Ilan Klages-Mundt, head brewer and co-founder of Insight Brewing in Minneapolis, carefully dipped a sanitized barrel thief into the oak barrel, took a sample, and squirted the molasses colored liquid into a sampling glass.
He was excited, almost giddy, to be doling out the two different samples of 2014 Gravity Well Imperial Stout—one aged in 45 Parallel’s Richmond Rye Whiskey and one aged in Border Bourbon barrels. The two stouts are part of the brewery’s first anniversary party, A Trip Around the Sun, on November 21 from 12–10pm.
The rye-barrel stout had all the markings of a classic barrel-aged imperial stout—boozy aromas of raisin and vanilla on the nose, and a semi-sweet, viscous body cut by rye-spice. While we finished the last sip of the first glass, Klages-Mundt moved his step ladder to the bourbon barrels.
“I have not tried this one [the bourbon barrel stout] yet. I suppose I should try it first to make sure we’re going to try it,” Klages-Mundt joked. The bourbon-barrel stout passed his test, of course, and he began handing out samples. The bourbon-barrel version highlighted vanilla and a brown sugar sweetness and didn’t feature the same raisin and dark fruit notes on the nose. The body was smoother, sweeter, and the roasted malts played a bigger role without the spicy rye flavors to dominate them.
While both versions could have stood-alone, Insight Brewing blended the two stouts into a single anniversary beer, 1,000 bottles of which will be on sale at the anniversary party in addition to being on draft inside the taproom.
Klages-Mundt learned first hand how to barrel age during his time as a brewery journeyman in Denmark. “There’s two breweries in Denmark that I got to [barrel age] with: Fanø and Søgaards.” Fanø Bryghus, located on the island of Fanø in western Denmark, specialized in imperial stouts and contracted for multiple other breweries include Mikkeller, giving him a good understanding about both imperial stout and barrel aging. At Søgaards Bryghus in northern Denmark, Klages-Mundt got to do some wine barrel aging.
That experience will certainly come in handy in 2016. “We are going to be kicking up our barrel program quite a bit,” said Klages-Mundt. “Next year we’ll have 16 barrels for Gravity Well, and we’re also going to delve into sours, quite a bit.” Currently he is testing 12 different sour styles to find out which bacteria and yeast combination they want to work with, and will be narrowing it down to two or three recipes to begin aging next year.
The barrel program isn’t the only thing expanding at the brewery as it turns one year old. These days, towers of 16-ounce cans crowd the brewhouse floor, waiting their turn to be filled and distributed to liquor stores. If all goes to plan with the brewery’s projected can sales, which only began this month, the towers could soon be replaced by new 120-barrel fermenters, twice the size of their current fermenters.
While their dreams for 2016 are big, the brewery team will continue finding success doing things the way they did in 2015—taking it step-by-step.