Christmas Barrel Project Releases 2022

Dec 09, 2022

You’ll find the message ‘made with time and love at Cloudwater’ on every bottle from our Barrel Project. We wanted to take you through this year’s Christmas releases and share some of the thought and work that has gone into making these beers, hopefully bringing our simple ethos to life.

Barrel Ageing has been at the heart of what we do at Cloudwater since the brewery’s inception in 2014. We made a modest start with a handful of wine barrels and in 2016 we took delivery of three 5000L foudres. Some of you will remember sitting amongst the barrels at our old taproom in the railway arches before we relocated our hospitality space back to Piccadilly Trading Estate. Now, you see our barrels from the mezzanine in our Unit 9 taproom, and if you’re lucky you may even catch a glimpse of our barrel master at work.

Meet Brian Hung, our Barrel Program Manager

Brian Hung joined us to take the lead on the barrel project earlier this year. He first started brewing in 2018 working for Young Master Brewery in Hong Kong, and in 2020 he moved to South Korea to work for Gorilla Brewery in Busan. Brian has always been fascinated by the relationship between science and sensory experience. He says that ‘every bit of beer is science, from colour and aroma to mouthfeel and taste. I think that’s really fun’. 

Brian enjoys barrel ageing because of its endless scope for possibility. There are so many threads you can pull to create complexity in the beer, sometimes the results can be surprising - even, on occasion, in a bad way. He says that continuous improvement is always his motivation, he wants to be a better brewer every day and for that to reflect in the quality and stability of the beers he crafts for us to enjoy. Most of all, he says he’s glad that his career is dedicated to making things that delight people.

Choosing which beers to put into which barrels is sort of like matchmaking, marrying up the characters of each until you find a suitable pairing. You want the nature of one to complement the other, they must have compatible traits to deliver the best results. Consideration must also be made for the diversity of the overall output, so our barrels hail from all sorts of backgrounds, each bringing unique qualities. We are currently using barrels that have previously housed bourbon, single malt, rye whisky, red port, apple brandy, apricot brandy, wine, sherry, cognac and rum.

This year, our release consisted of three areas of work, Stouts, Fruited Sours and Dry-Hopped & Funky Beers.

Stouts

Barrels used: Bourbon, Rum, Cognac, Apple Brandy, Marsala Wine

Last year we used a fairly standard adjunct dosage across the range of stouts, but this year Brian dug into the detail and took a slightly different approach. He took into account the ageing properties of the base beers in each barrel and then considered how much adjunct was needed to create the desired effect. For example, the base beer for Sweet Dreams took on a heavy dried fruit character over time, so Brian made careful additions of cacao and vanilla to enhance the flavour imparted from the barrel. This in-depth analysis of how the spirit, wood and oxidation interacted with the base beer led to more informed adjunct additions, resulting in a greater variance of flavours over this year’s range of stouts. As you journey through these beers you will find intense chocolate notes, subtle spicing and even touches of aromatic herbaceous.

Fruited Sours

Barrels used: Red Wine, White Wine, Foudre 

Releasing three Fruited Sours simultaneously can be challenging. Brian’s main concern was how to create three distinctly different brews instead of three tasty but similarly-flavoured fruit bombs.

He identified three areas of focus to ensure each beer was uniquely impactful: barrel character, spice and adjunct additions and fruit. Hot Cast Day is a passionfruit sour, which of course boasts whacks of sweet, tropical flavour but this is tempered by a coconutty oak character from the barrel - one of those surprising results we mentioned earlier - with nuanced acidity owing to the fermentation. The Day After Tomorrow is, by comparison, a vibrant but simpler beer with a more familiar profile of intense cherry character, reminiscent of a classic Kriek style. Brian says this beer's delightful nature is 80% down to the fruit used, and 20% down to the fermentation. 

Perhaps the most surprising of these Fruited Sours is Something Only You Can Be. This beer is a true exploration of what can be achieved with adjuncts. Brian took an aged chuckleberry Wild Ale - one and a half years old, to be precise - and added Gachatha coffee from our friends at Workshop. You’ll taste their coffees in our Persistence Is Utile Imperial Stout releases, and it was exciting to see how their Kenyan single origin coffee would present in a completely different context. The flavour properties of the Chuckleberry Ale and the coffee are actually not too dissimilar; the Wild Ale is juicy with a delicate peppery finish, while the coffee is roasty and fruity with a hint of green pepper. Smooth vanilla from the coffee helps to integrate all these flavours, and gives the beer a pleasing roundness.

Dry-Hopped & Funky

Barrels used: Red Wine, Bourbon, Foudre.

Ever the curious chap, Brian was keen to compare the impacts of different hops on our Foudre Ale. This style is a particular favourite of Brian’s, because the outcome is not solely down to the hops but rather the interaction between the wild yeast and the hops. These beers will also change over time in the bottle, so we’re looking forward to opening them and seeing how they have matured. Centennial, Citra, Ekuanot is a Foudre Ale combining a Pale Ale and a Wild Ale, both aged in red wine barrels for two years. The beer is piney and funky, with bright pops of lychee and pineapple. By contrast, Eldorado, Simcoe IPA blends two year old red wine Barrel-Aged DIPA with Foudre Ale, resulting in a Wild IPA with bold sweet papaya and pineapple, leading to a dry, funky finish thanks to Brettanomyces. 

Lastly, bourbon barrel-aged Nothing To Explain is a strong and flavourful barleywine. Brian challenged himself to find hops that would accentuate the barrel character, landing on Sabro for the job, and adding a touch of Loral for a citrus quality.

We hope you’ll all enjoy your Barrel-Aged beers this festive season and beyond. As you have read, each is made with time and love, and that’s exactly how they are intended to be enjoyed. We believe these should be relished in slow moments, perhaps with a favourite record or with a handful of those you hold dear. Take the time to taste and savour each one.

Proper DIPA

Our 8th DIPA in our  Proper DIPA series is out this week, called Proper DIPA NZ edition, a perfect example of the beautiful things that happen when modern meets tradition.We've infused Southern Cross and NZ Cascade to accentuate the JW Lees yeast strain.This DIPA excels in both body and hop intensity, delivering a hearty hop medley characterised by quintessential NZ hop aromas of white grape, all culminating in an exceptionally dank finish.Enjoyed in the video by JW Lees brewer Matthew and available in our webshop now. 

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