From nails to butter, our ancestors stored and shipped almost everything in barrels until the creation of steel drums, cardboard, and plastics. Cooperages operated all over the world for hundreds of years. Buffalo itself was home to many cooperages with one of the most prominent being the Forlorn Cooperage on Chicago Street. As a very popular commodity, especially throughout Europe, beer spent many centuries being transported in oak barrels by land and sea. Wood also became the material of choice for beer production including fermenting and aging. First used out of convenience and function, brewers began to realize that wood held the keys to success for their most complex, aged beers and this helps inspire their continued use today.
Oak barrels, and large tanks called Foudres, remain the vessel of choice for long term aging of styles like Belgian Lambics and Russian Imperial Stouts. The oak allows just the right amount of oxygen to pass into the liquid, aiding in the development and transformation of flavor compound. For mixed-culture sour beer in particular, it provides the various wild yeasts and bacteria used in the process a porous place to reside during and between batches. In the tradition of past centuries great barrel-aged beers, 42 North is excited to launch The 42 Below Barrel House. 42 Below is a barrel aging facility located across Persons Alley from 42 North. The cellar will eventually house 80 wine and spirit barrels for barrel aged beer fermentation, producing 3000 gallons a year.
For 42 North, our love of beer and brewing is not just about the liquid. It is about the culmination of art, science, and history that collide in any given tulip glass. For me, there is no greater example of this than a great oak-aged beer. It is beer that our ancestors drank, a challenging balance of the wood-derived and/or acidic flavors in addition to the malt, hops, and yeast. The barrel house allows us to separate our long-term sour projects from the rest of the brewery, and grow our barrel program from 16 barrels today to 60 in 2018. We hope to integrate even more local ingredients into these beers through the use of fresh fruits, and the cellar will serve as our oak and sour flavor lab.
We look forward to challenging ourselves, and the expectations of our customers, by redefining what a great beer is. We hope you join us on this journey at 42 Below. Zack, our white coat lab guru, and I will be writing blog posts regularly and we invite you to keep track of our progress. If you would like to get more involved in 42 Below please check out our Vagabond Society, a very exclusive enthusiast group for those passionate about 42 North and Barrel-Aged beers.
Chief Brewing Officer, 42 North Brewing Company