Dealing with Logistics for a Special Release

When a brewery releases a special release, the public sometimes doesn’t understand the magnitude of time, effort and pre-planning. Logistics play a major factor in a release. For Astoria, Oregon’s Fort George Brewery, planning for “Matryoshka”, which releases this month, began in earnest in 2015.

Matryoshka, a strong Russian Imperial Stout aged in Kentucky’s Four Roses Bourbon barrels, is bottled, wax dipped, and ready to leave Fort George. The oak barrels filled with stout have been lining the windows in the Lovell Showroom for all of 2016.

For the release to hit on time, barrels needed to be ordered back in 2015 said Fort George’s Brad Blaser.

“We contacted a supplier out in Kentucky who arranged to pick-up and delivery a truck full of freshly emptied bourbon barrels — in this case 80 oak bourbon barrels,” he said. “The barrels for Matryoshka all came from Four Roses. These were delivered very fresh to the brewery and filled, all within about 4-5 days.”

In late 2016 when the first barrels filled with Matryoshka were ready, a large portion was blended with the brewery’s base Russian Imperial Stout, until it was just right. A portion of the remaining barrels were aged with cocoa nibs, with another portion aged with cocoa nibs and raspberries. Those variations will be pulled from the barrels and released in even smaller batches, starting in February.

“The name ‘Matryoshka’ is based on the idea of Russian nesting dolls,” explained brewer Dave Coyne, who not only manages the barrel program at Fort George, he also drew the illustrations for the labels. “Matryoshka is the first in this series. It will be followed up with smaller and smaller variations.”

But another layer of logistics existed as well. Fort George only cans and this beer is being put in 500mL bottles. That meant the need for a custom six-head mobile bottling line.

“Everyone at the brewery loved the idea of packaging small-batches, especially with our barrel aged beers,” Blaser said. “The time and minimum orders to get a can produced make small-batch releases unrealistic. A mobile bottling line, which we had brought in from time-to-time, seemed the most logical approach. It took a while for everyone to decide on a bottle, order the machine (which had to be custom fit to that bottle), and go through the process of designing a label. Not to mention plan out the first few releases.”

fortgeorgepublichouse800x300

The Matryoshka releases are only the first in this new Sweet Virginia Series bottling project at Fort George. The mobile bottling line allows the brewers to do short runs of barrel aged and rare beers on a regular basis. Named after the small “Sweet Virginia” pub system, these brewer-developed beers have always been a source of innovation and experimentation on the block. But with many batches limited to a handful of kegs, most of these beers never leave the pub in Astoria.

Coyne said he is looking forward to trying different styles, perhaps blending with different kinds of barrels.

“Making the best barrel-aged beers we can and having a way to share those with more people, that’s what is exciting to me,” he said.

The pre-planning for marketing was fairly minimal Blaser said.

“We had been working on this series for a year, but as sometimes happens with a new project, there’s a rush at the end,” he said.

Labels arrived just as they were ready to bottle. And although the brewery had been talking about the upcoming bottle projects, at events and with fans Fort George, most of that was word-of-mouth. Once the labels and wax were on the first bottles, Blaser said they shot pictures and posted them to social media.

“Now that the Sweet Virginia Series label has a base design, future releases will be easier,” he said. “For instance, the Matryoshka variations will have set release dates, so we can let people know when to head to the brewery. Those are Wednesday, February 1 for Matryoshka aged with cocoa nibs, and Sunday, February 19 for Matryoshka aged with cocoa nibs and raspberries.

The first bottles of Matryoshka were sold last week with the additional layers set for release by February, in time for Fort George’s Stout Month.

Stout Month was created by co-owner Jack Harris. He’s worked all of his adult life as a brewer, and has started a Stout Month at every brewery he’s been at.

Mountain Sun, in Boulder, Colorado, still has a Stout Month started by Harris.

“Stout Month has been a part of Fort George since 2007 when they opened the public house,” explained Blaser. “The taps turn (mostly) black. We have new stout releases scheduled for every week.”

The brewery also hosts the Festival of Dark Arts on the Saturday of President’s Day Weekend — a craft, music, and art festival pouring over 60 rare stouts.

“Stout Month turns an otherwise dark and rainy month on the Oregon Coast into something really magical. And delicious,” Blaser said.

Upcoming larger releases in this Sweet Virgina series include a 10th Anniversary Barleywine (in March 2017) and a bourbon barrel version of its year-round stout, Bourbon Barrel Cavatica Stout (fall 2017).

“But the brewers are really excited to do extremely small runs of other barrel aged beers, or just bottle some styles we don’t have in cans,” Blaser said. “Kettle sours, Imperial IPAs, Saisons, etc. Most of those small releases will only be available at the brewery. But we will get better and better at getting the word out about when they’ll be available.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *