Written by Andy

Welcome to the Siren Fairground

The year is 2015 and there’s a dilemma at Siren. Our makeshift tap room is being ripped out, new flooring is being laid around us, yet more stainless steel is destined to arrive and the winter air is made up of dust and mist in equal measure around the brewery. As often is the case with these kinds of things, a challenge became an opportunity.

Unable to bottle, keg or rack casks in any of the usual fashion, we turned our attention to barrels, which we knew could be filled safely in a separate unit next door and away from the chaos in our packaging hall. An order was placed for a shipping container full of oak barrels from Kentucky  (it was a distillers selection that included George Dickel, Wild Turkey and Four Roses barrels, among others), and we set to work on some recipes. This was a unique chance to design beers for barrels from the ground up, a contrast to how we’d often worked before where often times we would decide a beer in tank could work well in barrels, so adjusted the plan accordingly.

It was a mindset change that has helped us immensely. In fact, many would probably consider some of the beers that came from this project to be among our best work. There was an imperial porter brewed with tamarind and chillies which ended up being released as Sheltered Spirit. A sweet, rich barley wine was our take on an Old Fashioned cocktail. An amped up version of Calypso, aged in bourbon and red wine barrels, you’ll know as the infamous Acid Jam and my mouth is still puckered to the day.

Also part of this bunch was Bourbon Milkshake. Too often we’d loved barrel aged imperial stouts but just found ourselves hoping for a little more body. This beer was our answer, with some extravagance, lots of fun and more lactose than we’d ever used before. We got intense barrel pick-up with a creamy body and heaps of chocolate, honey, vanilla and coffee flavours. It was one for the stout lovers, a cult hit that began to get stockpiled in bottles but really took a life of its own at festivals and events. 

We had previously decided to hold some Bourbon Milkshake back, so around half a dozen barrels were still in the store. Steve then had the idea to take this chance to get creative and experiment with some alternate versions of a beer that was becoming pretty sought after. Fresh Cream was born, a fun mini-series exploring where we could take it.

First up was ‘Coconut & Chocolate’, followed by ‘Coffee’ debuted at our first Project Barista. Then an exclusive for Friends of Ham called ‘Smoke’, ‘Orange’ which poured at the inaugural Moseley Craft Beer Festival. Lastly we had ‘5: Chilli’ pouring at a big tap takeover at Brewdog Shepherd’s Bush before ‘6: Cask’ which capped off the series at Beer Bazaar Brum.

These beers were brought to life simply by adding extra ingredients to the kegs/casks following some taste tests. This gives you punchy flavour but with limited longevity.

This festival frivolity went down a treat (not least with our team behind the taps) and the scene was set for a Bourbon Milkshake revival and a Fresh Cream follow up, starting in 2018. We tweaked the recipe only slightly, keeping a reminiscently rich base beer destined for barrels, with rolled oats and lactose contributing towards a thick, luscious body, and muscovado sugar beginning to layer the sweetness of burnt toffee and honeycomb. 

We aged this beer in a range of bourbon and rye barrels for 24 months. The fortune of the quantity, quality and variety of barrels we now have access to means that the final blend takes on all kinds of influence, from caramel bourbon qualities to vanilla oakiness, to spicy wood, distinct spirit flavours and drying tannins. This is a benefit to being slightly bigger than we were in 2015, of course also we have more experience, not least with this beer, and everything made possible by Steve being absolutely on the top of his blending game, with some big plans for next year.

Who got the clues from this poster? The three barrels and the stalls along the bottom gave you everything you needed! 

The Fairground Trio.

This time out we have tried to capture the spirit of playfulness, taking a fairground theme as inspiration. These beers have a hefty alcohol content and final gravity which allow us to throw everything at them. Imagine the sensory experience of walking through a fairground for the first time, with glowing lights overhead, spiralling lasers, music drifting in and out of earshot with varying intensity from all around, rides blurring in full flow and aromas of sweet candy floss in the air.

Adding adjuncts to beers with such depth and complexity already isn’t always going to work, but with these beers they can live up to it, with different flavours taking it in turns to steal your attention. The flavours may be slightly more nuanced than in Fresh Cream iterations, but that’s to their benefit in terms of complexity.

So without further ado, let’s talk about the beers.

Haunted House elevates the chocolate notes from the beer further with cacao husks. These husks add some light milk chocolate notes, making sure everything stays drinkable through different dimensions of sweetness, with toasted coconut chips joining in creamy harmony in a sequence of sensations. There’s a lot going on here, but the strength of the beer is up to the task of allowing this beer to excite and delight with each sip.

Helter Skelter delivers a full-on chocolate orange experience. Hand-peeled orange zest is swirling in vibrant oily flavour which goes on a ride with the sweet chocolate base beer. In order to keep this in check, additional oak will give you subtle vanilla wafer notes but also enough drying finish to keep you going back to the start. A beer to put a smile on your face.

Waltzer amps up the present coffee notes and spins them around with the addition of our own rum barrel aged coffee beans, a collaborative project with Quarter Horse roasters. This accentuates the boozy tones of the beer with some rum character while adding a resonant coffee hit. Complexity of acidity, biscuity notes, cherries and dried fruits all begins to swirl with the heady overtones of the base beer in an intoxicating treat.

We’re really proud of these beers and genuinely hope they’ll provide some smiles as we come towards the end of this difficult year. Our trio of fairground beers are available from Friday 4th December in 375ml bottles while stocks last. Look out for these on keg if and when we’re allowed to visit beer festivals next year, and of course on the bar at the Tap Yard. What ride would you like to see next? Let us know!