When you perform something in a series, anything really, you are provided with some semblance of flexibility—a terrific opportunity to experiment, trial, and learn. You see, each individual piece or part of a series doesn’t have to be the actualized, idealized, or finalized representation of the series as a whole. So to that end, you can take risks, push boundaries, and deviate from the norm with each individual piece, yet still result in a series that as a whole, is greater than the sum of its parts.
A classic example of this in action is a television series. The writers and actors of a show certainly experiment with the plotline, they trial out various acting methods, and they may deviate from conventional storytelling norms in each episode of the series. Often to success, sometimes not. Some episodes may resonate more with certain people, others may miss the mark for the same viewer. But collectively, taken as a whole, the series can be remarkable. Not every episode of Seinfeld, for example, was perfect (although some may claim otherwise). But it would be hard to argue that Seinfeld, the television series, wasn’t pretty damn remarkable as a whole.
And so, all of this can be applied to brewing a series of beers, that is, brewing several beers in a similar theme, using similar processes, resulting in beers that are quite similar, but are each different thanks to the risks that are taken and the trials that are done. For us, this series is Sigil.
Sigil is our series of barrel-aged, blended beers. They are all dark beers. All are relatively high in alcohol and body, all very much barrel-forward, but each their own. And together, as we continue to brew beers in the Sigil series, we hope that they amass to be greater than the sum of their own parts.
Sigil 1 was a relatively straightforward blend of barrel-aged oatmeal stout. For Sigil 2, we experimented with an adjunct, coffee, specifically from Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, Maine. With Sigil 3, we returned to a straight blend of barrel-aged beer, but deviated from the norm by blending components of oatmeal stout with both barrel-aged barleywine and barrel-aged smoked Russian imperial stout.
Sigil 4 represents the proper continuation of our Sigil series, an experimentation relying on time and using an ingredient, to serve as the variables. To learn what an extended period of time in a barrel can do to transform the base beer, both with the effect that prolonged periods of aging has in general, as well as the effect that that duration of time has from barrel-to-barrel. And, also, to learn what an ingredient—in this case, coconut—can do to enhance the characteristics of that aged beer.
We started the process for Sigil 4 by blending some of the oldest beer that we have aging here at our facility in Portland. Tasting through barrels of 13-16 month old oatmeal stout from a variety of bourbon barrels, as well as equally old oatmeal stout from rye barrels sourced from local New England Distilling, we blended a base that was a good representation of oak and roast and barrel character and tannins, but perhaps ending a bit dry in the profile for a finalized beer.
That dryness gave us the perfect opportunity to scratch somewhat of an itch for our brewers, specifically, the experimentation with coconut as an adjunct ingredient. Often used with in conjunction with a whole heap of other adjuncts, or when used in extract form, coconut can either get lost in a beer or it can come across as suntan lotion-y, with an oily and off-putting texture. But alone, and in whole form, coconut has a natural, surprisingly mellow aroma and taste. And in application here, we felt that it would round out the holes in the base beer, alone, and compliment the dryness with sweetness, rounding out the body.
We emptied the barrels that we had selected and blended them together into one of our horizontal tanks, and then started to add the coconut. In toasted form—and we toasted it ourselves, in part, lovingly and painstakingly by hand—the coconut is caramelized and sweet, almost warming in a sense, very mellow and pleasant in character. Into the beer we added bag after bag of toasted coconut, 200 pounds altogether at a rate of roughly 9 pounds per barrel of beer. Then the beer conditioned on the coconut for three weeks, all while naturally carbonating at the same time.
The result is a smoothly drinkable, luscious and decadent dark, blended beer. The coconut is dominant; it’s clearly there, but serves to enhance the beer in the best of ways. It is a beer that is relevant, to a degree, in the context of the trend of pastry stouts, but it doesn’t fully cross that line. The coconut is a singular expression, and it is a very real one because of the process and use of the ingredient here. A slight push back on the trend in these types of beers toward excess and gluttony. But close, we might say with a sly smile.
Sigil 4 is a beer that we are proud to release in this series, representing another step in our experimentation of barrel aging and blending. Maybe it won’t be your favorite “episode,” your favorite beer in this series, but pour yourself a glass, breathe in, savor, and sip. And who really knows, Sigil 4 just might end up being, well in the terms of Seinfeld, let’s say, The Contest….