First Taste: Fair State’s Old Richmond Rye

Fair State Barrel Aged-4a

Fair State’s first oak barrel aged beer, Old Richmond Rye // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

Fair State Brewing Cooperative was making good use of their new cellar on Monday, hand filling their first oak barrel aged beer. Named Old Richmond Rye, it is a collaboration with 45th Parallel Distillery out of New Richmond, Wisconsin., and is an imperial brown ale aged in the distillery’s New Richmond Rye barrels.

Filling bottles by hand is time consuming, and Head Brewer Niko Tonks said it’s the first and last time they are planning on employing this labor intensive process. In the nature of their small brewery, all of the founders and some of the brewery cooperative members were helping on the assembly line. Previous batches of their bottled beer have relied on a mobile bottling line, but this batch, aged in four whiskey barrels, was too small to warrant bringing one out.

Fair State Barrel Aged-3

Hand-filling bottles of Old Richmond Rye was a labor-intensive process // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

Fair State Barrel Aged-7

Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

Tonks said the idea behind the beer was to echo the flavors of the whiskey. Imbibed side by side, the beer and the whiskey’s subtle flavors complement each other. Last week lucky patrons at the 331 Club were subject to such an event. No concurrent tastings are planned for the future; you’ll have to seek out a bottle of each and do research at home to see if the brewers and distillers succeeded.

One of the brewing challenges facing Fair State was the amount of rye to use in the grain bill of the beer. While distillers must use 51% rye in their grain bills to create American rye whiskey, brewers need to use a lighter touch when it comes to adjuncts with high gluten contents like rye. In brewing, when brewers use too much it’s akin to filtering oatmeal through a coffee filter. A delicate balance in the grain bill is key to brewing a beer based on rye that doesn’t drink like poorly mixed Ovaltine. Beyond a balanced grain bill, a skilled brewer is essential to brewing a rye-based beer.

Despite their lauded reputation for funky/sour beer and its relationship to barrel aging, this is the first beer Fair State aged in oak barrels and released to the public. No funk is present or intended in Old Richmond Rye, and the barrel aging lends a distinct, guarded hand towards its flavor. Tonks said he was excited to grow their barrel program. He estimates they have enough room for 70 barrels in their cellar room. At this time they have a mix of 27 oak wine and whiskey barrels actively aging beer.

Talking barrels, 45th Parallel uses a very particular type of American oak barrel sourced from a supplier in the Ozarks for its Richmond Rye. Instead of being kiln dried as most barrel staves are, these staves are air-dried outside in a process that can take up to three years. During that time the staves are exposed to the elements, including rain, and wild bacteria, yeasts, and fungus, which lends more complexity to the finished whisky, says Paul Werni, co-founder of 45th Parallel. In Old Richmond Rye, the complexity of the whiskey from the barrels grants a dry and delicate nutty finish to the final beer.

[shareprints gallery_id=”33500″ gallery_type=”squares” gallery_position=”pos_center” gallery_width=”width_100″ image_size=”medium” image_padding=”5″ theme=”light” image_hover=”popout” lightbox_type=”slide” comments=”false” sharing=”true”]On Thursday, October 8th, members of the co-op will get first dibs on the bottled product. After that it will be released to the public. For those of you on the fence, this is your cue to become a member/owner. More information is available on Fair State’s Facebook event.

What to look for? A boozy whiskey nose, followed by a mellow, nutty, oaky, profile. Plenty of toasty caramel greets the tongue, and the finish is more dry oak. For a sub 8% ABV beer, it satisfies like it’s 10%, and you can enjoy more in a single sitting. Seek it out now at the brewery, it won’t be around for long.


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