Barrel-Aged, Belgian-French Inspired Brewery Opening This Spring
By Ben Kramer in Food on Feb 8, 2016 8:20PM
Whiner Beer logo. Created by Ria Neri, provided by Brian Taylor.
Three years ago, Phil Wymore (Perennial Artisan Ales Co-Founder) introduced then Goose Island brewer Brian Taylor to then Bangers & Lace beer manager Ria Neri. Instantly, the brewer (Flying Dog, Boulevard) and Certified Cicerone (Pub Royale, Trenchermen) hit it off. Their most common interest? Sours and saisons.
"That's really how we became friends," recalls Taylor. "We were bitching about other styles and we always loved the Belgian-French style of beer."
After shooting the shit over what they'd do if they started their own brewery, the fantasy has morphed into reality as Taylor and Neri prepare to open their barrel aged brewery, and taproom, Whiner Beer Co. The brewery and taproom are located inside The Plant (a place we'll cover later) in Chicago's Back Of The Yards neighborhood.
To start, Whiner has two beers on deck, both of which they plan to package and sell across the city, as well as feature in their taproom. The first, their Le Tub saison, is their flagship and has a compelling process. Aged in Cabernet wine barrels, the barrels are inoculated with their own house strain of lactobacillus. Le Tub sits in the barrels for three months, and in that final month Brettanomyces bruxellensis, a wild yeast, is added to attack any diacetyl, or off flavors, that pediococcus or other bacteria may have produced. This version of Brett is added more to stabilize the beer than to add flavor.
After that third month, a percentage of the barrel aged Le Tub is mixed in with a stainless steel version, sitting in the fermenter. The blended beer sit for 5 to 10 days, and in that time the lacto settles inside the blends. This waiting period also allows any new fermentation, from combining the two, to finish up. After those 5 to 10 days, the beer is ready to go.
Along with their "original" Le Tub, Whiner plans on doing four seasonal versions as well. The reason for the varieties, Taylor explains, is partially inspired by Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout variants. The idea is to make different beers with the same base. The bigger reason is the versatility of saisons. "They can do anything, you can put anything in them," says Taylor. "We're definitely gonna put that to the test."
Whiner's seond offering, Rubriq-a-brac, is a Biere de Garde, a French style of beer, and is not barrel aged. Wanting to stay close to style, the beer is malt forward, dry-hopped, and has a good bit of hop aroma, Taylor claims. The only deviant in the style is the addition of Brettanomyces claussenii, a softer, subtler version of the wild yeast. Rubriq-a-brac, much like Le Tub, will be packaged in 12 oz cans.
The reason for canning is to give these beers more approachability. Not everyone knows a Biere de Garde, and Whiner believes 750 ml bottles can be dissuading for people because it suggests a big commitment. For Ria Neri, the 12 oz cans show, "It doesn't have to be a special occasion." Cans look more casual and that's how Whiner wants to introduce themselves. Not too fancy.
That's not to say there won't be 750 ml bottles from Whiner in the future. "We need time in order to produce beers that belong to that category," says Neri.
"In a year or two, down the road," says Taylor, "when those barrels are ready, the one's that we are aging for a year or two, then we go large format bottles. People know who we are, they're willing to buy that product."
Now back to The Plant, which they chose for their location.
Neri on the left, Taylor on the right. Photo provided by Taylor.
A former pig processing plant turned business co-op, The Plant houses several businesses under one roof, including a mushroom grower, kombucha tea maker, and coffee roaster, just to name a few. After scouting places for over a year, Taylor and Neri picked The Plant for a couple of reasons.
"The infrastructure was here," says Neri. "It was already made for production purposes, so it was almost perfect."
The production side of brewing is important to Whiner, as well as space. Space to house 60 Cabernet barrels, two oak foeders (giant vessels that can house 38 barrels of beer a piece) two 60-barrel fermenters, a 30-barrel fermenter, plus one more on the way, and a 30-barrel, 3-vessel brewhouse. As their barrel numbers increase, they have basement space to accommodate their storage needs.
What also sold Whiner on The Plant is their environmental consciousness. The Plant has an anaerobic digester that takes in organic waste and converts it back to energy. Spent grain from Whiner is fed to the digester, turning it into methane gas, which is re-used to power the custom-built methane boilers heating up Whiner's water. It's reduce and re-use at its finest. Eventually, there are plans to hook up a spent CO2 line to an algae tank (visible in the taproom) so it can transform the CO2 into oxygen, which will be released back outside.
The Plant also provides plenty of opportunities for collaboration, as, again, many businesses live alongside the brewery. Spent grain from Whiner is used by Pleasant House Bakery for briquettes and some of its yeast is used to make bread. The brewery has also been experimenting with kombucha samples provided by Arize Artisan Kombucha.
Collaboration, or should I say pairing, continues into the taproom, where people can eat Pleasant House goods while sipping their beer. By design, the taproom will be very basic. Long picnic tables, benches, mirrors at the bar and above it, the algae tanks in back by the windows, as well as hops to spruce up the place. Oh, and a French church confessional turned photo booth at the entrance. Beer wise, patrons will be able to sip Le Tub and Rubric-a-brac along with an old school Belgian Wheat aged in barrels to start.
For now, a spring opening is in mind for Whiner. Slow Federal and State licensing has kept the brewery hostage, preventing it from selling any beer. Despite the legal hold ups, people can try a little Whiner at Uppers and Downers, a coffee and beer festival held at Thalia Hall, February 20th. They will be doing a coffee collab with Four Letter Word (housed in the Plant and founded by Neri) that will feature a little kombucha from Arize.
In the future, there are plans to do a Gueuze program (though Taylor hates to call it that because Whiner is "just not the Belgians") which means blending older beers that have been sitting in barrels for three years with younger barrel aged brews to create, "the perfect acidity beer." Again, that's years away. Right now, Whiner's focus is on opening to the public and sharing a quality product with the public.