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Barrel-aged Belgian Rye: A Woodcock Brothers and Leonard Oakes collaboration

A collaboration beer brewed between Niagara country residents Leonard Oakes Estate Winery and Woodcock Brothers Brewing Company will be released at 7 p.m. March 23. The beer, called Barrel-aged Belgian Rye, will only be available at the Wilson brewery and in limited supply.

Woodcock Brothers supplied the beer and Leonard Oakes supplied the barrels.

The collaboration started a year ago after Jonathan Oakes - winemaker, grapegrower and cidermaker at Leonard Oakes Estate Winery - visited Woodcock Brothers and got to know brewers Vandra Ruppel and Matt Redpath.

"After being invited down to the brew floor we began to talk shop," Oakes said. "One thing led to another and soon we were talking about beverages we could create together that we had never seen before. We have a love for unique and different beer that excite us with their complexity."

“When we first met, Jonathan mentioned the idea of aging a beer in one of his barrels," Redpath said. "I thought it sounded like a fun project. I was brewing a Belgian rye brown and called him up about using the beer for his barrel.”

They used a hybrid French American barrel: the heads of the barrel were French oak and the staves were American. It previously had Niagara Escarpment Pinot Noir in it, Oakes said.

Most beer is brewed with a species of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Barrel-aged Belgian Rye was introduced into Pinot wine barrels that were matured to contain a species of yeast called Brettanomyces. Brettanomyces (usually shortened to “Brett”) yeast are unwelcome in wineries and are considered “spoilage yeast.” Barrels that become infected or aged can often harbor the organism, thus becoming unusable for wine production.


A Woodcock Brothers and Leonard Oakes collaboration will be released on March 23. (Kevin Wise/Special to The News)

But in some beer, Brett is intentionally added to impart a new flavor profile that has often been described as “barnyard” and “horse blanket.” While these flavors might not seem palatable, beer enthusiasts appreciate the complexity and depth of flavor this organism can bring to a finished product such as the Oakes/Woodcock hybrid. The oak barrels used in this collaboration harbored Brett and thus became a suitable medium for introduction of beer.

The beer was brewed with many different varieties of malt. “I wanted to really play around with the complexity of malts,” said Redpath. “I added some sugar in the form of Belgian Candi Syrup, that left the wort with some sweet taste; basically some food for the Brett.”

The blending came after the beer was made. “After fermentation we placed two barrels of beer into the barrel and let it age for three months," Redpath explained. "It was interesting to see how the Brett started to bloom and the complexity of the beer changed. The Brett definitely dried the beer out and added some really nice subtleties that meld well with the malt characteristics."

Jonathan Oakes, left, toasts with Matt Redpath. (Kevin Wise/Special to The News)

Jonathan Oakes, left, toasts with Matt Redpath. (Kevin Wise/Special to The News)

But the beer was missing something, he said. “We felt like the beer needed some sharpness and a little acidity bite.  So Johnathan suggested a tart Montmorency cherry addition. We did a tasting with three samples and added a calculated percentage of cherry juice to the beer. The cherries settled nicely with the end product.  After a month with cherries, we carbonated the beer and bottled it,” Redpath said.

For Oakes, the product touches on a lot of different styles and works well to create intrigue.  “The barrel and the Brett add bass notes and tannin and the cherry brings malic acid to sour things without being sharp and acetic. The product is extremely tasty now but I am also very curious to see how it ages,” Oakes said.

“I think the product is pushing a new frontier in beer production in Niagara by showing what an array of beverage options are possible if our region works together. Beer, wine, cider and spirits. Echoing that sentiment is the vast agricultural wealth of the Niagara region to support these industries,” he added.

Barrel Aged Belgian Rye will be sold at Woodcock Brothers for $9 each with a limit of six per person. Approximately 25 cases will be available.

Barrel-aged Belgian rye. (Kevin Wise/Special to The News)

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