Whiskey Barrel-Aged Barleywine To Be Released At Evil Czech on November 22nd
I get excited when head brewers change at a craft brewery. Certainly I am sorry to see brewers that I respect leave, but I usually know that they are bettering their situation and making the most of their opportunities. And if they have served their brewery well, best practices will be ingrained in the workings of the establishment and will continue.
Good recipes are good recipes, so the best beers from a brewery will continue after a brewer leaves, especially if they are distributed in cans or bottles. People are going to want those known and well-liked beers to continue. Therefore, I never expect a good brewery to take a step backward when they change brewers. On the other hand, a new brewer is going to bring his/her own philosophy, their own recipes, and will likely want to build on the success of the past, not rebuild a good brewery.
I always look forward to seeing how a new brewer will handle the challenges of a new home, and I anticipate what new twists they will bring to the beers I already know I like. A good example of this was the passing of the baton from Aaron Koerner to John J. Hall at Metazoa Brewing. Aaron had inventive recipes and really made a bunch of good beers using his philosophy of minimal water deconstruction and construction. Then John J. came in at the early part of 2017 and built upon Metazoa’s reputation.
John’s changing the water profiles, and makes different styles of beers than most of Aaron’s selection, but the standards are still there; Kinkajou and Nap in the Hammock. From there we have been treated to John J.’s saison period in April, May and June, and then his IPA series in early Fall. The new beers are great, and we are at Metazoa often to see what’s new.
The changing of the guard also took place in Mishawaka this summer. Simon O’Keeffe moved from Evil Czech Brewery and Public House to Positive Brewery in Zagreb, Croatia. This left an opening for a brewer with experience and imagination, and owner George Pesek found his man in Dave Michael. Now we are ready to welcome Dave’s first one off bottle release – the Colorado Whiskey barrel-aged Girthquake to be released on November 22nd during their Oysters, Pork, and Beer (OPB) Festival, to be held from 5-10 pm on the same day – Thanksgiving eve.
Dave Michael brewed at Chapman’s in Angola for three years, and then did a stint at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, a distillery in Denver, CO. Being in Denver was a double blessing for Dave, he learned the spirits end of alcohol production, but also he found himself in a wonderful craft beer environment. He gained education and experience in both areas, and then responded to Evil Czech’s call for a head brewer. Coming back to Indiana meant coming home to a familiar place and to family, and bringing his wife Lindsay and kids back to the Midwest.
Since arriving at Evil Czech in July, Dave has begun to incorporate his philosophy and recipes into the Evil Czech oeuvre, with the Jesus Mexican Lager being a one-off from Michael that has been well received and will become a normal rotation beer, distributed in kegs and cans. Now Dave is ready to let us try his first one-off bottle release, a cocoa nib barleywine aged in four sloshy barrels from an unnamed Colorado distillery. The base beer was brewed just two weeks after he arrived in Mishawaka.
Girthquake isn’t really an American or English barleywine, it’s more of a hybrid beer, with American grain and hops, but English yeast and a restrained hop presence. The barrels used for aging gave up a good deal of cask strength single malt American whiskey, so the beer in those barrels has picked up a strong whiskey presence, along with some oak that sets off cocoa nibs from Davis Chocolate in Mishawaka. Only two nail pulls were needed to see if the beer was ready, once after about six weeks and once at 2.5 months in the barrel. By that time, the beer was just right.
As far as the beer is concerned, Walter and I can attest that the base beer is fantastic and takes to barrel aging well. Dave poured a Journeyman Distillery Last Feather Rye whiskey barrel at the Journeyman and Friends Barrel-Aged Beer Festival in mid-October. I thought it was more English than American, but took well to the oak from the barrel and built a very complex beer. I think we can look forward to an even bigger beer (12.5% ABV) from the Colorado barrels.
About 450 one liter, flip top bottles are now filled with this highly anticipated beer. Half the beer will be sold in house, with the rest shipped for distribution around Mishawaka, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. Some of the Girthquake will be kegged, but that will most likely stay in house. Dave told me that as his first one-off and barrel aged beer at Evil Czech, he is very proud of how it has turned out.
I suggest buying more than a few bottles, as this beer should age very well. The strong whiskey presence will hold up for a good long time before mellowing and the English characteristics of the barleywine suggest that it will age very well, taking on some sherry notes after a couple of years. What’s more, Dave is hoping that this beer can become a yearly release depending on how it is received – I smell a gorgeous vertical in a few years.