Scorched Earth Brewing Company | Barrel 76 Red Flanders
Somehow, suburban Chicago’s Scorched Earth Brewing barreling program remains off the radar for most beer drinkers, which leaves this writer befuddled. Certainly those in the Chicago region with a nose for barrel-aged beers should make it a high priority to seek all forms of Scorched Earth brewing alchemy. One of the brewery’s latest releases, Barrel 76, is a Flanders red ale aged in French oak wine barrels with Montmorency cherries and Madagascar vanilla beans. Traditional, yet innovative. Sophisticated, yet rustic. Tart, yet a bit sweet. The beer serves as an example for what craft brewing is all about.
Before we get to the beer, it behooves us to discuss the style. Flanders red (or brown), also known as flemish red (or brown), owes its name to the color, obviously, and the beer’s birthplace, the West Flanders region of Belgium. The color correctly prepares the palate for something tart, fruity and malty. However, the color may not prepare the drinker for the souring method, usually due to the incorporation of of lactobacillus and brettanomyces. For a first time taster of Red Flanders, that influx of sour may be a little surprising. For fans of sour varieties, notably Red Flanders, it’s welcomed and appreciated.
Scorched noted that it employed mixed-culture fermentation, a process by which brewers use a combination of different yeasts and bacteria to create complex flavors. It takes the deft hand of a skilled brewery, and one who is adept at barreling and souring, to achieve the desired flavor (even if there’s still a teeny bit of “luck” involved).
Barrel 76 also includes extra levels of complexity that make for a wonderful brew. The combination of the mixed-culture fermentation along with the cherries provide for distinct tart notes, but the malt and fruitiness along with the lovely addition of Madagascar vanilla beans offer sweetness that cuts through the tart and funky nature, allowing for a well-rounded and exceedingly easy-to-drink Red Flanders.
Scorched Earth Barrel 76 could be the perfect gateway beer for one whose primary imbibe habits focus on wine. There are more than a few similarities between Barrel 76 and one’s favorite fermented grape libation. More than that, the beer exudes elegance and sophistication. Yet, somehow, enjoys all the qualities beer geeks find appealing. It is a beer, after all.
Barrel 76 exemplifies the quality of beer routinely emerging from the Scorched Earth brew house. Even if one doesn’t like a sour, Scorched Earth has plenty of IPAs and “regular” craft beers that are unlikely to displease the average beer drinker. So, whether one lives in Belgium, Napa Valley, Chicago, or Chicago’s far northwest suburb (and home of Scorched Earth), Algonquin; Scorched Earth should be on the beer radar.