The craft beer industry is filled with countless success stories of people throwing caution to the wind and chasing their dreams. Generally against the wishes of family and friends home brewers across the country have been risking it all, often leaving other careers or hard earned college degrees, to open up their areas newest craft brewery. Oregon’s Paul Arney is a perfect example of this.
After spending several years away at college to obtain a degree in geology he returned home to realize his passion lied elsewhere. After a trip to UC Davis for its brewers extension courses he started sending out letters to every brewery on the West Coast he could find. He sent out over 150 letters and got two responses. One response was a thanks but no thanks letter and the second was form Deschutes Brewing inviting him out to Bend, Ore.
Fast forward over 15 years later and Arney had built himself a name in the industry as a very successful brewer with a well-respected organization. In 2012, he was then able to transfer his success with Deschutes into his own brewery based out of a barn on his property just outside of Bend. This was the start of Ale Apothecary, one of the most unique breweries in the region.
Arney strives to take brewing back to what it was centuries ago and tries to minimize the use of stainless steel in his process. He goes as far as to use a chopped down spruce tree as his mash tun.1 All of the fermentation is done in oak barrels and most with the wild yeast and bacteria found in the air surrounding his barn. His abnormal brew process has produced a very unique product that has quickly gained the attention of the beer world.
Thanks to my awesome family members in the Pacific Northwest2 I have a bottle of El Cuatro sitting in front of me today. I have been lucky enough to try a few of Ale Apothecary’s offerings in the past and loved them all but I am very excited to try this one.
El Cuatro uses barley and caramel malts which are fermented with a combination of Lactobacillus and brettanomyces in oak barrels. Once primary fermentation is complete the beer is laid to rest in brandy and whiskey barrels for over a year. The elixir that emerges from the barrels is then blended with a small amount of Sahalie3 to create the final product.
As I open the bottle and pour it into my glass the first thing that strikes me about the beer is that it looks exactly like apple juice. A vigorous pour generates a rocky white head that dissipates into a few large bubble that again closely resemble a glass of apple juice. A quick sniff of the glass reveals a slight sweetness that I was not expecting from the brew. Along with the sweetness I also get some lacto tartness, green apples, brandy, earthy funk and a bit of alcohol as the glass warms.
The first taste of the beer is quite a surprise. Like the nose there is a definite sweetness to the beer that once again I was not expecting. The juice like sweetness of the beer is cut by a moderate level of acidity that I expected to dominate the beer. The two work wonderfully together balancing each other out and creating a very drinkable beer. Adding to the complexity of the brew are a slew of fruit flavors including plum, cherry, peach and even a bit of grape skin. A bit of oak and dark red wine flavors round out this tasty concoction. The finish is more of the same but the brandy barrels seem to come out a bit more in the finish.