There can only be one undistributed beer of the week. The competition is fierce in San Diego's beer community, but someone has to take the title. This week's best undistributed beer is ...
Council Brewing Company: Third Anniversary Biere De Miel
Style: Biere De Miel/Farmhouse ale
ABV: 11.2 percent ABV
Pair with: Goat cheese and walnuts
If you're craving a beer that is crisp, dry and off-the-beaten path in terms of what you imagine your San Diego beer to taste like, here you go. This week's pick is a champagne-inspired brew, aged in white wine barrels, from Council Brewing Company. It's dangerously drinkable and a must-grab for those who like something a little non-traditional.
This beer comes to us from head brewer and co-owner of Council Brewing Company, Liz Chism. Upon first sip, my immediate reaction was "this cannot be 11 percent." Chism said this has been a universal reaction thus far.
The Third Anniversary Biere De Miel is an incredibly smooth brew with a dry finish, much like what you would get when you drink a glass of champagne. There is a delicious amount of sweetness, combined with a subtle earthiness that helps to balance out this beer. The wine barrels are very present in the beer, and the slight addition of musk acts as the cherry on top of this brew. The Third Anniversary Biere De Miel was barrel-aged for 18 months, and then cellared for nine additional months.
"We started brewing this beer in April of 2015," Chism said. "It was originally going to be ready for Christmas 2016, as we had planned to have it in the barrels for about a year. It ended up staying in there for 18 months. Sour beer is one of those worth-it-to-wait processes."
It took months of experimenting, playing the wait-and-see game and watching closely to see what the yeast would do inside of the barrel, Chism explained.
"Honey is 100 percent fermentable, so it's simple," Chism said. "The theory was that if we added too much in the beginning, the yeast would be attracted to that and eat up all the honey and it wouldn't eat the malt sugars or the grain. We wanted it to work harder at the beginning, then, as it started to get tired, we fed the yeast some honey. The barrel would go crazy for awhile, then calm back down. We would wait several months in between adding more."
The idea, after the honey got going, was to sweeten up the beer and make it a fruity, white wine-tasting brew - after all, the beer itself was aged in white wine barrels. Chism noted that it tasted really great by the time it was almost done, but it needed a little bit more of the chardonnay taste they were going for with this beer to achieve more of a champagne taste.
"We wanted to give it a little fruitiness without you thinking that there's fruit in there, so we added a tiny, little bit of chardonnay grape must," Chism said. "It just needed that little push over the edge to get it there. With barrels, sometimes it just requires some fine tuning. We add a little bit of salt. A little bit goes a long way with all of it. These little things extenuate the beer massively over time."
While Chism wanted to keep the beer brewing until it got to about 14 percent, upon sipping it she realized it was done. No more brewing was needed.
"It was so good at the point we stopped at, which was at 11 percent. I didn't want to add any more honey, no more must. It was just so smooth, and it was ready," Chism said. "We bottled it in champagne bottles because it can hold more carbonation... We never did a cork or a cage with any of our bottles either, so we did that because we really wanted something special."
With much time, effort and love this brew went from white wine barrels into special bottles that will be available for pick up at the Council Brewing Company tasting room. The beer itself won't be available on tap, due to the fact that it's highly carbonated. Instead, it is packaged in champagne bottles, then corked, caged, and wrapped in gold foil, ready for you to take home or enjoy on site.
As of noon on June 6, the Third Anniversary Biere De Miel is available for pre-sale order at store.councilbrew.com. On Saturday, June 10, the bottle will be available for purchase at Council Brewing Company's third anniversary party inside of its Kearny Mesa tasting room. Chism said there should be a good amount left over to grab post-party, too, for those who can't make it on Saturday.
Get it while it's cold!
7705 Convoy St., Kearny Mesa. councilbrew.com
Editor's Note: Undistributed beer of the week is a series that profiles a local brew only available to try on draft at specific locations in San Diego.