Introducing High Times and High Stakes
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice…
This old joke turned life lesson is a metaphor for the power of hard work and determination. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, you don’t achieve greatness without time, patience and dedication. Every end goal starts with a dream or an idea. A young Itzhak Perlman takes his first pluck, Mo Farrah takes his first tentative steps and Bill Gates writes his first line of code. All of them on a zealous journey towards greatness.
The inception of our latest Barrel Store releases started more than 5 years ago, with plenty of endeavour and application along the way.
Introducing High Times and High Stakes.
When first approaching this beer, you’ll find a 7.2% Barrel Aged Wild Ale. But beneath the surface lurks so much more - a true labour of love. Our Barrel Manager, Steve, always sets out with an idea. In Gather & Store he wanted to create a blend purely from red wine barrels, and Static Charge was designed inspired by minerally, amber, natural wine.
With High Times, the goal was to make a wine drinker’s beer, or to flip it, a beer drinker’s Champagne. The concept was to recreate the experience of a highly-carbonated sparkling wine, although not necessarily the taste. Something dry, a bit acidic, and with white grape and orchard fruit notes on the nose.
The blend was taken from our existing stock of mixed fermentation and secondary fermentation saisons in barrel. Some of these beers were brewed specifically for barrels, and others are aged versions of previous releases. To hit his goals, Steve slowly tasted through the entire stock of wild and sour ales, around 70 barrels - of course, not in one day. Through a process of diligent note taking and an amazing ability to recognise what will ultimately work together, the stock was narrowed down to just 5 ½ barrels, all previously used for wines.
Some barrels brought drying tannins, others the aroma or acidity and some just pure flavour. With that end destination always in the back of his mind, the maestro knew what he needed.
Once blended, the beer needed nothing else. As you’ll see later in the blog, we sometimes add adjuncts after blending, but with High Times everything was set. At the point the beers went into barrels, Brettanomyces yeast was added. Half of these barrels also had bacteria in the forms of Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.
After 5 or 6 years living in the racking in our barrel store, the yeasts and bacterias have done their job - get ready for that Brett character we all know and love.
Pouring a pale straw colour, with a hint of blush and a delicate haze you can expect notes of hedgerow fruits, white grape and a touch of floral tea leaves. There’s an agreeable level of acidity, with spritzy carbonation that washes the palette. The drying tannins draw you back in for more, with a pH around the 3.7 mark, where a sweeter Sparkling Wine generally sits around sub 3.0.
Despite its age, this is a really bright, fresh beer. With this bottling, we’re already in the process of brewing two brand new saisons, specific for barrel ageing. The process starts again here.
This is a beer designed to drink now and Steve is really happy with how it’s turned out. For those that like to cellar their beers, it will age well. But, if great violinists played only for themselves in the mirror, the world would be missing out. Life is for living, the world's a stage; get the beer open and enjoy the show.
And so to High Times’ sister beer - High Stakes. Last year’s big barrel store release, the fairground series, became 3 of our all time most highly rated beers (2nd, 4th and 5th). With High Stakes and high Times Steve wanted to create 2 opposing, yet complementary beers, rather than variants on the same theme.
When planning Steve landed on a concept of Ambition & Reward. When the stakes are high, the rewards are obvious. With high times, we’re popping the Champagne cork, it’s a celebration, a reward. Before that, there’s the ambition of trying something truly out there.
And thus, introducing this chilli-chocolate-bourbon-honey-salted-caramel-imperial-milk dream. And yes, that’s all hyphenated because even Lionel Messi or Kylian Mbappe can’t win World Cups on their own, they come together with their teammates to create magic.
Going back to planning these beers, we were discussing desserts, and what might work well for a beer. Some of the terms that were mentioned were Chocolate, and Salted Caramel, but Steve already had a base beer in mind for this blend, and thus - ambition.
Mind on my Honey was a collaboration with Superstition Meadery. Its recipe was designed by former head brewer, Kyle, to complement BBQ Food. It was a braggot, absolutely loaded with honey and chilli, brought over from the USA by Superstition. The chilli and honey made the beer slightly more acidic, with just an edge to cut through, but it was a spicy beer. More on that in a moment.
Since October 2018, it’s been aged in 10 Bourbon barrels.
After 4 years in barrels Steve knew this would be a great beer on its own. But even more so an amazing vehicle to add depth and combine with flavours that would lift it, balancing with the chilli, spirit and chocolate levels already present.
Time has been kind to this beer. The barrels have tempered the chilli into a warming, slow building heat. The Morita and Hatch chillis from the original brew, combined with the smoked malt, have carried through a graceful smokiness to the final blend. There’s a subtle peaty nature from the bourbon that combines with the booziness of the barrel character for a glass of heaven. An addition of more milk stout has built body and depth and added more of that amazing chocolate character.
The Caramel aspect has come from wood additions, post blend. Amburana and Maple spirals add a touch of vanilla and delicate spice. Normally, you’d see a photo of a spinbot full of wood spirals here, but for this beer we didn’t want the characters these woods bring to be overbearing - there’s only six Maple spirals and ONE Amburana spiral in the mix.
Salt is a harder element to control in liquid. If you have some butter, or indeed some caramel, a few salt crystals sprinkled on top can bring life to the dish, with those gorgeous salty pops here and there. In this blend, the salt addition accentuates body and actually opens up the sweetness. Think of it like seasoning - when it’s done right, you don’t notice it’s there, but you’d miss it if it wasn’t.
Post blend, we actually ended up with more yield than expected, so Steve’s been able to refill one of the barrels with the blended beer. Look out for that one in the future - maybe a keg only or festival special late 2023.
At 12.6% this beer is one to be enjoyed over the course of an evening, or shared with friends. Every sip you’ll find something else to enjoy. Layers of flavours swirl together, building to a symphonic experience not out of place in the world’s finest music halls, or indeed, your palette.
Separately, these beers are opposite ends of the spectrum - both bringing a unique experience to the table. Together, they’re a triumph of patience, diligence, technique and knowledge.
Thank you, Steve!