Never say “never,” right? Well, it’s been a journey.
October of 2013 seems like a lifetime of “Funk” ago: Deux Rouges Batch 1 hadn’t been released, we didn’t have a bottling setup for sours/wilds and the Taproom occasionally had an ETF keg on draft. However we were planning for bigger things and trying to source more unique oak to ferment our beers in. That’s when the idea of Sherry casks came about, but not just any casks… Oloroso Sherry Casks. This is my favorite kind of Sherry with its decades of oak aging and dry, dark fruit, chocolate character.
So in October ’13 we were able to check out some samples of 40 year Old Oloroso Sherry Casks and the aromas were exactly what we were looking for in this oak. Sadly the ones we sampled were already sold, but there were still some in Europe that could be shipped to Nashville.
In January 2014 the casks arrived at Yazoo. Now something about aging beer in oak: You always go into it expecting a leak or a weep, so we do inspections and repairs on all barrels we purchase. These were a different animal, they certainly looked every bit 40 years on a Pirate ship. The metal “hoops” or bands showed a lot of wear and possibly had never been replaced. Inside though was magic all the aromas we had hoped for so I went to work prepping them to fill.
One technique to test a barrel or cask is to fill it with hot water which causes the wood to swell and push back into place sealing the oak. It works fairly well most of the time however you do have to empty the water out and when you do that a lot of the essence and nuance of the barrel literally goes down the drain. We definitely did not want 40 years of Sherry history going down the drain so I opted to steam the insides of the casks and wax the outsides. It took me a few weeks to get the casks to where I thought they were ready to fill with beer.
Once the beer was ready and the casks were prepped we filled them with a Belgian Dark Strong based beer which was a higher ABV recipe from my home brew days called “Dark Passenger”. The casks seemed to be holding the liquid so we were good to go right? Not exactly. I got a phone call early the next morning from Ken our QC and lab guy telling me they were all leaking. When I got to the brewery the casks were losing beer very quickly. I tried every trick I knew of to stop the multiple leaks: wax, blowtorch, a flour paste etc… Some were leaking so badly from the bottom side staves there wouldn’t be any beer left in a few hours.
During this time period we housed the ETF beers in the upstairs area of the brewery so I started bringing down any empty barrel I could find. Luckily Bourbon and Red Wine barrels had just arrived a few days prior for another project, but with beer flowing down the drain those projects could wait. Out of the ten 132 gallon Sherry Casks we filled I was able to stop the leaks on 4 of the them and top those 4 off with beer from other leaking casks. The remainder of the beer went into the other barrels I grabbed, luckily those being newer they had only a few small weeps that sealed up. Due to their large size the remaining 4 casks sat downstairs at Yazoo for close to a year. During that time Linus and I had started work on securing an place to run the rapidly growing Embrace the Funk program offsite.
Once we had a new home for ETF we moved all our barrels and casks out of Yazoo…and wouldn’t you know it one of the Sherry Casks again started leaking in an area close to the underside hoop. I had to once again grab more barrels to transfer into. This time it was 3 of the barrels we age Lignage a Trois in, so this batch is getting really diverse now. With everything appearing to hold tight, the beer continued evolving for another year until December 2015. It was time to taste and transfer the beer out of the wood.
Originally I planned to release multiple variations of this beer per the barrels they were aged in, but once I started tasting through the beers it seemed like one big complex blend was the way to go. With our losses along the way we were able to make a final bottled blend of 65% Sherry/ 20% Red Wine / 10% KY Bourbon and 5% Red Wine/TN Whiskey barrels.
One Red Wine barrel of beer was not used and had to be destroyed due to flaws.
Bottling day went fairly well. I was honestly waiting for something crazy to happen but we finished up and set the beer away to bottle condition for a month.
Once the labels were printed it was time to take the beer back over to Yazoo for labeling and prep the pallets for distribution. That’s when the next chapter of this beer began… while loading the beer into the truck one of the pallets fell forward knocking another pallet over too. Glass being glass a lot of bottles broke spewing beer all inside the case boxes and dripping down on other unbroken cases. Good grief.
Every single bottle had to be carefully removed from their wet sticky cardboard cases, cleaned and dried before we could label them for sale.
Which brings us to this point in the journey of “Never Again”. For all we went through to bring you the beer you are holding, I am very proud of what we made. It’s multiple beers in one bottle. Cold the total character won’t express fully, but tends to be sour and red wine forward, the closer the serving temperature gets to room temp the more this beer will open up and reward you. Once you pour a glass give it a minute or so plus a swirl for the complexities to pop out. Personally I prefer to sip this big beer at or above “Cellar Temp” (57-60F), enjoy it like a glass of Sherry.
Finally after all this why did we name this beer “Never Again”? As much as I enjoy this beer and think it’s a very fun/unique offering, I really don’t think I could ever make this beer again.There were too many variables in it’s 2 year journey we couldn’t re-create, so please enjoy Never Again while it’s available. It will age well and the story of how we got to this point is one to be shared with friends over a glass.