30 Barrels & Counting

Over the past four years, we have been developing a barrel ageing and souring project, housed in Arch 440 at our brewery site. With the first release coming soon, we're looking ahead to a calendar of exciting and experimental brews. Read on to learn more about the Five Points barrel ageing project.

Five Points barrels viewed through the gap between other barrels

A Snapshot History

Historically, beer has been fermented, stored, transported and served in wooden containers, and it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that we made the sizable shift away from wood to metal (stainless steel or aluminium) containers. Metal is stronger, lighter, more hygienic and better able to withstand the higher pressures needed for carbonated beer than its wooden predecessor. Yet, this doesn’t mean the tradition of wooden barrel use, and the resulting character and flavour, have little validity in modern brewing. 

Unique Experience of Wood

Today, we patiently tend and cultivate a healthy barrel-ageing project at our brewery. Like many brewers across the world, barrel ageing draws us in for its process challenges, and as a vehicle for insanely complex, interesting and experimental flavours. With any barrel, there’s a whole host of unique factors which combine to impact the final product. This includes characteristics from the barrel’s previous contents (wine, whisky, sherry, rum, etc), the character from the oak, and the wood’s porous nature – essential for certain sour fermentations and maintaining unique cultures.

Our Collection

In 2014, we kicked our barrel collection off with eight Burgundy Pinot Noir red wine barrels, all of which were filled with our classic London style porter, Railway Porter. The barrels added notes of rich coffee, subtle smoke and tobacco, and the beer was released months later as our Barrel Aged Railway Porter.

Four years on, and hundreds of brews later, our barrel collection has grown to 30 (Or, 31 if you’re counting little ‘Jorge’*) The barrel project is now housed in Arch 441 and over the past 12 months, we’ve been upping our efforts. In March 2017, we added 14 barrels into the project; 7 Pinot Noir and 7 Chardonnay barrels, and a mixture of mainly French and some Hungarian oak.

* ‘Jorge’ is a 30-litre St. George whiskey barrel, and homebrew project of our two brewers, Chris and Michael. Jorge contains a 7% porter, with Ancho and Pasilla chillies, and honey-washed Columbian coffee bean, but unfortunately for you, dear reader, he is likely to be strictly for staff enjoyment and research purposes. (Hey, there’s certain perks of being a brewer!)

Two white wine barrels and a keg of beer at The Five Points Brewing Company's barrel store under Hackney Downs station in East London

Mixed Fermentation Blond Sour

One of these Chardonnay barrels has served as home for our first release, which will be coming this Spring. It’s a Mixed Fermentation Blond Sour, with a mixture of American and Belgian lactobacillus, and the ageing in the Chardonnay barrels is noticeable in its flavour – a distinct, balanced white wine acidity, a fruity sourness and honey sweetness. We are thrilled at the result and at the opportunity to experiment and develop a house souring culture. There’s not going to be a lot of this beer around, but when it’s ready, we’ll let you know.

Two of the March 2017 barrel acquisition were Grand Cru barrels, each with a Medium Plus toast (M+). This darker char (essentially the levels at which the barrel was burnt) is designed to stand-up to heavy, stronger flavours. With this in mind, we pitched our 2017 vintage of Old Greg’s Barley Wine with a ‘Strong’ Brettanomyces yeast strain, and the two are currently undergoing a secondary fermentation. We’re hoping for release at some point in the coming future.

A brewer pulling a nail of Barley Wine from the barrel at The Five Points Brewing Company in Hackney

Uppers & Downers

It’s this bretted, barrel aged, Old Greg’s Barley Wine which we are developing for the incredible Uppers & DownersGood Beer Hunting‘s celebration of coffee-beer collaborations and experimentations taking at Mick’s Garage in Hackney on May 19th. We are partnering with Dark Arts Coffee, a roasterie based just ten minutes away from our brewery, and we’re looking at using a South-American washed bean to add complimentary bright and tropical fruit flavours to the beer’s already fruity profile. But, more of that to follow. We can’t wait.

1000th Brew Imperial Stout

The latest additions to our barrel collection are eight Auchentoshan whisky barrels which arrived early this year. Six of these house our 1000th brew, a decadent and rich imperial stout, currently sitting around 11.5% ABV. The other two are currently ageing Railway Porter.

With our 30hL blending tank arriving next month, and the development of our own house souring-culture, we’re extremely excited with our future barrel ageing plans. Patiently, watch this space.