This is the exhaustively intricate tale of Lunctis Viribus as told by the amazingly talented mad scientist Andy Parker of Avery Brewing Company. Avery’s reigning “barrel herder” explains the ups and downs of blind tastings, and what it takes to make the cut from barrel to bottle.
It began 13 years ago when Parker, still a newbie in the brewing industry, began his brewing journey as the fourth employee of the celebrated Boulder brewery, Avery Brewing Company.
The tale gets interesting in a few short years when Russian River Brewing delivered a few oak barrels as a gift to Parker in 2003. Parker began to experiment with creating his now infamous barrel-aged beers, and it wasn’t until 2009 that he produced Avery’s first beer in the Barrel-Aged Series.
“Some worked; some didn’t,” he discovered. “This is experimental brewing!” the enthusiastic Parker announces to a crowd of eager tasters, this particular exchange happening on behalf of Barley’s Angels of Colorado at the end of catwalk of the second story of the impressive brewery.
Parker’s background has evolved from becoming the lead of Avery’s experimental arm to his now role as head of Research and Development for Avery, which allows him the creativity to do what he loves best.
“We’re hanging out, drinking beer, talking about beer – what can go wrong?” he said, introducing the group of exclusively women to the world of experimental brewing and the creation of the No.33 in the brewery’s Barrel-Aged Series – Lunctis Viribus.
Then there was sampling. We (I was also attending as a Barley’s Angels participant) were each given six tasters of the beers, which would become the foundation of the beer throughout various steps of the blending process. Think: Deconstructed beer tasting. Parker explained Avery staff members participated in blind tastings in order to help him evolve his recipe along the way, blending sours with other sours, based on the reactions of the tasters. (It was actually quite scientific.)
“This is why I got into brewing – to do creative stuff and to have fun,” Parker said while explaining that Avery’s sour program centers around barrel-aging to produce their line of sours.
“We’re making all of our lactic acid by intentionally adding acid-producing bacteria into beer that we’re aging in oak barrels,” he explained about his souring method. “Kettle sours can be awesome, but so far we’ve done all our experimentation (exclusively) in barrels.”
“Tastings, for the most part, are subjective,” he said. “While tasting, there is no wrong answer – try what you like and go from there.”
Parker told the group about his thought process in creating Lunctis Viribus, starting with the first blind tasting, and ending with the soon-to-be-bottled version – which was our Tasting #6.
“The very first blind tasting session we did (we) took a bunch of Avery people and have them taste Tank One, Tank Two and Tank Three – those are Tastings 1, 2 and 3.” Lunctis’ tale officially began when Parker withdrew samples of the three different sours, each of which he aged in three separate Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, and one taster of all three samples mixed together (Tasting #4).
The results? “Kinda boring.” He said tasters liked the taste of all three red wine sours blended together, but the beer still lacked something. So, he went back to the drawing board, thinking about what barrel-aged sours might work to elevate his red wine barrel-aged sour base.
“In looking at what else we had hanging around,” he recollected:
“What if I add some of that Fortuna Tequila barrel-aged sour flavoring – something to lighten up the nose?…But, it could also use more souring. For example, Eremita IX, which has a Literal Metric Fuckton of lactic acid in there…(I was) like that’s (it) exactly.”
Sippers swooned over sours as he finalized the results of each of the remaining blind tastings, adding in some of his revelations along the way, including his decision to add a bit of Tequila barrel-aged sour and a little bit of Eremita IX, which is a potent tequila barrel-aged dark sour that Parker calls “most sour beer we’ve ever made”. He adds:
“I love the beer. But I can only drink 2 ounces of it.” (Eremita IX)
The tale of four blind tastings bobbed and weaved its way into landing on the final proportions as follows: 40% red wine barrel-aged sours (a blend of all three from the initial tasting); 40% tequila barrel-aged sour; 5% Eremita IX; and 15% of a “another” tequila barrel-aged sour Parker added somewhere about the third tasting, which is all part of embracing the “chaos factor,” which is a recurrent theme of the barrel-aging process.
“Can you recreate it?” Parker was asked by one of the Barley’s Angels members. His answer was basically “No.”
Thankfully, you can drink it! The release of Lunctis Viribus happens this Sunday, on Valentine’s Day at Avery Brewing Company in Gunbarrel. Bottles will be sold at the brewery and select locations across the country.
So what’s the secret to a well balanced barrel-aged sour? Well if you’re Andy Parker, this means you aren’t too rigid, you aren’t following recipes, instead you just stumble upon awesomeness just before the third blind tasting is scheduled to happen. Or, you just leave it up to the experts and happily imbibe upon any wildly unexpected concoction they agree is bottle-worthy. (We choose the latter.)
EDIT: The final version of Lunctis Viribus contained 45% red wine barrel-aged sours; 45% tequila barrel-aged sour and 10% Eremita IX. The configuration we described above was the second place winner of the blind tastings, and not the final product to be bottled. We apologize for the error.