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Crafting A Tradition

Brewers are just folks who love making good beer, but occasionally, the beer geek comes out and we get to play mad scientist for a little while.

That’s what happened in our barrel room when our friends from Boulevard Brewing Company came to visit. The goal: to find the perfect blend for our 2014 Terra Incognita collaboration brew. The way to get there: tasting a whole lot of beer.

Terra Incognita, whose name aptly means “uncharted territory,” is an experimental beer that we first brewed with Boulevard for the 2012 SAVOR craft beer and food festival. A Belgian-style brown ale, the beer featured a blend of fresh and barrel-aged beer, perfect for pairing with food.

It served as take-away gift for SAVOR attendees, meant as a one-time-only brew. Though once the festival arrived, the brewers looked at each other and asked the inevitable question: What if we did this every year and made it available to everyone?

So, for the last couple of years, we’ve traded pilgrimages with our buddies at Boulevard – based in Kansas City, Missouri – to create an annual blend.

This year, it was our turn to host. One crisp April morning, Boulevard Brewmaster Steven Pauwels and his crew flew to Chico and gathered around the big table in our barrel room for an early blending session. Someone quipped, “Never too early for beer, right?”

Out came the beakers containing beer in various shades of red, brown, and black. Each was labeled with its contents: fresh beer (the base brown ale), wine-barrel aged ale and bourbon barrel-aged ale, with a range of aging periods. Blends were mixed and glasses were passed.

And so on it went for well over an hour – passing around the blends, sharing stories and laughs, and offering up thoughts on each combination until a consensus was finally reached.

In the end, the winning Terra Incognita combo was a blend of 13 percent fresh ale, 55 percent wine barrel-aged ale and 32 percent bourbon barrel-aged ale with an average aging of six months. The ABV: a warming 9.8 percent. The bottle was corked and the guys went out for a celebratory lunch.

Might just look like a morning happy hour to some, but we think it’s a pretty solid example of what makes the craft beer industry so special: collaboration.

“Customers are so informed now,” explained Pauwels after the blending session. “They are always seeking something new and creative – it’s almost hard to keep up. Collaboration is a way to always keep being creative.”

Over the past few years, collaboration has become the new frontier for craft beer with many breweries banding together to push the limits of the industry. Pauwels says the creativity that happens during these brainstorming sessions is viral.

“It’s not like two brewers come up with [just] twice the amount of ideas,” he explained. “You get two brewers together and they come up with three, four times the amount of ideas. You build off of each other.”

The learning goes both ways.

“We expand our horizons every year,” said Dresler. “All brewers do things differently so it’s a phenomenal opportunity for learning. If you have your eyes open you learn from everything.”

Get your hands on this year’s blend of Terra Incognita starting late this month. It’s in our Gift Shop now and currently en route to retail shelves nationwide.