Peter Bouckaert is looking for some barrels. Can you help a brewmaster out?
Of course, the longtime brewer at New Belgium Brewing Company and now owner of his own place, Purpose Brewing & Cellars (Fort Collins, Colorado), isn’t looking for just any old barrels. He’s looking for very particular old barrels.
Currently inside his brewery sit two French-oak barrels, named pH1 and pH2. They are part of the original nine barrels that made up New Belgium’s wood-aged program back in 1998. As the brewery needed space to bring in foeders and other barrels, the original nine were sold in 2000 to other breweries for $15 each, Bouckaert says.
Now, as the two barrels sit filled at his brewery, waiting for time to tell him when the beer inside is ready to be released, he’s curious whether the remaining seven are still in service or whether they’ve been burned in “a ritual fire” somewhere.
Twenty-one years ago, there wasn’t a market for sour or wood-aged beer in the United States, but Bouckaert has always been a brewer who experiments, and thanks to a new seasonal program that New Belgium had launched, he had the chance to put some new recipes into development. A kettle sour that he made for the program didn’t turn out well, so he needed to think of something else and turned to a now-closed local winery to buy a few barrels.
Each barrel was French oak but not uniform in size, he says. Each was inoculated in a different way and with different beer styles. Each was given a name, including the pH barrels. The barrel named pH1 has had quite the life, bouncing from brewery to brewery, eventually winding up at Russian River Brewing Company (Santa Rosa, California) where it was used for Beatification before Lauren Limbach and Cody Reif of New Belgium noticed it during a visit a few years ago.
After pH1 was emptied, it was returned to New Belgium before winding up at The Rare Barrel. It eventually made its way to Purpose Brewing and is currently filled with a grape-infused ale, Bouckaert says.
The barrel named pH2 has only known The Centennial State it seems. After leaving New Belgium, it spent time around the state before winding up at Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (Denver, Colorado) where it was put into routine service. When brewery Owner Chad Yakobson was made aware of its history, he made it a point to return it to Bouckaert. It’s currently holding a pale-ale base, Bouckaert says.
Each barrel has its own qualities and character. pH1 “has a life and will produce no matter what you put into it. Its inoculum is dominant over whatever you put in.” He is still learning the rhythms of pH2 and, as of this writing, has yet to taste the beer inside it.
pH1 is a restless barrel, Bouckaert says, destined to roam and, like a mystical brewing creature, will show up at a deserving brewery that is in need.
“So far that’s how it has been. It disappears and shows up someplace to keep that tradition alive. Vinnie [Cilurzo, of Russian River] says the barrel is bigger than the brewery, by reputation,” he says. However, before pH1 goes back into the world, Bouckaert thinks it would be nice to have all nine barrels back together under one roof, if only briefly and if possible. The other barrels are marked AB1, AB2, Enoch1, Enoch2, OCA1, OCA2, and 222.
“Those names are just scribbled on there,” he says. “There was no need to have a huge mark on them. There were nine; we recognized which one was which. I would love to know whether they are still alive and to reunite them for a little bit.”
Anyone with information is welcome to contact Bouckaert at Purpose Brewing.
This article first appeared on Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine’s website.