Skookum Brewery
                                Arlington’s Skookum Brewery is releasing two barrel-aged beers on Saturday: Deep Color, a smoked old ale, and Solitary Confinement, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout.
                                Arlington’s Skookum Brewery is releasing two barrel-aged beers on Saturday: Deep Color, a smoked old ale, and Solitary Confinement, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. (Skookum Brewery)

Skookum Brewery Arlington’s Skookum Brewery is releasing two barrel-aged beers on Saturday: Deep Color, a smoked old ale, and Solitary Confinement, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. Arlington’s Skookum Brewery is releasing two barrel-aged beers on Saturday: Deep Color, a smoked old ale, and Solitary Confinement, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. (Skookum Brewery)

With 2 new beers, Skookum nails down barrel-aging technique

It’s all in selecting the right barrels. They’ve got to be wet with bourbon, their former contents.

When it comes to beer, barrels can be finicky creatures.

Skookum head brewer Hollis Wood learned that the hard way.

Earlier in his career, Wood filled a number of barrels with the brewery’s Asesinato de Cuervo, an imperial stout conditioned on vanilla bean, cinnamon and cocoa nibs, and Deep Color, a smokey old ale, and aged them for months.

Unfortunately, when it came time to start testing the batches, Wood and his team discovered they’d been oxidized, or had too much oxygen post-fermentation, a death knell for most beers. Both batches had to be dumped. It was a heartbreaking loss, but it served a good lesson.

Over the past few years, Wood has revitalized Skookum’s barrel program. Recent fall and winter releases of Scary Joy, an imperial brown rested on coconut in bourbon barrels, and Breakfast Stout, an imperial stout conditioned on vanilla and coffee beans and rested in bourbon barrels, were met with great applause. Saturday, Skookum releases two more offerings, one of them the next iteration of Deep Color, the other an old favorite, Solitary Confinement, with slight tweaks.

Wood said he’s proud of both.

“We’re really excited about both of these beers,” Wood said. “I’d say this is the best experience with a barrel we’ve been able to create here.”

Looking back, Wood said he knows what went wrong with the batches that had to be dumped: The oak barrels were too dry to be used for beer, which leached through the wood and allowed a pocket of air to develop.

“We learned what to look for in barrels as they come in the door,” Wood said. “You want them to be wet, to still have that residue from the bourbon. If those previous barrels came in today, we’d say take ’em back.”

Wood is especially happy to finally introduce Deep Color. It’s an old ale brewed with a touch of cherry wood-smoked malt and aged 10 months in bourbon barrels.

“It’s more old ale than smoked ale,” Wood said. “It has that depth of sweetness and notes of toffee and dark fruit that you want from an old ale.”

This version of Solitary Confinement is based on the old recipe, with some slight tweaks. The finished product is a blending of two aged versions: 45 percent coming from a batch that rested 16 months in Four Roses bourbon barrels, and the rest coming from a batch that was in Woodford Reserve barrels for 10 months.

“Blending can be a really important aspect of bringing together two good beers to make one great one,” Wood said. “There are a lot of factors to think about when blending — the viscous nature of the beer, the detectable alcohol — and it’s something we had to learn.”

Bottles of both Deep Color and Solitary Confinement go on sale at noon April 20. They will also be on tap at the brewery.

Big Welle DIPA, 5 Rights Brewing: Brewed in honor of a man who works at a hop plant in Yakima, this double IPA is full of personality yet still soft and approachable. It has bright flavors and aromas of cara cara oranges and passionfruit with an underlying dankness. Available on tap at the brewery.

Day Sailer Pils, Sound to Summit Brewing: Brewed with traditional German hops and yeast and lagered for eight weeks, this true German-style pilsner has a delicate herbal and spicy hop character and mild malty sweetness. Available on tap at the brewery.

Jitterbug Love, Decibel Brewing: Brewed with two-row, roasted barley, flaked barley and British crystal malt, this coffee stout is fermented with 2.3 pounds of Peruvian coffee beans from Mill Creek’s Spotted Cow coffee roaster. Available on nitro this weekend at the brewery.

Swoop, Foggy Noggin Brewing: Made with English malts and hops, this dry-hopped English Special Bitter finishes with a smooth dry bitterness. Available on tap at the brewery.

Easter Sundae, Crucible Brewing: Brewed by Crucible’s sales manager, Erika Hernandez, this banana cream milkshake IPA is the perfect treat for all the bunnies this Easter. Available on tap Saturday at the brewery.

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