Beer Man

New Belgium intensifies its sour beer program by doubling the size of its foeder forest

New Belgium Brewing makes lots of big news -- for instance, it's about to resume construction on its massive new plant in North Carolina; it just introduced a new winter seasonal called Accumulation White IPA; it will begin distributing beer in Ohio, its 35th state -- but the Fort Collins brewery is pushing the limits behind the scenes as well.

This winter, the nation's third largest craft brewer will double its collection of foeders -- massive wooden barrels that are typically used to age wine in Europe and California -- from 32 to 64.

See also: Epic Brewing will kick-start a new sour beer program with foeders from New Belgium

Which might not sound like a lot, until you consider that most of these foeders holds 130 hectoliters, or roughly 104 barrels (208 kegs), of beer. (You can see them at this Imgur site.) They'll be so heavy, in fact, that New Belgium is currently redoing the floors in its "foeder forest" to support the weight.

"The goal is two-fold," says New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson. The first is to keep La Folie -- the popular sour brown ale that New Belgium first brewed in 2004 and which can take up to three years to make -- in the market year-round. The second "is to be able to do more experimental blends as part of the Lips of Faith series."

New Belgium, which helped pioneer the sour and wild ale movement in the United States, began buying foeders from overseas wine makers several years ago. It uses them to age beers like La Folie and Le Terroir. The brewery also makes several beers, like Tart Lychee and Eric's Ale, that blend in some of the wood-aged beers.

Brettanomyces, the yeast strain that is used to make many wild and sour beers, "likes an oxygen-rich environment, and that is what the oak brings you," Simpson says. The foeders also allow New Belgium to make these beers in a larger quantity without the same level of effort required by using regular-sized wine barrels.

A few breweries across the country, including Russian River, Goose Island and Crooked Stave, also use them, but not to the extent that New Belgium does. New Belgium recently sold three of its smaller foeders to the Denver outpost of Utah-based Epic Brewing, which plans to use them to kickstart its own sour and wild ale aging program.

Simpson says that once all of the new foeders are up and running -- which may not be until next year sometime -- that New Belgium will be maxed out on space. There are no plans for a foeder forest in the first phase of the North Carolina plant.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes