Beer styles reflect the times in which they originate. Once upon a decade or so ago in craft beer, the idea of a pint glass filled with opaque orange juice-looking liquid whose taste most closely resembles a tropical smoothie would be preposterous. Alas, over the past 10+ years Hazy IPAs have come to dominate the craft beer landscape. Some styles are but a blip on the map – Brut IPAs sought a dry easy drinking alternative to the Hazy but had no staying power. This more easily palatable yet still juicy desire has led to the recent proliferation of Cold IPAs and modern West Coast IPAs utilizing lager yeast and modern hop varietals to reach that desired end. Despite this constant evolution, some beer styles seem timeless despite only recently being developed. Such a style is Munichwine developed by Brad Clark of Private Press Brewing. Having tweaked and perfected the style to his liking, Clark worked with Firestone Walker Brewing to brew a collaboration Munichwine at their facility and then age it in bourbon barrels, resulting in Dividing Time.
What is Munichwine?
Munichwine began as a pandemic experiment for Clark. As a lover of both Barleywine and Munich malt, he began looking for ways to marry these passions, ultimately creating a new sub-style of Barleywine he dubbed Munichwine. Clark says that “50%+ of the grist is Munich malt.” While there have always been variations on Barleywine recipes, the heavy use of Munich malt really lends a distinctive flavor profile to this new style. According to Clark, the Munich “provides a more pronounced nutty profile, and the fruit note leans towards dark sweet cherry instead of raisin.” That raisin flavor has always been a defining characteristic of Barleywines, and Clark was seeking to change that paradigm with Munichwine.
A Collaboration Over a Decade in the Making
Firestone Walker (FW) knows their way around brewing, barrel aging and blending various styles of big beers. In fact, it was their barrel aging and blending mastery that first inspired Clark to learn more about those methods. “Drinking their 10th anniversary blend over 15 years ago led me down a path to explore and embrace blending styles of beer and barrels,” says Clark. “That approach formed the cornerstone of Private Press.”
Clark certainly added his own flair to barrel aging and blending over the years, and that caught the eye of FW as they sought to collaborate with renowned breweries as part of their Brewmaster’s Collective series. In determining a style of beer to brew, Clark sent FW some Private Press bottles for sampling, and they collectively gravitated towards making a Munichwine.
Fast forwarding to the actual brewing of Dividing Time, Clark explains, “That was a day I will never forget. Not only did I get to brew Munichwine that day, but I was also able to participate in the blending of the anniversary blend, a truly full circle moment in my life.” From first drinking the anniversary blend to participating in its creation 16+ years later, the moment was not lost on Clark.
Brewing at Firestone Walker
Jordan Ziegler, FW Barrel Production Manager, said “It was quite a coup for us to collaborate with Brad Clark on this special project. We let him run wild with his Munichwine recipe.” For Dividing Time, Clark used a blend of Munich 10L, Golden Promise and Special B malts.
Ziegler further explained that by combined with (their) own house ale yeast and spirits barrels, specifically 11-year Old Fitzgerald wheated whiskey barrels, a collaborative Munichwine was being born. Of course a beer brewed between Private Press and FW could not be without some innovation. “Using a large amount of Munich malt extract was a new direction for the style, really pushing that Munich flavor profile,” says Clark.
After the initial brew, Dividing Time was laid to rest for 12 months in those aforementioned bourbon barrels, seeking to balance the nutty and toasty character of the Munichwine. Of the end product, Jordan says “It’s exactly what we could have hoped for from this collaboration.”
Let’s take a deeper dive to see just what these great brewing minds created.
Tasting Dividing Time
Dividing Time is an exclusive release for members of the Brewmaster’s Collective. Along with other collaboration beers, this highlights FW’s commitment to working with industry friends for whom they have great respect. The bottle for Dividing Time presents in classic understated FW fashion with the most pertinent information readily available.
A medium brown pour opens up some tan head which quickly vanishes into the body, leaving no retention behind. The nose on Dividing Time is very malt forward, owing to the strength of Munich. Ripe cherries, a distinct nuttiness, and subtle raisin notes round out the olfactory experience.
The flavor here obviously borrows from the Barleywine playbook, but there is enough variation to let the drinker know something different is going on. Caramel and raisins are immediately present while booze-soaked maraschino cherries and walnuts creep into the profile as the beer warms. A small amount of barrel heat makes itself known and carries through to the finish. Dividing Time is masterfully nimble and tame at 13% ABV, a factor undoubtedly influenced by FW’s decades of barrel aging mastery.
A Collaboration Reflecting the Times
Not every beer collaboration is created equal. While many feel forced with the collaborators offering little more than their name to the brew, some tastefully combine elements of each brewery into a cohesive beer.
Dividing Time falls squarely in the latter category with Firestone Walker and Private Press both offering their extensive knowledge and experience to create a beer that unites some of the best elements from each brewery. Brad Clark of Private Press created the new sub-style of Munichwine while FW offered inspiration and expertise from their storied barrel program. The sum of these two collaborators yields Dividing Time, a beer that both reflects the modern brewing times and is timeless in its flawless execution.
All photos by Britt Antley