Craft beer fans, pucker up, because the award-winning Beachwood BBQ and Brewing has released details about its highly anticipated new facility and sour beer venture, Beachwood Blendery.
In a 4,500-square-foot space adjacent to its downtown Long Beach brewpub, Beachwood Blendery will house a sour beer barrel room, a blendery, a lab and, eventually, a tasting room, where you can sip all the tasty results of this experiment in old-world tradition.
In an admittedly geeky undertaking, owner Gabe Gordon and his team (including brewmaster Julian Shrago and barrelmaster Ryan Fields, the latter formerly of Lost Abbey and Pizza Port San Clemente) will, through a series of guesses and checks, attempt to re-create authentic Belgian lambic and gueuze beers.
As barrel-aged, spontaneously fermented golden ales, lambics and gueuzes are some of the most highly acclaimed and fervently sought-after beers in the world. However, the styles are technically a protected cultural product and are currently only made, aged and blended in the Zenne River Valley outside of Brussels.
Just last month, Beachwood BBQ and Brewing hosted a handful of these inspirational beers and brewers — Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen among others — the day before the Shelton Bros. Festival. Just a few minutes after opening, the wait for a table was well over two hours. Those in line were steadfast and resolute because the available beers are virtually impossible to track down in this country. Beachwood Blendery will tap into this captive and eager audience who crave the tart complexity of these traditionally produced beers.
So what motivates an established brewery to attempt such an monumental project?
“At its core, this is a search to figure out what factually differentiates a Belgian lambic from what we do here in the United States,” Gordon says. “The truth is that lambics are different from [sours made in the U.S.]. Is it something in the air? In the equipment? In the wort profile? Is there a weird brewing method? I don't know, but I want to start ticking off boxes of what it isn't.” Beachwood Blendery, in defining what makes a traditional Belgian sour beer, will also redefine what makes a modern American sour beer.
Sour beer is not a new undertaking for American breweries. Many barrel programs incorporate strains of wild yeast and bacteria — the “bugs” that give sour beer its signature pucker. Beachwood Blendery will be different (and internationally significant) because it will meticulously re-create the conditions that produce traditional Belgian sours.
“My theory is that it's a function of temperature and humidity [that] makes the lambics from Belgium so good,” Gordon says. “I will design an environment to mimic a barrel room in Belgium and its daily fluctuations.” Careful climate control will foster an environment in Long Beach that is as close to the Zenne River Valley as possible.
Traditional ingredients such as unmalted wheat and aged hops will provide a foundation to nourish the wild yeast and bacteria. Beachwood Blendery also will mimic the method and aging process of these Belgian beers, using a copper koelschip (a big, flat, open-air fermenting container) to spontaneously ferment the beer before tucking it away in French oak barrels.
The result of these first batches will be akin to the lambics produced in Belgium. Gueuze, however, is a style of beer that defies our impulse for instant gratification. The typical beer lifespan, for any given IPA, for instance, is measured in months — from brew kettle to pint glass. Gueuze, on the other hand, is a blend of lambic beers that have been aged for one, two and three years. Its untamed flavors and complex aromas can be haunting and refreshing, and always make an impression. But this lengthy aging process means we won’t see Beachwood Blendery’s pièce de résistance until at least 2017.
In the meantime, Gordon and Fields will not be standing idly by. They will use the coming months and years to explore each element of Belgian sour beer while also using contemporary American brewing methods to modernize the style. The Propogation series will feature single strains of wild yeast and bacteria to isolate the flavors that each produce. They will also make young, fruited sours, sweetened by nontraditional choices such as passion fruit, orange and guava (POG, inspired by Gordon’s surfing trips) and other tropical delights.
Beachwood Blendery is a beer geek dream, realized. An all-American gueuze would be the ultimate refreshment for sour beer drinkers. But it isn’t just we consumers who will benefit from Beachwood Blendery’s tart ambitions.
“For the Blendery team, this is as much an experimental platform for sours as it is a beer business,” Gordon says.
You brew it for the science, Gabe — we’ll drink it for the glory.
Beachwood Blendery is located at Long Beach Boulevard and Third Street, Long Beach. Follow the project on Instagram at @The_Blendery.