By now, Santa Barbara beer fans have likely already heard of Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks liberation of Feral One, batch 2, on Valentine’s Day. About a year after the release of Feral One, Barrelworks’ first bottled beer, this liberation is something of an Anniversary beer and party for the boys at Barrelworks.
I recently sat down with barrelmeister Jeffers Richardson and blendmaster Jim Crooks with a bottle each of batch one and two to talk about the beer, the liberation and a few other things. A few issues were raised and addressed.
First of all, there’s the name. Originally, I believed that if there was ever a sequel to Feral One, a beer that Richardson describes as “a cuvee or blend of our best efforts,” that it would be called Feral Two. But Richardson and Crooks explained that the name is sort of a play on words — and while “one” was appropriate for the first beer released from Barrelworks, it also worked to describe it as The One that is Feral. In other words, the beer serves as a representation of everything that Richardson, Crooks and Barrelworks stand for.
So call it what you want — Feral One vintage 2015, Feral Two, Feral One 2.0 — just know that the official name is Feral One, batch 2.
My next concern was the price. The cheapest tickets for the liberation are $104 plus eventbrite fees. It’s a big barrier to entry for most of us, but it’s a good value. At $15.99 per bottle, the tickets get you six bottles ($95.94) and the other eight dollars and eventbrite fees go toward the other goodies available at the liberation and the chance to be able to say you tasted it before anybody else. Like previous liberations, there will be “feral foods” and rare beer tastings that more than make up for the eight dollar cost beyond the beer. Rumor had it that there might be a keg of the first batch of Feral One, now a year old, but that was not confirmed. In any case, it’s always fascinating to see what comes out of the barrels at Barrelworks.
Specifically, this new batch of Feral One picks up right where the first left off.
Richardson and Crooks sampled upwards of 80 barrels to find the right blend, and 23 ended up making the final blend. Like batch 1, the final beer has a pleasant tartness and lemon notes that accentuate a good, somewhat sweet background. It’s hard to recall exactly what Feral One tasted like a year ago, but this is reminiscent for sure — and that’s by design.
“This truly was a hedonistic approach,” Richardson said. “We didn’t have to recreate batch 1. We could create something else, but we really like batch 1.”
Perhaps the biggest difference is the color, which Crooks hypothesized came from the presence of Sour Solace, a beer that has aged in barrels at Barrelworks now for 48 months. After all that time in barrels, the relatively pale beer picked up color from the oak and oxygen. It also seemed to add a slightly more noticeable presence of vanilla and toffee, but it was faint enough that it could have been my mind affecting my palate, as those flavors tend to express themselves more in darker beers.
With any beer inoculated with lactobacillus, Feral One batch 2 certainly has a strong acidic character to it. But Crooks and Richardson argue that simply referring to the beer as a “sour” negates so much of what the beer has to offer.
“Acidity is the first thing people jump on,” Richardson said. “But they miss out on so much more if they’re doing that. What we’re trying to do, and the word we always use to describe it is ‘layers.’ We’re trying to make a beer with layers to it.”
Those layers come through in the sweetness of the malt, the wide array of slightly floral aromas underneath a slight yeast and sulfur note in the nose — and yes — in the tartness. Unlike some beers fermented with lacto though, Feral One batch 2, like the original, isn’t lip-puckeringly sour. It’s fizzy and tart enough to be refreshing, but not uninviting.
“A lot of people have gotten into beer because of (Pliny the Elder) and beers like that and ‘oh my gosh this is what hops are,'” Crooks said. “At Firestone, we’ve never been like that. Firestone and (brewmaster Matt Brynildson) have always been about balance and what’s drinkable.”
Batch 2 is certainly drinkable, but the real treat of the tasting session was a side-by-side comparison with a one-year-old version of Feral One batch 1. Batch 2 was slightly darker, and the edges of the flavors were somewhat sharper, so to speak, but there were more similarities than differences. And while batch 2 was a truly nice beer, there was no doubt that batch 1 provided a more enjoyable experience.
With that in mind, I asked Richardson and Crooks what the best way to age or cellar these beers was, since I’ll be coming home with 12 bottles on Valentine’s Day. Their recommendation was to store the bottles at room temperature, or cooler, but to avoid refrigerating them until you wanted to drink it. The reason was that the wide array of microflora that add to the complexity and character of Feral One go dormant at temperatures below 50 degrees, but continue to interact with the beer at cellar and room temperature. Storing the beer in warm (above 75 degrees or so) areas was not recommended, and the worst that could happen to a beer left in the refrigerator is that it would preserve it and its flavors as is — not a terrible outcome at all.
We also tasted a bottled version of Reginald Brett, which is essentially Double DBA given the Barrelworks treatment, and looked at plans for a future remodel of the Barrelworks facility to transform it from its current look into something more like an old-world abbey. Both that remodel and a possible release of Reginald Brett are little more than possibilities at the moment though.