How much does water and brewing equipment affect the taste of a beer? A new collaboration from eight West Metro breweries may hold the answer.
Brewers from Lupine, South Fork, Schram Vineyards, Birch’s on the Lake, Wayzata Brew Works, Excelsior, ENKI, and Waconia joined forces and traveled to each other’s breweries to craft the same barleywine recipe on each of their systems.
Part of the collaboration was to highlight how water, brewing style, and techniques can change the flavor profile of a beer with the exact same recipe, explains Bob DeLange of Waconia Brewing. But it also gave the brewers the chance to meet one another and learn about how their respective brewing processes differ.
The idea for the West Side Brewers Collective came out of an established collaboration between three west side brewers. “Excelsior, ENKI, and Waconia have been doing a collaboration for a while,” explained Ken Beamish, head brewer of South Fork Brewing. But with the so many new breweries coming online in towns like Delano, Long Lake, Wayzata, and Waconia, the trio decided to expand their annual tradition to include more of the area’s brewers.
After forming the West Side Brewers Collective, the brewers chose a single barleywine recipe to replicate as closely as possible on each of the individual breweries’ systems. Brewers Supply Group partnered with the Collective and provided them same grains for each brew day. “We’re all using the same yeast as well, so [Niles Lewin, head brewer at Excelsior] is bringing the yeast strain that everyone’s using; it’s all coming from Excelsior,” Beamish said on his brew day back on January 24. “And we’re using some Minnesota hops as well, which ENKI is bringing.”
The only differences in the recipe came in the form of water. With each of the breweries using different sources, and some opting to treat their water while others do not, each barleywine turned out slightly different.
“Water is 97 percent of beer. Well, not this one, but in general,” Ken said, referring to the 420 pounds of grains that pushed his three-barrel brewing system to the limit. “[Water] is a big part of it, as different flavors stick to different minerals. You’ll be able to tell everybody’s [barleywine] was brewed with different water.” At South Fork, the “insanely hard water” will accentuate certain malts in the grain bill, such as the caramel malts and the chocolate malts, Ken explains.
Schram Vineyards, on the other hand, uses reverse osmosis to filter their water, which yields a very neutral water profile. For the barleywine, they added chemical compounds back into the water to create a particular water profile for their barleywine. “We used Greg Noonan’s barleywine profile, and that’s got something like 400 parts per million of sulfate in it,” said Schram brewer Bryan Budahn. “But I know some of the other guys use just regular municipal water and maybe spike some phosphoric in it to help with the mash pH, and that’s all they do for water.”
The public will get their first chance to taste each of the eight barleywines tonight at the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild’s sold-out Winterfest, being held tonight at Target Field. After tonight, people interested in tasting all eight barleywines can travel to each brewery’s taproom where the beers will be on tap. Patrons can get a West Side Brewers Collective passport stamped at each brewery and will receive a free custom pint glass with four stamps or two pint glasses with all eight stamps.
While the individual breweries have enjoyed the support of their local communities, the passport program aims to draw more Twin Citians out west to explore the area’s brewing scene. With a unified voice, the West Side Brewers Collective is positioning the region as a new craft beer destination. “It definitely helps to have other people around making good beer,” Bryan Budahn said. “It draws people out. You kind of get known as a destination spot.”
The next collaboration project from the Collective is still to be determined. But fans of the barleywine will be able to get another chance to taste through the different barleywine iterations this summer, when the brewers crack open barrel-aged versions at All Pints North in Duluth.