Pull Up A Stool with Tyson Arp
Head Brewer, Nebraska Brewing Co.
As if the Reserve Series weren’t experimental enough, what’s in the Inception Series?
That’s our experimental playground where we try out new ideas and new barrels. We did a beer several years ago, a Belgian double with tart cherries from a local orchard and cinnamon, as our Christmas ale that year. We ended up putting some of that into the new oak barrels—they’d already been used a couple of times, so they weren’t quite as oaky. We let that age quite a while. It definitely had some wild yeast in it, probably from the cherries. We ended up calling it Microbe Rue. That stirred up some controversy on the Internet. People thought we were stealing from or collaborating with The Bruery [owned by Patrick Rue], which was kind of funny: we know the guys at The Bruery and we all had a good chuckle. We have a custom die-cut label, and they have a custom die-cut label, so there were all these conspiracy theories out there.
We took our West Coast-style IPA and aged it for three weeks in new white oak barrels we had made in Missouri. It was unbelievable what happened to the beer. It brought out character in the hops that I’d never tasted. People were digging that beer a lot.
And was it still recognizably an IPA?
Oh, yeah. White oak has a kind of spicy character. I can’t explain the synergy between that and the citrusy hops that we used, but it brought out some tropical notes. You can taste the barrel, but the oak was subtle at the same time.
Outside of those beers, we got in some French cognac barrels and aged our imperial stout in them. We called it Sexy Betty: our imperial stout is Black Betty. Every time we do a version of it, it’s some other Betty.
Do I remember there’s one lonely Ugly Betty?
Yeah, Ugly Betty’s still sitting in the corner. We’re never going to bottle it; it’s just awful, but we keep it there to remind us what can happen.
In the world of barrel-aging, you occupy an unusual space, because most people are either taking big beers and putting them with whiskeys of some sort, or taking advantage of the barrel as a habitat for micro-flora.
We try to avoid that if we can. It’s somewhat inevitable; we do dump barrels that get funky on us and don’t fit the flavor profile we’re looking for. I like funky beers, but we don’t have time or space for them right now.
Who else is doing this experimentation with wine or cognac and other spirits?
Based on the difficulty we have finding chardonnay barrels, I’d say it’s quite popular! I know Funkwerks in Fort Collins, CO, they do some of their saisons in chardonnay barrels, going for that wine character and not sour beer.
Do the specialty beers all come out in 750 ml bottles?
The Reserve Series we do in 750s; the Inception Series is in 22-ounce bombers just to distinguish it, and they have a different style label, too. We’re really close to construction on a new brewery that will allow us to move into cans for our pale ale and those sorts of beer. I’m excited to be able to take the high volume brands we’re cranking out on our small system and move them to a larger space. Then we’ll have more room to experiment at the pub.