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2014 Cuvee de Tomme

With this year’s Cuvee de Tomme hitting the market very soon, we wanted to speak to some of the issues we’ve faced and how we’re going to handle them going forward.

We produce Cuvee the same every year, beginning with our base beer of Judgment Day aging it in Bourbon, Brandy and French oak wine Barrels where it’s spiked with our house cultures and a generous helping of Sour Cherries, Cuvee will spend at least 12 months developing in the barrels before we blend. With practice comes improvement and we’re proud to say that our blending techniques get better each and every year.  Throughout the years producing this beer, one facet continues to become evident: we’re creating a very complex, balanced, and consistent beer that is unfavorable to bottle conditioning yeast.

Let’s look at the 2014 vintage of Cuvee, which may just be the best batch of Cuvee (in our humble opinion) that we’ve created. The 2014 batch has both high alcohol (the highest ever for Cuvee) and a low pH, requiring our bottling conditioning yeast to be Super Hero’s.  We give them substantial new amounts of sugar and then place the yeast in a most inhospitable place and ask them to perform for us. Think about Batman without his gadgets or Superman without his powers having to fight the good fight. They just can’t do it!  What we have found is that a majority of the yeast die within 36-48 hours of being placed into Cuvee.

We have tried many different yeasts, including adding more Brettanomyces, and they all seem to perish before they can give us the magic of frothy effervescence, amounting it to our version of sour beer Kryptonite.

In sticking with traditional bottle conditioning practices, we are starting with virtually no CO2 in solution of the beer (1.5 vols of Co2).  For each beer we bottle condition, we have different “yeast cocktails” for scenarios (i.e. higher alcohols, lower pH’s, etc) that will allow for the desired CO2 levels to be reached in the bottles.  Desired carbonation level will vary depending on the style of beer.

Bottle conditioning, the process of adding a calculated amount of new sugar and new yeast to the beer prior to it being packaged into bottles, is one we’ve refined greatly over the years. Yet Cuvee remains our biggest problem child.  Bottling yeast should convert the extra sugar into carbon dioxide, just as it does during primary fermentation.  When the pH of the beer is too low (acidic), the yeast slow or stop CO2 production. In addition, yeast also converts sugar into ethyl alcohol during fermentation.  As the alcohol percentage increases in the beer, the yeast slowly die from the alcohol. In other words, many die in Cuvee before they can even get started!

Over the years, we have been fortunate enough to stock our lab with advanced tools to help us better understand the environments inside our bottles.  We have tested previous years of Cuvee de Tomme and found it to have lower levels of CO2 in the bottles than previously thought.  Since traditional bottling conditioning doesn’t seem to work for Cuvee, we are investigating other techniques to increase the carbonation level in future bottling (We prefer re-fermentation methods for its aging properties).  Until that time, if you want to taste Cuvee with a higher carbonation level, we suggest comparing the bottles to draft. If you’re enjoying Cuvee de Tomme out of a bottle, we would recommend serving it at 55F to enhance the depth of the oak and red wine character in the beer. We really love the flavor of the 2014 Cuvee de Tomme and hope that you will too.

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