Hidden deep inside the concrete exterior of the massive MillerCoors plant in Golden, in a room that you enter from a stairway landing and through a door that says, "exit," a group of meticulous brewers for AC Golden Brewing have been experimenting with unusual beers that are going to surprise you.
The first is a Russian Imperial Stout that was brewed specifically so it could be poured into Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey barrels and aged for thirteen months. Known simply as Batch 2, it just won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Which is good timing, since eighty cases of the beer -- which will be sold in large-format bottles -- will hit liquor stores around Denver in early November.
See also: - Meet the winners of Great American Beer Festival 2012 - AC Golden Brewing will release three small-batch sour beers in bottles - Breckenridge and Stranahan's forge a new beer from a well-built partnership
The second release, Batch 1, will be the same beer aged for eleven months in whiskey barrels formerly used by the Denver-based Leopold Brothers Distillery.
AC Golden hasn't set a release date on that one yet, and the only way you'll know the difference -- unless you have an elevated palate -- is by the timing. Stranahan's sells its used barrels, but has a licensing agreement with Breckenridge Brewery, meaning that no other breweries can print its name on their labels. (So, don't tell anyone).
But that's just the beginning. The brewery, a small brand incubator for MillerCoors, was founded to experiment with more mass market styles, like its popular Colorado Native, which uses 100 percent Colorado-grown or produced ingredients and packaging. But since it's an incubator, AC Golden's gets to play around with all kinds of styles and trends. These beers are all part of what it calls the Hidden Barrel Collection.
"As an incubator company, our mission is to create a beer that can be developed to a volume where it can be turned over to the parent company for expansion," explains AC Golden president Glenn Knippenberg. "The Hidden Barrel Collection offers the first exposure that most of our beers will get to the consumer. Some of these beers are produced and sold in quantities as small as twenty cases. Depending on the consumer response to a particular beer, we will repeat it, often on a larger scale...all the while ascertaining if this particular beer has the potential to become the next 'expansion' beer."
In late September, AC Golden began pouring its latest batch of an Apricot sour, made with brettanomyces yeast, into new cork-and-cage bottles that it just acquired.
Last May, the brewery released two sour beers - the Apricot and a Peche - exclusively at Mile High Wine & Spirits in Lakewood. The beers, which sold out immediately, were the first the AC Golden, founded in 2008, had released in 750 ml bottles.
But brewer Troy Casey says the new closure will make a difference. "It's so nice to hear that pop from a cork rather than the hiss of a bottle cap when you are opening something fancy for the table," he says. The brewery hopes to have about 120 cases of the beer this time around, as opposed to fourteen cases for the release in May.
To make the beer, Casey steeped 900 pounds of Colorado apricots in his fermentation tanks for two months; the previous version was aged in barrels for a few weeks.
After that, AC Golden will release a new version of its Peche sour as well, this one using 800 pounds of Colorado peaches. Also in the works is a sour beer made with 500 pounds of Colorado blackberries and some other projects.
Knippenberg and Casey would like to release a couple of Hidden Barrel beers in bottles every few months, depending on how they turn out. And even if they don't become mass-market beers -- as barrel-aged sours probably won't -- it gives the brewers at AC Golden a chance to show off and build some credibility, Knippenberg explains.
"AC Golden has some of the best brewers in the industry. Among our group, we have brewers with Masters Degrees from U.C. Davis, Heriot-Watt, in Scotland and the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London," he adds.
"We have brewers that have brewed professionally for more than 25 years...The Hidden Barrel Collection provides our brewers an opportunity to stay at the forefront of brewing trends. It gives them an opportunity to express their creativity and brewing skills, beyond the 'production job' required to grow the 'flagship' beer," Colorado Native.
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