​This Wine Technique Came to Good Use for Bull City​

​Bull City’s Seth Gross had some empty used Bourbon barrels that weren’t being put to ​use, so he leaned on his wine background to make them useful.

“My background in wine made me think of wines in Europe which are aged in large barrels year in and year out for their maturing abilities rather than oak flavor,” he told Brewer.

After the beer came out of the barrel, Gross said they weren’t sure what to do with the neutral oak.

“After that second pass, the wood flavor was no longer imported to the beer,” he noted. “As the empty barrels began to pile up we had the idea to use them for their breathability and maturing of beer rather than specifically introducing the oak flavor.”

So in this thought, Bull City’s new Solera taproom was born. Now up to 33 barrels in a pyramid shape, the Durham, North Carolina brewery recently released its first iteration of the Solera project.

READ MORE: Bull City to Debut First Solera Products

Using a Belgian Tripel as the beer to age, Bull City pulled a blend from its bottom row of oak barrels. Gross along with Head Brewer Luke Studer started the project in 2013 and has expanded the Solera over the last eight years to create a giant 21-foot tall oak barrel pyramid inside the new restaurant and taproom.

“We knew we needed a higher alcohol beer for aging,” he said. “We also wanted something that would evolve with age. After looking at our options, it became clear that a Belgian Tripel was an excellent choice.”

Bull City brews Taurus Tripel as a regular beer on tap. Gross said they used the same recipe to age in the Solera pyramid.

“Just based on tasting the beer young and then holding back some for private consumption some months later, we knew this particular beer had great aging potential,” Gross said.

To get ready for release, the team tastes each barrel individually to make sure they are OK to use and removes an equal portion from each barrel to blend together. They then force carbonated the beer in a tank and kegged it. They use a pump to move the beer through the Solera because the stack of 33 barrels is far too heavy to undo and rearrange.

“We pump out approximately a third of each barrel of the bottom row for blending. Then we refill that row with the beer from the row above,” he said. “We work our way up the pyramid and then refill the top barrels with new Triple.

“The beer removed is blended in a larger brite tank and carbonated with co2 through a carbonating stone.”

Gross said that the beer had wonderfully matured as tertiary flavors have developed including cigar box spices, figs, and toffee notes.

“The beer definitely evolves as it warms in the glass,” he said.

​Although not certain at the moment​, Gross figures they will ​have releases maybe once or twice a year.

​”​It’s important that the beer goes through some seasonality and is given time to mature, so we don’t want to rush it​,” he said.

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