A Timeline Of Coolships30/09/2022
What is a Coolship?
A Coolship is the name given to the vessel; usually a large open top steel or copper pan, that is used prior to the fermentation process to cool down the unfermented wort (the amber liquid extracted from malted barley/unfermented beer). Traditionally used in brewery’s all over Europe, both German and Belgian brewery’s used them in many different ways.
Breweries built on top of the Bavarian hills relied on the cool air, multiple coolships, and other extravagant devices to cool the wort to a reasonable temperature for the “brewers yeast” to do its thing.
In the Zenne Valley a different beer was being produced, taking advantage of wild yeast and bacteria caught up in the brisk breeze which spontaneously ferments blending stock for years to come.
We are influenced by Lambic and Gueuze, Kriek and Framboise and the Flemish reds of Belgium, much in the same way they were influenced by the London Porters and cask ales of the past. The fact our brewery is in an idyllic valley in the heart of the Mendips, sharing the site with the purveyors of some of the finest Cheeses and meats from the south west, makes the latter use seem like an obvious choice. We are confident that the microflora of Westcombe Cheddar cheese cave and cold smokers influence the beer we make in more ways than one.
Unlike most of our beers, which are cooled down through a chiller directly into a tank, maintaining control of the yeast strains used and fermentation profiles, using a Coolship, is the traditional method and allows the wort to gather micro-flora and airborne yeast. By exposing the wort in this way, it creates an environment for wild bacteria to develop, and thus a variety of exciting, spontaneous and different flavours can form during the fermentation. The dream for a brewery like ours is to release beers that have been spontaneously fermented by the local micro-flora, a true beer of the terroir that is unique to us and our location in Somerset.
Due to the temperature, brewing beers using the Coolship will only be done between the months of November to March, when it is between 3.9℃ - 8℃. This creates the perfect environment for our beers to cool due to our geographical location.
Although a lot of what creates the flavours and profiles of a Coolship comes down to spontaneity and coincidental discoveries, we wanted to create a blog that outlines the measures taken and the lessons we have learnt throughout the years to turn Coolshipping into a fine art.
We are free to experiment and take inspiration to create our own takes, in our own ways. Our team is constantly researching new and old techniques of brewing and adapting them, finding exciting new ways to use our equipment and create inspired beers.
This was our first release on our way to fulfilling the dream of creating something special, and a beer that we can honestly say is a Somerset Special. It’s a beer that takes a respectful nod to the wonderful breweries and history of Lambic beer, but also celebrates the beautiful Somerset countryside surrounded by orchards, vineyards and blackberry laden hedgerows.
So why did we wait 6 years before releasing our first ever Coolship?
This style of brewing is the “final frontier” to us, and we felt we had to learn our trade, understand fermentations with fruit skins and other wild yeast strains before we could commit to brewing this style of beer. We have used our own recipe ideas and techniques, and most importantly, this has fermented and aged in our barrel store that used to house Westcombe Dairy’s Cheddar. The unique cultures that have developed in the building are a big part of all of our barrel-aged beers.
Although we released this beer in 2019, the beginning of its journey started in January 2017. This is when we brewed our very first Coolship beer. Inoculated in 2 stainless steel vats overnight, the wort cooled naturally.
After 2 years of fermentation and maturation in oak wine barrels, 3 were carefully chosen, alongside an 18 month barrel of coolship beer, to create our first spontaneously fermented coolship beer. We had succeeded with our goal of creating something unique and the beer speaks for itself. A flavoursome blend with tastes of spice, full acidity, stone fruits and oranges with a fruity, full bodied finish and an underlying bitterness that has become somewhat of a staple piece at Wild Beer. However, we were not finished with Coolships yet. We still had a lot to learn and a few new techniques that we wanted to try.
Blending beer is a fine art that takes a combination of collaboration and experience to fine tune. In 2020 we wanted to take what we had learnt from the previous year and elevate the flavour and complexity. We also wanted to experiment with different vats, to understand the impact that alternative materials had on the final product.
Each batch of beer in this blend has been naturally cooled in shallow vats, borrowed from our neighbours at Westcombe Dairy. They were previously used for making their cheese curds and that’s fitting given that our barrel library is in an ex-cheddar store. We were not sure how much this method would affect the final result, but as we wanted our coolships to signify a unique taste of Wild Beer, we felt this amplified the message.
The saying goes “humans make wort and microbes make beer” and this beer is exactly that, humans started it and microbes finished it.
This blend is phenomenal! Comprising 8 different Coolship brews spanning the 2017-19 brewing seasons and a total volume of 2300 litres. This brings an amazing amount of depth and complexity to the final beer. The previous year’s blend was created using 3 different brews across 3 different years and only yielding 800 litres, so we really upped our game this time!
The volume and diversity make a huge difference in blended beers, and we were able to evolve our original coolship into a completely different brew. Our blending team was also wider than before with 6 people rather than 2 or 3, making it a wider collaboration to find the perfect blend.
At this point we were confident in our Coolshipping abilities, and we decided to experiment with blending a little more. This time, instead of only blending barrel aged beers, we decided to blend with 2 vintages of 2018 and 2019 Chardonnay juice, from local vineyards. Having a better understanding of our coolship methods lead us to creating a luxury infusion of beer, grapes and wine.
This beer was made by our team foot-stomping grapes in our coolships, fermented in our ex-wine foudres and matured in wine barrels.
We then blended the grape beer with some of our barrels of spontaneously fermented Coolship beer, inoculated by the wild cultures in our brewery, to create a complex and elegant wine and sour beer hybrid.
The tannins from the grape must and barrels, complement the complexities of the fruit, the full body and the subtle acidity balance beautifully. This is a complex hybrid of oak, local grapes and spontaneously fermented beer that is a truly unique experience.
We now had a few years of coolshipping under our belts and we had begun to realise what worked and what didn't. We enjoyed the idea of using vats from Westcombe Dairy, so we decided to continue this tradition as we made our way into creating Coolship 2021. By this point, We were becoming increasingly recognised for our barrel aging efforts, so we needed to make a real impact with our annual coolship release.
A coolshipped beer is in many ways the pinnacle of what our wild and barrel-aged beers are all about. This was the third release of our spontaneously fermented barrel-aged beer, and we had been busy at the brewery for the past five winters, refining and experimenting with each passing season.
Each batch of beer in this coolship blend has been brewed using natural spring water cooled in shallow vats over the winter months using the ambient air temperature in traditional, large shallow vessels.
As it cooled, microflora from the surrounding area inoculated the wort and, in the morning, we racked the soon to become beer into our oak barrels and foeders, where the entire fermentation and maturation took place over many months. Coolship 2021 is a blend of these spontaneously fermented beers aged over the seasons.
After undertaking a very slow fermentation and flavour development the beer is ready. Patience and minimal intervention was one of the absolute key ingredients to this beer, and was something we had learnt over the previous two years.
The finished beer has strong aromas of nectarine and apricot, complemented by aged hops and flavours of stone fruits, particularly apricots. Furthermore, Coolship 2021 embodies a light bitterness, brisk acidity, and a juicy body, as well as a clean, dry, and lingering finish.
Coolship Grape was a huge success, and it gave us the confidence to trust our instincts and venture towards experimental beers.
It was time to try something different. After three releases, we felt it was necessary to step outside of our comfort zone and deviate from the norm. Although we had made a name for ourselves with our sour beer collection, we wanted to create a coolship beer that could be enjoyed by all craft beer lovers. Trust us, we want nothing more than for everyone to love sour beers, but we understand that it is not for everyone!
And thus, the idea of cascading coolships was born.
I know we have said ‘unique’ about a hundred times already, but this one really is something new, not only new for us, but new to coolshipping in general. Our brewer and barrel blending expert James Bardgett had an idea that was just crazy enough that it could work. The plan was to create a beer that had as much spectacle in its taste as it did in its creation. To create this specialty beer, James decided to reach out to Saint Mars of The Desert, a brewery in Sheffield, to help us turn his idea into a reality.
The idea was complex, so I will let James explain:
“SMOD have quickly become well known for their super fruity ‘Koelship IPA’s’. These hoppy beers rely on hotside additions of cone hops in their specially designed open vat.
After talking with Dann and Martha about what we could brew, we had the idea of cascading wort from both our kettles (this took over 2 hours!) through both of our coolships and our mash tun, with a selection of fresh and aged hops to create a blissful hopcharge at multiple temperatures with English and American whole cone hops which also filtered the wort ready for fermentation with our mixed culture saison yeast.
More hops were added at fermenter fill and 2 days into fermentation to create a big, bold hoppy and hazy saison.”
After a crazy brew day with Dan and Martha from Saint Mars of the Desert, we had finally created an amazing big Belgian saison IPA.
The aromas are overwhelmingly, brilliantly Belgian, with pineapple, ripe mango and a hint of pine. It’s big and bold at 8% with a sticky richness with complex herbal, bitter orange and pineapple flavours. These unique techniques led to a full on taste sensation that brings the best of old school IPA, modern American saison and traditional Belgian yeast characters together.
Coolship 2022 Special Edition
We were actually working on Coolship 2022 long before Cascading Coolships was released as the process took a longer amount of time to ferment.
Brewed with Simpsons malts and aged hops with a step mash extracting a host of complex sugars, this young beer demonstrates a fruity punch of apricot, made entirely by the yeasts and bacteria interacting together with the maltose, dextrins and proteins. This is complemented by the woody and resinous tannins and oils extracted from aged hops in the 88°C Sparge and extended boil. The long boiling and cooling of the wort increase the starting gravity of the beer and give it its beautiful golden hue.
In our oak barrels, multiple batches of coolshipped wort are fermented and aged year on year sometimes from day 1, and sometimes after a long primary fermentation in one of our foeders.
As well as reducing the amount of chemicals used to clean our fermenters, barrels add all kinds of influences to our beers. Funky and tart esters, complex flavours of tannins and vanillin’s and glowing clarity that drive our barrel aged beers.
Combining flavours is what we pride ourselves on, and blending a refreshing, tart and flavoursome oak aged beer is something that comes with experience.
All the blenders at the Wild Beer Co have trained their palettes to detect and understand flavours and use this knowhow to build an orchestra of flavour in these carefully crafted beverages. One out of tune (or time) note can throw the ensemble off, and each beer has multiple blending sessions to ensure the final product meets the criteria we have designed for each product.
With each annual Coolship blend, we taste through previous iterations, alongside other inspirational beers, to pinpoint particular flavours that our processes create, and look out for new ones, constantly improving the way these beers are made and honing our palettes.
This technique creates a beautiful marriage of science and art and these batches of beer and techniques go on to influence a whole range of beers coming out of the barrel library.
The Future Of Coolship At Wild Beer
Armed with a single infusion mash tun, and two kettles, and beautiful well converted malts from Simpsons Malts, brewing a traditional turbid mash is a long and awkward process, which is not necessarily critical to creating these beers in a modern world.
That’s not to say we don’t give these things a go from time to time.
The 2021/22 season is the second year we have “performed” a somewhat traditional turbid mash on our kit.
Using natural spring water and locally grown spring malts, floor malted just over 15 miles away at Warminster Maltings, alongside raw wheat, we took the dive to spend over 12hrs, with 2 brewers getting hand on stirring the mash to carefully hand craft a sweet aromatic wort ready for the microflora to take hold of.
These technical brews are improved year on year, and in the last 6 seasons, we have worked towards learning and improving what we do to brew the most dynamic and intriguing coolshipped beers we can.