Ale at Altitude: Epic’s Big Bad Baptist returns to shelves in October
If you go …
What: Meet the Brewmaster, with Dave Cole, co-founder of Epic Brewing Co.
When: 4-7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11.
Where: Fireside Bar, Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, Vail.
Cost: Free samples of Epic beers
What: Small Plates and Craft Beer Pairing.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12.
Where: Atwater on Gore Creek Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, Vail.
Cost: $35 per person, plus tax, fees and gratuity
More information: Visit www.vailcascade.com, or call 970-479-7014
For most of the year, he sleeps, tucked away in whiskey casks, mellowing and maturing until the fall, when he emerges again. October marks the start of Big Bad Baptist season, and the brewery suddenly smells like coffee, chocolate and bourbon. It’s a busy time, with casks coming and going, tasting panels, blending and packaging, and everyone seems to be in a state of hurried anticipation.
Big Bad Baptist is Epic Brewing’s award-winning, barrel-aged imperial stout to which our team adds coffee and cacao nibs. Ryan Buxton, head cellarman in Salt Lake City, oversees the program and discusses what makes Big Bad Baptist so special:
“What I love about Big Bad Baptist is how complex the drinking experience is. There’s so much going on, from aroma to aftertaste, but none of it collides or conflicts. We all put a lot of effort into harmonizing and organizing the different layers of this beer so that the experience is nuanced but still directed.
“First, we start with an exceptional base beer, our award-winning Imperial Stout. This beer’s often overshadowed by Baptist, but it really is its heart. We use seven different malts to create rich flavors reminiscent of bitter chocolate, coffee, dried fruit and even anise, but of course, the real magic and what makes Baptist so special is the barrel aging.
“We use our casks three different times, and each use produces different characteristics.
“When Imperial Stout goes into a first-use cask, it’s around 10.5 percent alcohol by volume, and after cellaring, it emerges at around 11.5 percent to 12 percent ABV. As you can imagine, there is a strong whiskey aroma with plenty of heat and an overall boozy nature. While that beer is plenty good, it’s not balanced. The malt character we worked to produce in the base beer is simply overpowered by the toasted marshmallow and alcoholic quality of the whiskey.
“This is where the second-use casks really make the difference. The beer aged in these casks has a much rounder, dried-fruit character, such as plum and fig, with that sweet, smooth vanilla character the oak contributes. Our third-use casks become very woody, with a slight astringent dryness on the aftertaste. This is the beer people think of when they talk about being able to taste the barrel.
“We thief samples from all of the 900 barrels over the course of the year and taste them through panels. Baptist takes up almost half of our total barrel program, a little more than 2,000 barrels total, so the tastings are pretty extensive. I think this is what really makes Baptist so special, is that so many people at the brewery have input. It’s also 100 percent barrel-aged, which is becoming rare as the cost of barrels increases.
LIVING, CHANGING BEVERAGE
“Each release for the season is going to be slightly different. We don’t have a preset flavor profile that defines Big Bad Baptist. Instead, we allow the beer to be itself. This is a challenging way to work because beer is a living, changing beverage, and each one of our barrels is unique.
“After selecting the blend, the last step is to add in the coffee and cacao nibs. Once again, we aren’t following a formula but approach the process through tasting. In some batches, we pull back on the coffee and increase the cacao; if the beer needs some additional richness or if the roasted character could use a bit of a boost, we might add slightly more coffee.
CREATING AN IDENTITY
“This is the type of brewing that’s at the core of Epic. Exceptional beer needs to be cared for and truly crafted, but above all, it needs to stand on its own, which is why numbered releases are so important to us; each time we make the beer, we’re creating that brand’s identity; sometimes previous releases play into that, and other times we deviate. There’s no fixed point for any of our brands. We let our palates, our technique and our imaginations guide us.”
Dave Cole is the co-founder of Epic Brewing Co. Big Bad Baptist will be released on Thursday, Oct. 1, and is available in the 18 states in which Epic distributes. For more information about individual releases or to locate a distributor, visit http://www.epicbrewing.com.
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