Beer of the Week: In Praise of Bacchus

SD Beer News
Jan 8, 2010
By Brandon Hernández

From the Beer Writer: Sometimes, when a brewer describes the painstaking lengths they’ve gone to in order to brew a beer, it can raise expectations to the point where, even if it’s exceptional, the end product fails to convey all that hard work. That’s not the case with this week’s featured beer, In Praise of Bacchus, a Belgian-style lambic forged by the determination, elbow grease and patience of the crew at El Cajon’s Burning Beard Brewing. In order to even get started on this Old World-inspired treat, they had to ferry a coolship from overseas (see below), site it in the unit next door to their brewery to prevent cross-contamination with their clean beers, erect a wooden shed to house their copper-lined beauty, then fashion a pipeline to funnel wort (beer’s base liquid before its fermented) that from the brewhouse into that vessel. All that simply to be able to allow the wort to be inoculated by airborne microorganisms before going into oak barrels for a year or more in hopes the environment and those storage receptacles would produce something lovely. It could have all turn out to be a waste of time, but in the case of this beer—one The Beard squad is rightfully proud of—their laboring was 100% worth it. This spritzy 6.6% alcohol-by-volume lambic falls right in line with Belgian benchmarks of this difficult-to-nail style. The bouquet coming off the sturdy, big-bubbled mousse conveys a vinous white-wine quality augmented by a tantalizing horse-stable funk. Notes of Meyer lemon and apricot, plus cooking herbs like thyme and savory, join that gaminess on the taste buds where they’re made brighter care of lively carbonation. But the real lambic magic is in the pronounced white pepper finish, which is followed by essence of Stilton cheese and hints of vanillins that hang out for a prolonged sensory experience. Beers like this are an acquired taste, but once you’ve caught the bug, you’ll go to great lengths to chase this type of layered, almost unearthly experience. Fortunately, all it takes for San Diegans is an East County jaunt.

From the Brewer: “In Praise of Bacchus is our attempt to tap into the process that creates the true elixir of the beer gods, Belgian lambic. We are celebrating the process by letting our coolship do the bulk of the work and in that, we are attempting to develop our own terroir. Yes, El Cajon, San Diego suburb terroir! The idea with this beer is to dig into the deeper, darker magics of the brewing process. We use a classic grain recipe, turbid mashing and add a ton of aged hops before sending our wort on to our copper-lined coolship, a large vat with an agreeable surface-area ratio that gives us a predictable cooling rate—not too fast, not too slow—and provides ample opportunity for yeast and bacteria to inoculate the wort. Our coolship is copper, because copper is rad to look at and traditional. Like I said, we’re trying to do what we can to steal the magic from the OG lambic-brewing wizards. But also, copper evenly heats and cools, provides nutrients for the yeast, and also binds with all sorts of off-flavor contributors like sulfur and oxygen. Our coolship is housed inside a shed inside a warehouse separate from our brewery. That wooden shelter acts as a sort of living bubble for the copper vat. We use a positive-pressure fan to pump in night air, generally scheduling brew days after a rain so that the air is as clean as possible. Also, that’s when cold fronts move in, dropping the El Cajon nights into the mid-30’s. It’s an involved process, but it’s proven well worth it. We are really pleased with the funk and level of acidity that we are getting from our El Cajon lambic, and think you will be, too.”Jeff Wiederkehr, Co-founder & Head Brewer, Burning Beard Brewing

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