On The Ground
Solera aging refers to a method of aging consumable liquids, traditionally liquids such as wine, vinegar, port, and brandy. Simply put, it is an insanely time intensive and inefficient process, generally yielding only 50% of what was put into the process at any one time. In addition to that, it is hugely capital intensive, requiring a large amount of money to start the solera program and then it constantly carries a large amount of product that can never be sold, which further ties up a breweries cash for other things. If you’re sarcastically thinking “This sounds like an ideal means of production for a young brewery to start playing around with.”, you would only be wrong in your misplaced sarcasm. Much like planting a tree, the best time to start a solera was twenty years ago and the second best time is now.
For more information on how exactly a solera works, I would prefer to show you Diagram 1, Diagram 2 and of course refer you to the all-knowing Wikipedia on the process steps. In short, each year a portion of the solera is pulled out of the barrel and bottled and replaced with either new beer or previously aged beer in other stages of solera production as shown in the diagrams. Since the barrel never gets fully emptied, technically speaking, there will always be some of the beer remaining from the very first time the solera was filled. This also means that the average age of the beer in the barrel is constantly getting older, asymptotically approaching one plus the number of barrel steps. So if you have a one-step solera, as we at Urban Artifact currently do, the average age of our beer will approach 2 years old but never quite reach that point.
The true beauty of a solera lies in the fact that whatever liquid goes in, at any point in the life of the solera, will never fully be removed. That means, 49 years from now, when Urban Artifact releases Perpetuum 2065 on our 50th anniversary there will be the smallest of fractions (.0000000000000008%) of the original Perpetuum still present in the beer. It is for that overly romantic of reasons that we have decided to release our sour aged solera beer, Perpetuum, every year for our anniversary. Companies change and evolve overtime, adapting to market pressures & consumer demands yet in essence, the original company ideals remain in one way or another; the same is true for any solera beer. Year over year, it will slowly evolve and change becoming more tart, funky, or mellow with time all the while, in a manner most contradictory, increases in drinkability and simultaneously drinkability. A solera beer truly is liquid art in motion, slowly shifting and changing with time and if you aren’t careful, you might not even notice it happen.
Bret Kollmann Baker
Chief of Brewing Operations