Allagash Brewing's FV 13: Four years in a foudre on the way to your face | Bleader

Allagash Brewing's FV 13: Four years in a foudre on the way to your face

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Scrap-metal bird courtesy Dr. Evermor of the Forevertron
  • Scrap-metal bird courtesy Dr. Evermor of the Forevertron
In February the celebrated Allagash Brewing Company of Portland, Maine, released FV 13, their first beer aged and soured in a huge oak vessel called a foudre. "FV 13" stands for fermentation vessel 13, the name the brewery gave to the foudre involved—they'd superstitiously skipped 13 when numbering their stainless steel fermenters, then doubled back to it for this wooden one, which formerly belonged to a winemaker. Allagash also ages beers in used wine barrels, but different kinds of business go on in a giant foudre than in a 31-gallon barrel. Fermentation vessel 13 holds 2,700 gallons, the same as a 14-foot inflatable ring pool—except that you don't have to strain out leaves, hair, dead bugs, and band-aids after you age something in a foudre.

FV 13 is a sour, but it's not a lambic. That is, its primary fermentation takes place under controlled circumstances, using Allagash's house yeast in a closed stainless vessel. In traditional lambic making, fermentation begins in a koelschip—a large steel tray used to cool wort and allow wild yeasts and bacteria to float into it through open windows. Allagash built the first commercial koelschip in the States in 2007 (it may still be the only one, for all I know), and the fixture gave its name to the brewery's scarce but much-loved Coolship series of beers.

FV 13 spent four years in the foudre with a diversity of microorganisms: lactobacillus, pediococcus, and two varieties of brettanomyces, plus sherry yeast and the Allagash "reserve" yeast. (I suspect the sherry yeast helped it reach 8.9 percent alcohol.) The beer is thoroughly flat at the end of this lengthy process, so it's dosed in the bottle with sugar and yeast—a process called "bottle conditioning," which gives it some fizz.

Two cases of FV 13 showed up at the Binny's in Lincoln Park a week and a half ago, and though the price per bottle was pretty steep—15 bucks for 12.7 ounces—all 12 sold in less than two hours. Beer manager Adam Vavrick guesses that 50 cases might've arrived in Chicago, which isn't bad considering that the total production run was about 10,000 bottles and that Allagash's distribution area includes California and pretty much the whole eastern seaboard.

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So what does a beer taste like once it's spent an entire presidential term in a big honking oak cask? Is FV 13 painfully expensive because it requires such extraordinary patience and finesse from its brewers, or because it's highly tasty? A little from column A and a little from column B, I suspect.

The loose, low ivory head on this fine adult beverage dissipates quickly and leaves very little lacing—not uncommon for a sour, but I'd seen reviews that described heaps of sticky, persistent foam, so at first I wondered if something weren't wrong with my bottle. (I don't think anything is.) The beer has a beautiful ruddy copper color, and if you pour the whole thing out right to the end (which some people unaccountably avoid doing), you'll get a cloud of that delicious conditioning yeast, which settles into a speckly sediment on the bottom of the glass.

There's no fruit added to FV 13, but its bright and lively aroma is swimming with tart cherry, red grape, Granny Smith apple, cider, and grilled pineapple. I also get some caramelized sugar, with a bit of oaky vanilla, green hay, and buckskin leather (smells that seem to induce other reviewers to call the beer "funky").

Despite its modest head, FV 13 fills your mouth with dazzling, frothy carbonation. Its zingy sourness is only very mildly acetic—it's more like raspberry and lemon—and I can pick up apple and cherry here too, plus a subtle vinous flavor like sherry or port. In the middle of the profile, the yeast contributes warm, prickly spice (coriander and cumin especially), and powerfully astringent oak dominates the dry finish. I'd swear it leaves behind a little something like blue cheese, which complements the fruit nicely.

Allagash published the video below to accompany the release of FV 13. I'm trying to decide if the fellow who shows up at 0:50 is goofy with beer or just nervous on camera.

The metal portion of the post is a gimme this time. Here's the entirety of the 2008 album The Dark Gods by Finnish black-metal band Foudre Noire. Pretty good stuff.

"Foudre" also means "lightning" in French, so these guys undoubtedly mean to call themselves "black lightning," not "large black oaken vessel." Six of one, half dozen of the other.

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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