12 Jun Something Wild: Upland Brewery Explores Its Craft in the Wood Shop
These are good times for aficionados of wild cultures and mixed fermentations. Everybody is saying that sours are the next IPA, and even sour IPAs are showing up on tap lists. Goses and Berliner Weisses are everywhere, and brewers are dressing them up with blood oranges, prickly pears, citrus zests, and lots and lots of cherries. Whether you’re in the mood for a slightly tart and refreshing wheat beer, a puckering pickle-barrel Kolsch, a hay-forward porter, or a saison cave-aged in chardonnay barrels, you probably don’t have far to go to find one. So Upland’s recent expansion of its sour facilities is timely, to say the least.
Upland Brewery opened the Wood Shop to Secret Barrel Society members on May 21 and followed two weeks later with an industry event for the media and fellow brewers. The fact that I attended both events (and the Sour+Wild+Funk Fest) makes me the resident expert on Upland sours (the residence being my house). The question is how to convey my vast knowledge so as to satisfy your curiosity without bloviating all over your brain. So here’s the tl;dr version: Upland has more and bigger tanks and barrels, which will result in more (both in quantity and variety) sour beer in your mouth.
Okay, now that I’ve satisfied the incurious, I assume the rest of you are ready for some details. You probably already know the origin story of Upland sours: how in 2006 Upland traded Oliver Winery eight cases of beer in exchange for a handful of magic beans which, when discarded in a corner of the brewery, transformed into four white oak barrels. Upland’s head brewer, Caleb Staton, had the notion to fill them with wort and some of his beard trimmings, and the rest, as I’ve told you before, is history. Upland brewed its “clean” beers and its sours in the same brewhouse at the 11th Street brewpub until 2012 when it moved production of its year-round, seasonal, and Side Trail beers to its huge facility on Bloomington’s west side. That move set the stage for the sour expansion now taking place. The original brewhouse is now dedicated to sours, and right next door is the Wood Shop, a 6,000-square-foot cellar and tasting room, construction of which began last November.
To the right of the entrance are three 90-barrel Radoux tanks that were custom-made from French oak. Straight ahead are some 100-barrel tanks made from American oak, and behind those are several stainless tanks and row upon row of stacked white oak and bourbon barrels. Some of these barrels have beer that has been aging for seven years, but most are less than two years old. Nearby, Upland’s shiny new bottling line is replacing the hands-on process of filling, corking, caging, and labeling that they’ve used for years. The bottling line can crown or cork/cage the traditional 750ml bottles as well as the 330ml and 500ml bottles that Upland will soon be offering to the public. Yes, you read that right; some of Upland’s sours will be in smaller bottles for your drinking pleasure. The bottles will feature new labels based on works commissioned from Minneapolis-based artist Michael Cina.
At this point, our tour (I’ve taken three tours of the facilities, and I highly recommend you take one while you’re there) takes us next door to the brewery. The magic begins in a 37-barrel kettle where brewers Caleb Staton and Eli Trinkle conduct a lengthy turbid mash. The wort is then run through a heat exchanger (i.e., it’s chilled to a yeast-friendly temperature) and transferred to a tank; which tank depends on the type of sour being made. There are several tanks (or foeders, if you want to sound especially knowledgeable; be sure to pronounce it FOOD-er) in the brewery, including General Sherman, a 60-barrel behemoth containing the unique mix of yeast and bacteria that has evolved over time and buried itself in the wood. Nearby are three newer 37-barrel foeders named Twiggy Sawdust, Barky Bark, and Edgar Holland Splinter. Fun fact: Upland has been filling General Sherman and then transferring that beer to the other foeders to inoculate them.
The Wood Shop is located at 350 W 11th St. in Bloomington, Indiana. Hours are Thursday/Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (with tours at 4:30 and 6:00) and Saturday/Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (with tours at 1:30, 3:00, and 5:00).