New Image Brewing | Madera 2023 Horizontal Tasting
Every beer is a journey. From the ingredients used to the processes by which they’re combined and fermented to a finished product ready for enjoyment, beer tells a story of evolving time and ingredients. New Image Brewing has fully embraced the journey and evolution of beer with first their Estufa series and now various Madera releases.
I conducted a horizontal tasting of the four Madera releases for 2023: Blends 1 and 2 of Maple Bourbon and Blends 1 and 2 of PX Sherry. I also spoke to the man behind the madness, Brandon Capps, founder and owner of New Image, about the process used to make Madera and his philosophy behind the Solera program.
From Estufa to Madera to Solera
New Image’s macro-oxidized Barleywine journey begins with Estufa. There are 2 basic Barleywine recipes used that then undergo the proprietary macro-oxidation process—a single malt Intent base using a different malt with each brew or their Wood recipe using 3 malts, a base and midrange Crystal and pale chocolate.
Each of these recipes have 28 and 34 Plato versions which are alternated based on what is being depleted and what is needed for New Image’s various barrel aged Barleywines. Explains Capps, “Estufa is essentially an infinity blend of BW coming from our barrel filling beer stream.”
This base Estufa is then laid to rest in spirit barrels. After an initial aging of 6-12 months and then at 6-12 month intervals (12 months for more mature blends), a portion of beer is pulled from the barrels and bottled as a new Madera blend. When aged beer is pulled, fresh Estufa is then used to refill the barrels, resulting in a blend of aged and fresh Estufa going into the next Madera blend.
The final beer in this yearslong journey is Solera. After Madera has aged for 3 years through multiple cycles of 6-12 month blend pulls and fresh Estufa being added, the final product is bottled as Solera. Regarding the process, Capps says, “In theory everything after the first pull from any system of Madera is a solera blend. I just want to give it time to develop as a solera before naming it Solera, and arbitrarily I chose 3 years for that timeline.”
It’s hard to argue with the man who had the vision for this journey and is currently carrying it out. Considering this 3 year timeline, the first Solera will be available sometime in 2025.
Madera 2023 – Blend 1 (Maple Bourbon)
The first Madera released, Blend 1 (Maple Bourbon) sets the stage for what to expect from this Barleywine experimentation. This blend uses maple bourbon barrels from Distillery 291, a local Colorado distillery. Capps prefers to work with local distilleries directly to buy barrels or secondarily to acquire local barrels through Rocky Mountain Barrel Company. This blend rested in barrels for 6 months and used 100% fresh Estufa.
The pour on all four Maderas is similar. A brooding dark brown almost black fills the glass with some slight lacing apparent as the liquid sloshes around. The nose on this opens up with raspberries and cherries with some slight ethanol present. While the flavor has the stereotypical Barleywine caramel and raisins, cherry cordial is the dominant flavor here. The finish is surprisingly light and smooth for a 15.45% ABV beer, hinting at what to expect out of further tastings.
Madera 2023 – Blend 2 (Maple Bourbon)
Blend 2 (Maple Bourbon) was aged a further 6 months in the maple bourbon casks. Approximately 30% of the blend was fresh Estufa, leaving ~70% of the blend aging for 12 months total.
Like Blend 1, the nose here has dark fruits with a more pronounced raisin element. An interesting touch of citrus presents itself in the flavor as well as plums being a prominent player. Once again the finish is dangerously smooth for a beer clocking in over 15%.
Madera 2023 – Blend 1 (PX Sherry)
Blend 1 (PX Sherry) aged in large 250L French Oak PX Sherry casks for 12 months. The extra time allowed the beer more contact time in the massive casks. As with all Madera Blend 1s, this used 100% fresh Estufa.
The nose on this was the most complicated of the four blends with cherry, raisins, raspberry, chocolate, peat and leather all interplaying together behind a boozy backbone. Raisins play a prominent role in the taste along with raspberry jam. The finish is a wild ride with smokiness, bitter baker’s chocolate and lingering tobacco with very minimal alcohol burn, an impressive feat at 16.89% ABV.
Madera 2023 – Blend 2 (PX Sherry)
Blend 2 (PX Sherry) was aged a further 6 months in casks using ~30% fresh Estufa. Using our powers of math, that leaves ~70% of the blend having aged for 18 months total.
This presents similar to Blend 1 with less booze on the nose and less nuance between the various elements. Raisins and caramel are still there in the flavor while the fruitiness is less bright. The finish is less distinct than Blend 1, having mellowed out some of the more intense components leaving a bit of booze behind.
This was a fun experiment to try these four similar but also quite different beers. I highly recommend you arrange a similar horizontal tasting for yourself if you get the opportunity to do so. It should be noted that I tried Blend 2 (PX Sherry) separately as it was released recently while I was working on this writeup, but I did make sure to try Blend 1 (PX Sherry) again beside it.
My overall favorite was Blend 1 (PX Sherry). While its often intense flavors might not suit everyone’s preferences, I appreciated the breadth and depth of flavor and sensory experiences it offered. The PX Sherry casks certainly made their presence felt with big, fruity, almost jammy qualities and also imparted elements of chocolate and tobacco. This blend embodied the full Madera experience of what a barrel aged macro-oxidized Barleywine can be.
One thing Capps wants to ensure people know about Madera is the way in which it is meant to be served. This is not the type of beer one would pour a 10 ounce snifter; rather, it should be enjoyed 2 ounces at a time. Have a taste, recork it and put it back on the shelf for another time. Since the beer is still, it can be enjoyed over the course of months after initially opening it. In fact, I still have an Estufa bottle over a year old that I revisit every couple months to see how it has changed and evolved, and I can assure you there are no negative effects from having the bottle open this long. The further oxidation opens up some more nuance within the beer.
Madera, as well as Estufa and eventually Solera, should be thought of more like ports and bold dessert wines. It is something to be savored a couple ounces at a time and shared with friends. When it comes to big barrel aged beer, it’s often nice to have just a small sample as opposed to laboring through 12+ ounces. Madera and its brethren are ushering in a new way to think about and to consume high ABV beer, and New Image is preaching the good word to those who will listen.
Keep an eye out for future Madera releases utilizing different barrels, and mark your calendars for that first Solera release sometime in 2025. You won’t want to miss the culmination of the first full solera journey.
All photos by Britt Antley.