Tell me about the pilot system.
It’s 10 or 12 gallons. We’ve been lucky. We haven’t knocked out anything we didn’t like. We’ve only had one real mistake. Somebody pitched the wrong yeast in what was supposed to be Aces & Ates [American stout]. They pitched the Belgian ale yeast and it’s supposed to get the American ale yeast. One of the new brewers looks at me and says, “We’re going to have to dump that.” And I said, “You won’t be brewing for long. We’ll be drinking that.” We decided to change it up and add raspberries. I really liked it. Then we talked about using chocolate nibs, and that beer became Big Operator [Belgian Black Raspberry], so I was very happy about that.
What’s next for Big Boss?
We’re doing a few sours on a small level, in barrels. I love sour. We were able to isolate a few bugs from a wine barrel we got, and that started to sour things in a really good way. We have our brewing scientists finding out just what the mix is. I don’t like Brett. I won’t do a Brett fermentation, because I can’t drink it, and I’m not making beer I can’t drink.
I see one lonely bourbon barrel, an Evan Williams.
We get barrels from our customers and friends. We age Aces & Ates and Big Operator in barrels, but we’ll try anything. Bad Penny, the brown, ages great in a bourbon barrel.
These are just occasional specialties for customers?
Who ever gave us this barrel gets the beer. They leave us a little bit to thank us, and we’ll put it on upstairs [in the brewery tap room]. They enjoy it; we enjoy it. We used to buy the barrels ourselves, but these bars and restaurants couldn’t get enough of it. But they have the hook-up with the brands, ‘cause they’re selling that liquor. So they started buying their own barrels and seeing that we get them.
So I could drop off my own barrel and have you custom-age something nice for my birthday?
As long as you’re approved for sale in North Carolina! And we do things a little differently: we have a keg system so we can tap this barrel to make sure it’s going well. We keep a CO2 environment in there, so the flavors are really clean, really beery, not oxidized. We fill it under CO2, we keep it under CO2 and we’re able to test it as it ages. And that’s the beauty of it!
That’s the part of your job that people think is all of your job.
I know! I’m sure that’s what my mother thinks.