Long before Side Project existed, Karen and I were into visiting small breweries and enjoying artisan beers. I fell in love with all of the amazing beers from all over the world, specifically their regional perspectives, their unique interpretations, their exciting flavors and their unfamiliarity.
I quickly gravitated toward beers that had no consistent, local representations of, mainly beers from oak. These ranged from massive Barleywines and Stouts, down to the delicate Wild Ales, Lambics, and Funky Saisons of the time. I sought out everything I could get my hands on to experience and learn, and we often traveled with an itinerary centered on breweries and beer bars we wanted to visit and investigate.
The first time I learned about the magical barrel of pH1, it was in relation to the 001-pH1 batch of Russian River Beatification - an American Wild Ale. Their first batch of this beer was split to allow a special bottling of the pH1 barrel. It was a unique barrel from New Belgium Brewery, and the resulting Beatification from this special barrel warranted its own labeling. This beer was unattainable, but the mystique and legend of this beer, and also the barrel left a memorable impression and may have even fueled my love for this brewer-terroir-driven style.
The sour beer/wild ale love of beers like pH1 influenced Karen and I to plan trips to breweries like Russian River and New Belgium which in turn introduced us to lovely people like Vinnie and Natalie and Peter and Frezi.
I was fortunate enough to meet Peter Bouckaert (now of Purpose Brewing) on one of my early trips to New Belgium Brewing. Our love for sour beer monopolized our entire conversation, from their massive foedre farm to his hypotheses on non-typical organic acid production in beer. We chatted about oak and even their small barrel La Folie production, the production which produced the pH1 barrel. The story of how the pH1 barrel ended up at Russian River to produce Beatification after it produced a beautiful batch of La Folie was the highlight of the day for a beer lover like me.
Fast forward several years, the pH1 barrel still lives, but it has spent some time traveling from Russian River, to New Belgium, to The Rare Barrel, and back into the hands of Peter and Frezi at Purpose Brewing.
Then October of 2020 I get an email from Peter Bouckaert saying he is stopping by our brewery.
So in walk Peter and Frezi and behind them is the barrel of pH1! The barrel had now traveled to Side Project Brewing to allow us to run some wort through it and allow its character to be presented in a Side Project beer. It was great to have them at our brewery especially since it was our first guests in months due to the pandemic - we all needed a night of sharing beers with friends! We chatted about the barrel, shared beer and dinner and we promised to let the barrel tell us when a beer worthy of its name would be ready. Peter explained that this barrel stereotypically produces a very "fruity" character, and I told him I thought that would fit right in with Side Project beers.
On November 3, 2020, we filled the pH1 barrel from a Saison from stainless steel that didn't have any Side Project cultures in it, just Saison yeast. This was to allow the barrel to showcase its beauty without having to compete with the Side Project microflora. We let the barrel rest until we believed it to be ready to share - we bottled this beer on December 6, 2021, but we put a slight Side Project twist at bottling by using a blend of Brettanomyces Strains for bottle conditioning to add another layer of depth and character while also providing a great starting point for long-term aging in the bottle. We then refilled the barrel with wort for a final "spontaneous" fermentation by only the inhabiting barrel microflora for a final beer to be produced at Side Project before the barrel moves on to its next home.
We want to invite everyone to share this beer that represents a barrel and its legacy from the earlier times of craft beer. We will have bottles of Side Project pH1 available for on-site enjoyment at both The Side Project Cellar and Brewery Tasting Room starting this Friday, Feb. 25th. We hope to have bottles available to be enjoyed all weekend (this was a single oak barrel, so a very small amount of beer) so more people can taste and learn about a very inspirational part of why I still love sour beer.
A huge thank you goes out to Peter and Frezi for sharing this story and barrel with us. As a tart/wild/sour producer, I don't know if there is a higher honor than to be trusted with this barrel and its future.