Insight Brewing is no stranger to barrels. The growing brewery on the east side of Minneapolis has celebrated its two anniversaries with wood-aged beer. These variations on the Gravity Well imperial stout have sold out, leaving customers wanting more. While the brewery intends to cater to that demand, it nonetheless is taking its upcoming offerings in a new direction. Under the stewardship of Ryan Mihm, who became the head brewer last April, Insight is about to launch its Brewmaster’s Secret Garden series.
Mihm’s years with Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing and Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company helped him hone the barrel-aging skills that Insight’s owner Ilan Klages-Mundt is seeking to capitalize on. Insight is able to purchase barrels directly from New Belgium because of Mihm’s connection, giving them extensive access to unique vessels.
The Brewmaster’s Secret Garden series will debut at liquor stores in about two weeks.
“These will all be wild ales,” says Mihm. Not all of the beers will be sour, he explained, but they will all be funk-forward. As we walked into the designated sour corner of the brewery at a recent press event, Mihm pointed out various barrels and batches. A few of the current batches are conditioning in a variety of barrels, but the beers are typically blended together when they become ripe for drinking.
The first beer in the series is a variation on the already released Sunken City. The base beer, a saison with sauvignon blanc grapes, offered a natural platform from which to launch the series; its farmhouse nature and fruit addition cast a shadow similar to that of wild ales. After primary fermentation, the beer is funneled into blackberry-whiskey barrels that previously held sour beer at New Belgium.
In the case of this first beer, appropriately called Funken City, no additional microorganisms were required to produce the intended result. Enough yeast and bacteria were already in residence to create an intensely funky beer that lingers on the roof of the mouth seemingly indefinitely. Though the strains are unknown, a clear presence of the wild yeast strain Brettanomyces claussenii brings a powerful mango aroma and vanilla finish. The high degree of effervescence and dryness creates a winelike profile. Bottles will retail for about $14 for 750 milliliters.
A handful of other wild ales are in various stages of completion. One of these is a batch that is conditioning as part of an informal wandering barrel project initiated by Mat Wadell of Wild Mind Artisan Ales in South Minneapolis. The barrel contains multiple wild yeast and bacteria strains, which guarantees a complex result. One batch was put into the barrel at Wild Mind and served in its taproom, and the barrel was sent on to Insight. It’s currently filled with a beer going by the working title, Let’s Get Chummy.
Other batches that will debut in the spring and summer include a sour red aged in two different barrels that previously held cherry whiskey and single malt whiskey. Each batch is developing along a different trajectory, with one being far more tart than the other. Presently the beer is called Red Bird, and it will be available in the taproom and in a limited number of bottles in March.
And stay tuned for a collaboration with an undisclosed Belgian brewery that will feature smoked peaches. There will also be a 100 percent Brettanomyces-fermented wild ale with juniper and sage. Both are anticipated for June.
Insight’s growth during its first years has been rapid and marked by success. Its expansion into wild ales is similar to that of both Fair State Brewing Cooperative and Indeed Brewing in the sense that all three breweries also produce successful non-sour brands. In contrast to some brand-new breweries that attempt sour beers with little experience, Insight appears to have the right man for the job.
Mihm is interested in experimenting with other spirit barrels including those from rum and gin, and his use of wine barrels will likely expand soon. Insight recently acquired a new building, just accross the parking lot from its current space, and this will allow more room for wood-aging. The recently announced solar garden, a project that is close to Mundt’s heart, will make the brewery the first all-solar-powered brewery in the state.
The Brewmaster’s Secret Garden series of wild beers launches in about two weeks and will feature new releases seasonally, primarily for the taproom, with limited numbers of bottles. More information can be found at http://www.insightbrewing.com.