At Big Sky Brewing in Missoula, MT, blending is used for two reasons: to create unique layered flavors and for consistency.
“Every time we do a barrel-aged beer, we end up mixing 10 to12 barrels together,” says Matt Long, brewmaster at Big Sky Brewing. For beers like Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout, the beer comes from ex-Bourbon barrels. Big Sky Kriek, a strong ale aged in a variety of French and Hungarian oak barrels that original held cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, is blended and finished with local cherries.
When it comes to Big Sky’s award-winning Moose Drool Brown Ale, two 6,000-gallon batches are brewed and then mixed together in a 12,000-gallon brite tank. “We mix two batches together for consistency,” Long says. “We always want Moose Drool to taste the same.”
If you get to the brewery’s taproom in Missoula during the winter, you might get a chance to try Big Sky’s Winter Ale, which is a blend of Moose Drool and a hoppy IPA.
“Blending beers together is a challenge,” Long says. “You have to have foresight. We’ve found that blending malt-forward beers is often better than mixing hoppy brews.”
Mitch Steele says Stone Brewing in San Diego, CA, has “just dipped its toes into blending beers,” but says he expects to be doing more of it in the future.
If a brewer has an archive of aged beers, they will end up getting into it,” Steele says. “It’s fun and adds another element of art to the process. That’s what we all got into brewing for in the first place.”
At Stone, a couple of recent special releases were the result of blending beers from the brewery’s library. As part of the company’s 10th anniversary celebration in 2010 a special Stone Imperial Russian Stout included “eight or nine” vintages blended together, then Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch created “GK Madman Mix” by using that beer as a base, adding another beer, along with vanilla, chipotle and other spices.
“I think we did a good job, but it was very difficult. You want to have a synergistic beer where the sum is better than the parts,” Steele says. “If you’re not getting that then why bother?”
The blending results have been successful enough that Stone Brewing is continuing them for special projects. Lucky Bastard was released in November as a dry-hopped three-beer blend using Arrogant Bastard Ale, Double Bastard Ale, and Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale. The 2011 Stone Imperial Russian Stout is slated to be a blend of two beers, one made with Stone’s house ale yeast and the other made with a Belgian ale yeast. Steele also hinted that an Old Guardian Barley Wine multi-year blend might be in the works for the future.