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The solera system in brewing: old technology – new solutions

Solera has long been used in the production of alcoholic beverages, but in the world of brewing, this technology has received a new life. Kat Wolinsky in an article on the Vinepair website talks about American breweries that have adopted the solera system. Pivo.by publishes a translation of the material.

At the first Beer With (out) Beards festival this summer in Brooklyn, one could watch a long line at the Black Project booth, a Denver brewery in Colorado specializing in spontaneous fermentation beer and wild ales. Behind the corporate counter, guests of the festival were waiting for Sarah Howat, production director of Black Project, who, armed with everything necessary, opened pre-prepared beer bottles.

Sour, or wild, and other varieties of spontaneous fermentation ales have become extremely popular among American beer lovers. So, from 2015 to 2016, the volume of sales of sour beer in the United States has quadrupled (from 45,000 to 245,000 cases) and is still growing.

Along with the growing popularity of this beer style, the technologies for its production are expanding. Whether it’s small novice breweries such as the Black Project, Solera Brewing from Oregon or American Solera from Oklahoma, or their more experienced competitors, many companies are happy to combine Belgian brewing traditions with various tricks and tricks borrowed from winemakers and whiskey producers.

One of such modern technological processes in the American brewing industry, today experiencing something like a renaissance, is the solera system. Originally developed in the 19th century by Spanish sherry producers, today this method is popular with famous breweries such as Cambridge Brewing, which stated that in 2003 it created “the first real beer salt system in the USA”, and Beachwood Blendery, whose first Geuze recently won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival.

Being the result of creative imagination and fascinating experiments, not a single salt beer can be reproduced, which makes this nascent beer category the climax of scientific achievements and craftsmanship in craft brewing.

The term “solera” means a beverage aging system, within which a liquid product is poured into interconnected containers (traditionally oak barrels or barrels) at different stages of its production. In Europe, in addition to the production of sherry, this method is widely used for aging port wine, brandy, marsala and even some varieties of vinegar, for example, balsamic.

The barrels are stacked in a multi-tiered whole structure, reminiscent of a pyramid in shape, the lower tier of which is called Solera (from the Spanish word Suelo – “earth”, “floor” or “soil”). The next tier or tiers, located above the solera, form a cryadera; and the uppermost tier of the pyramid, lying on the cryader, is sometimes called Sobretable. Each new batch of product is poured into the upper barrels, while extracting an equal part of the contents from the solera, as a result of which the barrels are never empty.

In recent years, manufacturers of strong alcoholic beverages are increasingly using the salt method for aging whiskey and rum. So, in 1997, David Stewart, a former master malt maker from Glenfiddich, constructed and constructed a 38,000-liter tank from douglas fir for use as a blending and aging system for whiskey. Stewart is “one of the first to use the technology of ripening whiskey in barrels,” says Allan Roth, a spokeswoman for the Glenfiddich brand. The salt system installed in the distillery was gradually filling, and since the release of the first batch of Glenfiddich whiskey aged in a barrel in 1998, it has never been empty for more than half.

The principle of operation of the solera system
The principle of operation of the solera system. Figure: Danielle Grinberg
Today, five varieties of Glenfiddich salted whiskey are ripening in this unique reservoir. The most famous of them has a 15-year exposure. “Thanks to the constant blending of parties, we manage to get high-quality whiskey with an incredibly rich flavor profile,” says Roth. “Instead of mixing individual batches in 2000-liter tanks for several weeks, we merge all batches into one system, where they continuously mature, mixing with each other.”

The first use of the salt method by American brewers is associated with the production of Ballantine Burton Ale ale, which first went on sale in the 1930s, but was discontinued in the late 1960s. After about 40 years, a number of eminent craft breweries have released a limited series of beer made using salt technology. Thus, New Belgium is considered the first producer of sour beer in the United States due to its famous La Folie, sour Flemish brown ale ripening in oak barrels, which has been produced annually since 1998.

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