Their whole mission is to capture the particular terroir of their little patch of the Hudson Valley, and the owners have taken great measures to do so. They grow all their barley on site, and then malt it in their custom-built floor malting facility. Modelled on old-world malthouses, the building is beautiful, and is complete with a kiln -- they claim this is the only one of its type on the continent. This malthouse sits adjacent to their distillery. The still is of a classic copper design, with a somewhat ornate column and open fermentation tanks lining the room. (Unfortunately I didn't snap any photos of the still!)
The kiln at Hillrock, with some finished malt in it.
The room is a long, arched half-cylinder that sits directly
below the germination room. Malting requires firing the
sprouted barley to halt the germination process,
reserving the sugars and  enzymes for booze production.
Basically, making bourbon is similar to making beer with
the extra steps of distillation and barrel aging. 

As ambitious as I am in my own brewery, it would be quite a task for me to have 53 gallons of beer on hand to go into a barrel--this not including the 8+ gallons of top-up needed for evaporation through the wood. I started floating the idea to other members at the Albany Brew Crafters, and managed to rope in six others. I'll talk more about how we worked out our beer recipe and brewday, as well as finances, etc. in a future post.

The bourbon barrel is on its way to becoming a sour barrel, but it will probably take 2-3 years. especially since I began to really get into soured and funky beers about 2 years ago (summer of 2010). I got a lot of advice and encouragement from reading blogs like The Mad FermentationistEmbrace the Funk, and Funk Factory. (If you're into funky or sour beers, I really recommend checking these blogs out -- they are indispensable and contain everything from the most basic of information to the most advanced techniques! Some really good recipes and interviews with pros, too.) I take a ton of sh*t in our homebrew club for being the funky guy...I hope this is reflective of my tastes and not my smell...

A happy father welcoming a new family member.

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