February, though the shortest month of the year, seems to drag on sometimes in wintry bleakness. But Austinites are about to get a treat that will carry us straight into March: bottles of new barrel-aged beers each Saturday this month from St. Elmo Brewing.
St. Elmo doesn't often have bottle releases that you can take home with you — but when it does, rest assured, the South Austin brewery goes all out. This weekend, you'll be able to pick up the first two bottles in the series, which will ultimately yield a total of 10 new beers. It wasn't intended to be such a big project at first, co-founder Bryan Winslow said. The ideas for which beers to age in already used barrels, however, just kept coming.
"Releasing them all in our very short Texas winter seems like an exciting and explosive pop into the bottle scene," he said. "I had never heard of a brewery releasing this many barrel-aged beers in such a tight time-frame. It's been a ton of work and very much a team effort to roll this out for every Saturday in February."
Tomorrow, St. Elmo debuts the first two bottles, which — with their gold lettering and matching wax seal — look like they could hold 10-year-old armagnac. There will be no limit on how many bottles people can take home of the Woke, a whiskey-barrel aged coffee imperial stout featuring beans from neighboring business Spokesman Coffee, and Waco, a Balcones bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. Both are $20.
Like Waco, most of the beers have been influenced by the flavors of former Balcones Distillery barrels. The Waco-based distillery specializes in a range of whiskey, including single malt and rye.
But one of the last releases in February, Cooper, was aged in barrels from the Austin Winery, located in the same multi-use complex off South Congress Avenue as St. Elmo and Spokesman. (True to the brewery's form, the beer is named after a real person — the winery's VP and winemaker, Cooper Anderson.)
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The amount of time each beer spends in wood can vary widely based on factors like temperature and the barrels themselves, and for Winslow and his brewing team, that rule of thumb proved correct. Most of them took between two to nine months to reach perfection, although Neo (featuring St. Elmo's first anniversary stout aged in Balcones barrels) was ready to go in five weeks, he said.
"Barrel-aging is a practice in structured patience," he said. "You can't think about it everyday or you'll get pissed. But you can't forget about it, or you'll miss the window of some really good beers."
Here's what to expect each Saturday this month.
Woke, Whiskey Barrel-Aged Coffee Imperial Stout with Spokesman Coffee, $20, no limit
Waco, Balcones Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, $20, no limit
Baby Ruth, Baby Blue Corn Whiskey Barrel-Aged Ruth Barleywine, $20, with a limit of 2 per person
Neo, Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whiskey Barrel-Aged One Imperial Stout, $20, with a limit of 1 per person
Collins, Whiskey Barrel-Aged Chef (the whiskey sour beer), $20, with a limit of 2 per person
Malcolm, Blue Corn Whiskey Barrel-Aged Angus Dry Stout, $16, with a limit of 2 per person
Rye Fieri, Rye Whiskey Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, $18, no limit
Bon, Balcones Rum Barrel-Aged Angus Dry Stout, $16, with a limit of 2 per person
Cooper, Austin Winery Port Wine Barrel-Aged Winston Export Stout, $18, with a limit of 1 per person
El Duderino, Balcones Rum Barrel-Aged Vaya Coffee-Cream Ale, $21, with a limit of 1 per person
When you decide which bottles you can't live without, keep in mind you might also be able to keep the barrel it was aged in. Five of the beers — Baby Ruth, El Duderino, Neo, Malcolm and Bon — spent time in five-gallon baby barrels that are being discontinued, and you'll have the option of purchasing one for $60. Half of all those sales go to the Central Texas Food Bank. Plus, the first person in each line for each release can keep the barrel it was made in, Winslow said.
For more information, visit stelmobrewing.com.