06 Dec Upland’s Secret Barrel Society Dinner One of Many (Delicious) Program Perks
Some of you may recall that I wrote about Upland’s Secret Barrel Society (SBS) dinner last year for IndianaOnTap. You probably don’t remember that I was suffering from gout at the time. My doctor says the high levels of uric acid in my bloodstream are primarily the result of a genetic predisposition (thanks Dad!), but it wouldn’t hurt to cut back on the meat, seafood, and beer. Right, doc, how about we give the allopurinol a try before we resort to extreme measures? Anyway, this year’s gout attack was precipitated by a huge Italian Thanksgiving meal bracketed by several days of beery carousing with old friends. Naturally the gout was at its worst on the day of the SBS dinner, and my wife was concerned that we (or rather I) might have to miss it. “Nonsense!” I roared. “Fetch me a bottle of ibuprofen and a shoe horn.” Twenty minutes later, panting and with tears streaming down my cheeks, I had eased my afflicted foot into a loose sneaker and was limping gamely toward the door.
We arrived at The Wood Shop, Upland’s sour fermentation and barrel-aging facility that also sports 20 taps and a selection of bottles, promptly at five o’clock. The beer gods were smiling down on us and we found parking in the Upland lot. Inside, we checked in at the bar for our wristbands and joined a short line at a table that featured six Upland sours, including the yummy VinoSynth White (aged on Vidal Blanc grapes), the luscious, berry-forward Mayhaw (available only to SBS members), and the latest peach sour that hasn’t even finished fermenting yet. That’s what I love about Upland events: there’s always something that you won’t get anywhere else. This was one of three pouring locations, and since the line at this one was lengthening and the anti-inflammatory powers of the drugs were working their miracles, we headed to a tent outside the brewpub.
Inside the tent they were offering Darken (a spiced sour brown ale), Revive (a tropical sour ale with pineapple and chamomile), and Forest, one of four wild sours from Upland’s Spontaneous Project, this one made from microflora collected at Hickory Ridge Tower in the Hoosier National Forest. The patio heaters kept the tent toasty, but soon we ventured to the final pouring location, the sour brewery itself, where we found A Barrel Named Phyllis (the one made with black currants and espresso, not the one made with orchid flowers and strawberries), Prim (plum and cardamom), and the classic Pawpaw. We walked the circuit a second time to be sure we’d sampled everything and, as six o’clock approached, made our way to the temporary dining room set up inside The Wood Shop.
Last year’s dinner was a relatively intimate affair with roughly 40 people gathered around a handful of circular tables. In contrast, this year nearly 140 people were lined up along several banquet tables. Several charcuterie platters graced the tables, and at every place setting there was a menu that described the meal’s five courses and the sour ale to be served with each. We took our seats and chatted with nearby tablemates as we snacked on the crackers, cheese, nuts, cured meats, pickled vegetables, and fruit compote that were paired with VinoSynth White. In typical Upland fashion, as we drained our glasses someone would appear to refill them.
Doug Dayhoff, Upland’s President, and Pete Batule, Vice President of Brewery Operations, welcomed us and talked about how important the Secret Barrel Society has been in helping Upland to grow its sour program. They emphasized that while sour production has soared and allowed them to expand distribution—to more local outlets such as Costco, and to more regions such as Boston—the SBS and public sour lotteries enable them to experiment with smaller batches, costlier ingredients, and different brewing techniques.
Meanwhile, Upland staff were serving the Blueberry sour ale alongside a salad of mixed greens, Revive-poached pears, and herbed goat cheese with blueberry vinaigrette. If all salads were this good, I could probably heed my doctor’s advice and cut back on those purine-rich foods. The salad was followed by a pureed soup of roasted root vegetables garnished with garlic Parmesan croutons and chives, beautifully paired with Sour Reserve. Even though I was already getting full, I would have eaten another bowl of this delicious, earthy soup.
The main course was perfectly braised beef short ribs with a Teddy Bear Kisses demi-glace, so tender that it just melted in your mouth. This was served with a mash of sweet potato and corn grits and a Brussels sprouts slaw. By this time Upland Chef Chris Swartzentruber had stopped to chat with us, and he confirmed his predilection for pairing sours with root vegetables and rich meats. This course was accompanied by Funk Land Country Shuffle, a collaboration beer aged in barrels from Country Boy Brewing in Lexington, KY. I had this a month ago at the release party, and I have to say that while I enjoy the cherries and cacao nibs, the chocolate mint is a little too prominent for me. Of course, that didn’t stop me from finishing it.
The dessert course was a dark chocolate mousse topped with shaved chocolate and wafers, accompanied by a few blueberries and raspberries. This was paired with Cauldron, a blend of Malefactor, a stronger version of a Flanders-style red ale aged in bourbon barrels, and Dantalion, Upland’s version of an Oud Bruin with hints of chocolate, rye, and various spices aged in white oak barrels.
The Secret Barrel Society membership continues to be one of my best beer investments. In addition to first access to bottles in the public lottery—including some that are only available to SBS members—the tickets to the Sour+Wild+Funk Fest and this annual SBS dinner are well worth the $150 fee. Memberships for 2017 are available until January 16, 2017 via the Upland website.