Friday, November 21, 2008

Pike Brewing Company releases wood-aged stout

Pike Brewing Company up in Seattle, Washington, is set to release Pike Entire Wood-Aged Stout on Monday, November 24, 2008.

Pike Entire is actually and interesting blend of three beers:
  • Pike's XXXXX Extra Stout, original gravity 10.73, 7.00% ABV
  • Pike's XXXXX Extra Stout aged 6+ months in oak Bourbon barrels
  • Imperial Stout, original gravity of 10.98, massive 12% ABV

The blend contains 42.7% barrel aged beer and weighs in at a heft 9.5% alcohol. According to the PR sheet, "the taste is complex with velvety malt tones, a coffee aroma, and a palate and finish of bitter chocolate."

The pale and crystal malts, along with roasted barley, is balanced by a heaping dose of Yakima Valley Willamette, Goldings and Columbus hops in the boil, then finished off with even more Willamette and Goldings. Topping it off "are the underlying wood tones perfumed by the caramel sweetness of wood-aged Kentucky Bourbon."

Right off the bat I can say I probably won't care much for this beer, not only because of the hops, but because of the Kentucky Bourbon. I'm not a fan of bourbon or whiskey. Not even a little bit. With that said... I wasn't expecting to like their Auld Acquaintance Happy Holiday Ale, and I was very wrong about that!

As I (and hopefully you as well) have learned... Pike Brewing is different. They don't just release a PR sheet, they release a history lesson. And they've done it again with Pike Entire. This beerstory lesson comes straight from the press release:

Until the 18th century, malt was "kilned" over wood fires making most beers dark brown or black, and contributing significantly to the pollution in cities like London. The use of coal allowed brewers a little more control, but it was not until coke, a bi-product of coal, was introduced as a fuel that pale malt could be made. Pale malt yielded more sugar than black malt.

Because the Thames was polluted, soft water was drawn from wells, ideal for dark beers, but yielding unpleasant flavor to black beers unless they were blended with the paler beers made by country brewers who had access to hard water. These country brewers also bought dark beers from London and aged them in large oak casks.

After aging they sold them back to the London brew pubs as highly desirable, "stale" (aged) beer. Home brew houses then began to blend the black, pale, and stale beers and the result became known as "three threads", a corruption of "three thirds."

Ralph Harwood's Bell Brewhouse, one of London's original common brewers, was the first to market an already blended beer to other pubs called "Entire". It is believed that he blended his own black beer with purchased pale and stale. Since it saved publicans the chore of blending their own three threads, it became an immediate success and the beer style of choice that was sold by London's train porters. Ultimately the style became known as Porter.

As brewing moved away from the brew pub to common brewers, Harwood's creation became London's great contribution to beer. As the British Empire expanded, "Porter," later known as "Stout Porter," then simply "Stout," became the world's most widely distributed beer style.

I love Pike Brewing! As much for their ability to teach us about beer's past as for the great beers they make in the present.

To keep with tradition, but also to make a distinctly American beer, Pike acquired oak Bourbon barrels in April 2008 and filled them full of Pike XXXXX Extra Stout to be blended back. Pike Head Brewer, Drew Cluley, says the beer is "complex and chocolaty with a great vanilla wood overtone."

Come Monday, November 24, Pike Entire will be released in 22 oz. bombers, complete with wax-dipped caps. It will have very limited availability at the Pike Pub and in select bottle shops, primarily in the Seattle area. Only a few quarter-barrels are being released for sale on draft. The Pike Pub will tap its one and only quarter-barrel of Pike Entire on Friday, November 28.

So if you want some... you better skedaddle to Seattle!

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