The Logistics of Producing a Popular Barrel-Aged Lineup

Since its rise in popularity, including a 2017 GABF medal and winning at FOBAB in the same year, WeldWerks’ Medianoche Barrel-Aged Stout is a darling with not just craft beer fans, but also the brewery’s staff.

Head Brewer Skip Schwartz shared with Brewer on a recent podcast (LISTEN HERE) the ins and outs of the beer, which has had multiple variations and releases in the past few weeks, including what is the crown jewel this year with 2023 Medianoche.

“We want to try to show off as much wood character and spirit character as we can, those non-adjunctive ones,” Schwartz said.

The process of note-taking, organization, and quality control is super important in the process. Having those logistics in place helps the brewery keep track of more than 350 barrels at a time, along with being able to create many variations that are adjunct-heavy as well.

“If we’re going after something like the Fluffernutter (peanut butter powder and marshmallow cream), we would go through the barrel stack and we’d look for things that maybe have really big vanilla flavors, or they might present as peanut butter. We’re looking for those kinds of things so we have a starting point. And then clearly, we’re going to add in a bunch of other things to finish that off.

“I think the bigger that we’ve gotten, the more nuanced we can get with our blending. We don’t just have to take all the same batch and all the same age. When I first started it was kind of how a lot of the Medianoches were versus now.”

2023 Medianoche includes barrels filled with the base recipe that sat for 24-30 months in exclusive barrels including Buffalo Trace Warehouse X Experimental bourbon, Law’s Whiskey House Rye, Eagle Rare Bourbon, Old Fitzgerald Bourbon, Old Elk Bourbon, Wheated Weller and Weller 12 bourbon, Breckenridge Bourbon, and Templeton ten-year Rye. The base recipe includes our traditional Medianoche base, combined with wheated, rye, extended-boil, and short-boiled Medianoches.

“The 2023 was a 22-barrel blend,” Schwartz said. “That included beers from multiple batches. It’s the biggest regular Medianoche blend that we’ve done to date. It’s over a couple of tasting sessions.

“You can’t taste 22 barrel-aged Stouts and expect you to be super accurate the entire time. You definitely need a couple sessions. We were able to control and pick flavors that we want a lot differently than we used to be able to.”

COVID was a really critical moment for a lot of breweries and their barrel programs. For WeldWerks, it meant adding more beer and more barrels, which is now starting to see the light of day in releases.

“It was really hard for people to go ahead and say, let’s put beer in barrels for this time and not know if we’ll ever even be in business to see it,” he said. “We made the conscious decision that we were gonna go harder on it and work with our barrel brokers. That kind of got us a leg up on some people because while other people were saying no to barrels, we were saying yes, so we took in a lot more barrels at that time than we do now. That was an intentional thing.

“All Medianoches are at least 18 months in barrels. So for us to plan out 18 months is impossible — the way that we do things and the way that our company has grown.”

Schwartz said they have sheets on every single barrel, which include a barrel number, brew day, fill date, pH, calculated ABV, and the gravity when it went into the barrel.

“I don’t like to call that final gravity, I call it pre-barrel final gravity,” he said.

They have similar information with even more details in a spreadsheet as well.

As for the organization of a dedicated barrel room, WeldWerks uses a building with an entire front wall of garage doors.

“We have an organizational system where the oldest barrels are in the front all the way to the far right of the building,” Schwartz explained. “Then they rotate, so about two to three times a year, we pull every single barrel out, we go through and make sure everything is what it says it is, cross reference it to our inventory-list spreadsheet, and then we will put it back in order.

“That way, in theory, we should be using the oldest ones first. That’s not always the case due to blending, but that way, it’s a little bit easier. Then we don’t have every single brand new barrel in the front row of these bays and we have to move all those out just to get to some stuff.”

They also use EKOS for tracking.

“We do have a lot of tracking,” he said. “Those days are long days, when we get to reorganize the barrel room and are pulling every single barrel out and then putting them all back in order in a single day is quite the task. It’s usually about two people on a forklift and 8-10 hour days on those.”

Being such a thick and high-ABV beer, Schwartz said there aren’t many barrels that suffer off-flavors.

“Over the years, we’ve moved so many barrel rooms that I don’t think anything has been able to develop to spoil Medianoche, but that’s not to say that it won’t,” he said, stressing the importance of quality control and inventory.

Photo courtesy WeldWerks Brewing

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