Where in the world is the most famous sour beer aging vessel of all? Home again to the man who scrawled pH1 on the French wine barrel years ago!
Once upon a time, at the beginnings of American sour beer, six used wine barrels were purchased by Peter Broukeart, the Belgian brewmaster at a young Colorado brewery. He treated the six barrels differently, hoping to get a head start on the complex learning ahead. And he recruited a dedicated employee who had stepped in to start a sensory program for the fresh beers they were releasing, Lauren Salazar. She would tend the beers that went into the barrels and eventually choose the best beers to blend into a sour wood-aged beer for New Belgium Brewing Co.
Two of those barrels, pre-acidified to start the process at a different pH level, were named pH1 and pH2. The pre-treatment may have been what made the pH1 barrel such a favorable micro environment, or maybe something magical had been alive in the wine that formerly filled it. The story of how Lauren came to see pH1 as her most reliable barrel – respectfully calling pH1 “her” rather than “it” – and how Peter gave the barrel away to Vinnie Cilurzo to benefit Russian River Brewing’s young sour program… and how it was later rediscovered and sent on the road… Well, it has become American brewing folklore. And yet it’s true.
We told more of the tale of how the wooden vessel had ended up at the Berkeley sour beer palace named for the story in this article a year and a half ago. Lauren and pH1 are at the center of the tale, and Peter is the least engaged with the emotional heart of the tale. But now that changes.
Yesterday, Jay Goodwin and Alex Wallash showed up at the new brewery co-owned by Peter Bouckaert, who left New Belgium earlier this year to start his own place, Purpose Brewing and Cellars. With a gift. The founders of The Rare Barrel brought pH1 back to the brewer who originally launched this barrel into barrel aging history.
(Photo thanks to the Rare Barrel)
Alex told us one of the best things was that Peter said someday he will pass this still exemplary and rare barrel forward.
It will be a little sad not seeing her in the stack at The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, but this barrel is as much about beer friendships as about beer making. Onward!