The story of pH1, craft beer’s most prolific sour beer barrel

Oct 20, 2015

Image courtesy of The Rare Barrel

UPDATE: To celebrate the opening of our long-time brewmaster Peter Bouckaert's new brewery in Fort Collins, Co.—Purpose Brewing & Cellars—the epic saga of craft beer's most prolific sour beer barrel begins a new chapter. Recently, The Rare Barrel gifted Bouckaert back his barrel, which he'll use to continue producing sours at his new location. What follows is—as they say—the rest of the story.

----------

All of the barrels and foeders in our wood cellar have an interesting story, or at least a funny name. But the tale of pH1, a former wine barrel, stands alone in its epicness. And, as of this past week, the barrel’s embarking on another adventure as it settles into its new home at The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, Calif.


The story of pH1—at least the part of its journey that involves craft beer—began in the late 1990s, when we first started experimenting with sour beer. As one of the original seven barrels we used to play with wild cultures, pH1 was something of a blueprint for the future of our now extensive sour beer program. It also proved time and again to be an incredibly reliable producer of sour beer, and was instrumental in the creation of our flagship sour La Folie.


But during the first expansion of our wood cellar, while making room for those two-story wooden foeders that are now the hallmark of our brewery, pH1 went missing. Blender Lauren Salazar couldn’t figure out what happened, and eventually gave up on the mystery. Years went by, and our program went on to become defined by the likes of La Folie, Le Terroir, Transatlantique Kriek and Eric’s Ale. Old reliable pH1 was more or less forgotten, that is until Salazar found herself at Russian River years later.


During a tour of the California brewery, New Belgium pilot brewer Cody Reif noticed what he thought was a familiar barrel. He pointed it out to Salazar and, sure enough, it was pH1, continuing its adventure as a beer barrel at one of the country’s most prolific Belgian-inspired sour beer makers. But how did it get to Russian River? As the story goes, it was New Belgium’s brewmaster Peter Bouckaert who quietly gave the barrel to Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo as a gift. During its time at Russian River, the barrel once-again proved a reliable workhorse, becoming an integral part in the development of the brewery’s highly-acclaimed Beatification.


Then, about 10 months ago, pH1 suddenly arrived back at New Belgium. It was promptly filled with a kriek/Oscar blend and returned to the wood cellar—a much larger wood cellar than when the barrel departed Fort Collins years earlier. A few months later, our friends at Berkeley’s The Rare Barrel visited to create a sour beer collaboration, and chose pH1 as the cornerstone sour for the blend. The collaboration, called Err on the Side of Awesome, was blended and shipped back to California for its special release. But the real treat came just this last week, when a new delivery showed up at The Rare Barrel: pH1 itself.

“pH1 arriving was a big surprise,” says The Rare Barrel’s Jay Goodwin. “We were preparing for our 2nd anniversary party so a lot of the The Rare Barrel team was here, and almost immediately everyone stopped what they were doing and flocked over to the barrel. Needless to say, many Instagrams were Instagrammed.”


Today, pH1 officially begins the next chapter of its journey, when Goodwin fills it up with golden wort as a way to propagate the native cultures inside the barrel. “We’re excited to bring the flavors pH1 has a history of producing into our blends,” says Goodwin.


So, from a winery to New Belgium to Russian River to New Belgium to The Rare Barrel, the legend of pH1 grows. Safe travels pH1. We’ll miss you, but can’t wait to taste what you produce in the hands of another extremely talented sour beer blender.

Cheers — Chris