We are currently sharing our changes to our year-round beer line-up (see original blog post here)
Most of our series have circled around a style-based concept, or at least a specific beer culture. This time around, however, we are focusing on wood and ageing.
While there is a link between beer cultures and ageing beer in barrels - Belgium, while not exclusive, can lay a fair claim to have by far the richest tradition in the technique - barrel-ageing is in many ways a world unto itself. Barrel-ageing takes a lot of time and the market for it is niche, especially in Japan. Barrel-ageing beers is laborious and expensive. Above all of that, it is unpredictable and there is no guarantee that the beer in the barrels will turn into a product worthy of release.
So why would we bother going to all the trouble of making them?
One of our company’s core values is Exploration and barrel-ageing is almost a kind of holy grail for further learning. Barrel-ageing uses a very different set of skills to the production of beer itself, and some larger, heavily barrel-focused breweries, have specialists focused entirely on the blending of barrels to bring them as close to perfection as possible.
But doing something just because it is challenging alone would make little sense. It is the complexity, depth and variety that can make the final product so special. “Barrel-aged beer” is not a style, and in fact the final product can often challenge what people conceive of beer as being. While certain beers are better fitted, any style can go into a barrel, and barrels may come from various industries. This means that the variety within barrel-aged beer is huge. As time goes on, the beer may develop to have a more intense character due to souring bacteria, for example, or it might alternately mellow as is the case with a whisky barrel-aged boozy imperial stout. Barrel-aged beers become special in a way other beers cannot, becoming more rounded and more complex than anything in stainless steel realistically can.
While beer is typically a matter of a brewer trying to control the final product and shoot for consistency, barrel-aged beers is more a matter of giving in to the uniqueness of each barrel, and the microbes that inhabit it. Barrels are blended in the end to try to balance out these inconsistencies but there is no doubt that it’s the life in the yeast and subsequently the barrels themselves that create these special and unique products.
We took this idea when we decided to name this series “Kodama”, alluding to the mythical Japanese tree spirits. At the end of it all, while we can study, practice and try to learn as much as we can, we are at the end of it all trying to please the spirits in the barrels in the hope that they reward us with the beers we are dreaming of!