As we approach the launch of packaged beers from both the Monolith and the Market (the brewery in the Ritchie Market) we’d like to discuss the difference between barrel-aged beers (from the Market) and barrel-fermented beers (from the Monolith). First, we’ll delve briefly into the brewing process in order to provide the necessary background for our explanation.
When we make a beer the initial output from the brewhouse is called Wort. Wort is liquid that contains grain sugars and is nutrient rich, that is then fermented with microorganisms to make beer. In typical modern brewing Wort is transferred to a stainless steel tank where it’s carefully inoculated by a single yeast culture. Depending on the type of beer, and a brewery’s preferred processes, after primary fermentation beer may be either packaged and sold, or it may undergo additional cold conditioning or lagering, also typically in stainless steel.
In a barrel-aged beer, after primary fermentation in steel, the fermented beer is transferred to a barrel for additional aging, usually to add flavor or texture from the wood of the barrel, and/or from the liquid previously in the barrel. (E.g. when you put a beer in a recently emptied bourbon barrel it will typically pick up some wood, and bourbon character). There isn’t typically any fermentation in the barrel in a barrel-aged beer. We do our barrel-aged beers (and non-barrel beers) exclusively at the Market Brewery.
In barrel-fermented beer, Wort is put into barrels after an inoculation step so that primary fermentation takes place in the barrel. There’s no barrel-aging step, but instead there’s an extended period of fermentation facilitated by the characteristics of the barrel. This process is quite slow (taking months to years) and leads to complex flavor profiles and sometimes hard-to-predict results. We do exclusively barrel-fermented beers at the Monolith.
Barrel-aged beer may take as short as 3 months in a fresh-emptied barrel, but often can take 6 to 12 months. Barrel-fermented beer may take as short as 10 months to finish, or as long as 4 years in complex fermentations. There isn’t a “better” way to make beer, and each lead to beers with completely different character. We’re excited to shortly be bringing you beer using both processes!