The highly anticipated sour-mash brewery finally opened it’s doors in October 2015. The opening was met with a frenzy of beer aficionados eager to be the first to try their unique beers. Blue Owl Brewing is the first brewery to create customized (and highly guarded) equipment to ensure a repeatable high quality sour mash product. To get an insight into their sour mashing process, I reached out to Blue Owl co-owners, Suzy Shaffer and Jeff Young, to discuss what makes their process and their beers unique.
First, tell us a little bit about the sour-mashing process and how it differs from barrel-aging or kettle-souring processes.
Sour-mashing and kettle souring are both “pre-fermentation” souring techniques that create acidity in the brewhouse before the yeast does it’s thing in the cellar. Barrel aging is typically done “post-fermentation” and takes finished beer and adds wild yeast and bacteria for a long, slow process of souring and aging. Sour-mashing uses naturally occurring bacteria and yeast from grain husks to inoculate the wort (sweet unfermented beer), while kettle souring uses pure cultures of bacteria to inoculate.
What inspired you to want to brew beers using this unique method?
The craft beer industry still has a lot to learn about creating sour-mashed beers and all the potential for new styles and twangy twists to classic styles. That’s exciting in an industry where just about everything has been thrown in to a kettle to try to differentiate beers (fruits, mushrooms, testicles, beard hairs, etc).
Blue Owl is currently the only brewery in the world that is making production sour mashed beers, how did you create a consistent and viable brewing capability?
Months of research and tests! We have created new, specialized equipment and developed techniques for maintaining the quality and consistency of the beer. And all of this has been specifically developed to keep the price of the beers down! $9.99 six packs of a sour red ale is a pretty great thing.
Why the name Blue Owl?
We joke that Jeff discovered the owl is his spirit animal through a series of online tests (which is true) but he truly identifies with it as his spirit animal for many reasons. We chose the owl for our company because of the qualities we admire – wise, unique, striking, and a little quirky. Blue is an off centered color for an owl and we are a little off centered in the beer world. We also identify with what the color represents – clean, integrity, refreshing, and peaceful.
A lot of people think of sour beers as tart, fruity or funky. Yet your beers include an approachable line up of beer styles – a pale ale, stout, red ale and wheat. What made you decide to sour-mash these styles of beer? Are you planning to add additional styles in the future?
I think we need to start with the fundamentals. We have a hoppy sour, a malty sour, a light, wheaty sour, and a fruited, roasty sour. We want to hit people’s favorite styles first and nail them down to show the range of this souring technique as well as the depth of flavor you can get when you marry sourness with fresh beer flavors. We are shifting the paradigm of all sour-mashed beers being Berlinner Weisses and Goses, to sour-mashing being a particular process that can be applied to all beer styles and flavors. From our core, foundational beers, we are definitely going to continue to explore new styles and develop more control and quality with our beers.
We’ve seen the beautiful cans, what is next for Blue Owl? Do you plan to attempt any barrel souring?
We’re not against barrel souring and we’ve even done some small batches of barrel-aged and brett’ed beers. But that’s not our focus. The solution to creating approachable, affordable, and consistent sours is in sour-mashing.
For more insights on this revolutionary process, visit the Blue Owl Brewing website and keep up with Blue Owl Brewing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Prefer to check them out in person? Get over to the taproom or reserve your personal tour!