Barrels of Fun
Belgian ales are often aged for months or years in casks formerly used for fermenting wine or liquor. The tannins and the residual bacteria left over from the fermenting process add rich and complex flavors.
Frey points to a glass of British barley wine--a concoction of the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild, a home-brewing club of which Frey is treasurer. It's made from grains, not fruit, but it's called a wine because of its high alcohol content (6-12 percent). The wine, Frey notes, is a living thing. Using what is known as the solera method, the club brewed an original batch, which they draw from and add to as needed--much like a sourdough starter. The resulting brew is a mix of different ages, some of it now nearly four years old. It tastes oaky and tart, with a whisper of bourbon.
At the February meeting of the Chelsea Homebrew Club, Greg Cole passes around a wheat beer he brewed last August. "It's not poison, but it's not what I'm looking for," he says, wondering if there was a problem with the yeast or the water. The dozen participants sniff and sip and hold the beer up to the light. The consensus: great mouth feel, but not enough backbone. Translation: maybe it wasn't technically a wheat beer, but it wasn't bad.