Spanish sherrymakers have been using the solera method since at least the 19th century: craft brewers are trying it out on beer with spectacular success. When done traditionally, here’s how it works!
1. Start: A brewer fills up a main foeder (called the solera) with fresh beer.
2. One Year: Some of the beer from the solera’s released into the world, and replaced with fresh, new beer. Some of that fresh beer also fills a secondary cask, beginning a chain of barrels that eventually feed into the solera.
3. Two Years: The solera now contains a one- and two-year-old blend. A portion that blend is bottled up and released. The secondary cask replaces what was removed in the solera, and then topped off with fresh beer. Some of that fresh beer also goes into a third cask (which blends into the second barrel next year, into the solera a year after that, and finally the bottle).
This chain can stretch as long as a brewer intends; theoretically, since the solera’s never completely emptied, each annual release expresses deep, evolving flavors from every vintage, dating back to the very first batch.
THREE TO TRY
Cambridge Cerise Cassée
The first craft brewery to try out the solera method, Cambridge began releasing its cherry-spiked wild beer—laced with wild Brettanomyces yeast and souring Pediococcus and Lactobacillus bacteria—back in 2005. Look for its limited-release return this fall at the brewery.
Evolution Nouveau Rouge
The Maryland brewery’s first batch of this Flanders red aged and blended in the solera method made our “Top 25 Beers of the Year” in 2013. This year, the third installment of the vinous, sweet-and-tart sipper arrives this month.
The Bruery Anniversary Series
Each May, The Bruery releases its anniversary beer, a solera blend of old ales fermented with Belgian yeast. Named after traditional anniversary gifts (Papier, Coton, Cuir), this year’s blend was Sucré. If you’re lucky, you might still find it on shelves.
BONUS! Keep an eye on San Francisco’s The Rare Barrel and Oregon’s De Garde, both of which are planning to use the solera method in the near future.