Talking Wood and Bourbon with Goodwood Brewing

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The motto of Louisville’s Goodwood Brewing Company is “touched by wood,” which sounds a bit naughty, but it’s meant in a very literal way: all their beer gets kissed by some type of wood. Goodwood used to be a part of Bluegrass Brewing Company, but they decided to rebrand and change their name and style. President of Goodwood, Phillip Dearner, and his partners took over BBC’s production facility in 2003 while BBC owner Pat Hagan continued to operate BBC’s Brewpubs as separate entities from the brewery (currently, BBC only brews their beers for the restaurants).

After a remodel, in June, Goodwood opened their taproom in the former space of the BBC brewery with a new concept; everything Goodwood produces will be barrel aged. Goodwood kept some of the beers they developed while under the BBC umbrella, including their famed BBC Bourbon Barrel Stout, now called Goodwood Bourbon Barrel Stout. Dearner had been making small batches of wood-aged beers years before he decided to give the niche market a full go. “We were craft beer guys before it was cool,” Dearner says.

Their Walnut Brown Ale was supposed to be brewed with actual walnut wood, but during R&D they read walnut wood can make people ill, so they switched it to walnuts and oak chips. Their Louisville Lager is brewed with malt grown on a Kentucky farm, and rests on white ash—what Louisville Slugger baseball bats are made from. Probably the most unique of their current roster of beers is their Red Wine Barrel Saison, which sets inside wine barrels imported from California. An advantage to being based in Kentucky is having access to the same limestone water used in bourbon. “So what’s good for bourbon is good for our beer here,” Dearner says.

In June, Goodwood bottles spread to the Cincinnati area, and they’re already in Virginia and Indiana. They hope to end the year with 10,000 barrels brewed, and the venture has already been so successful they ordered three 60-barrel fermenters. “When somebody thinks about barrel aging or wood aging, I wanna be the first person they think about,” Dearner says. Ahead of the launch of their rum barrel-aged Oktoberfest beer, Dearner talked more in-depth about what goes into brewing with wood.

Paste: Are you the only brewery you know of that barrel ages all your brews?

Dearner: If you look around the brewing community, you got the Founders and the Bluegrass Brewing Company and the Alltechs and various other people that dabble in wood, but nobody that just says, ‘here’s what we do, this is our passion.’ And we want to be really good at it, and we thought that’s what we’re going to focus on. I don’t know of any other brewery that does all wood-aged beers. Being Kentucky boys, obviously we love bourbon and we love what wood does to that liquid.

Paste: How long does each beer set in the barrels?

Dearner: For the bourbon ale, because it’s a lighter style ale, it really gets dominated by the barrels if we age it too long. We’re not about letting the barrel dominate the beer; we’re about making a great beer with highlights of the barrel. Bourbon ale sits in for a month. Any longer, it starts tasting like a bourbon ball. Bourbon Barrel Stout sits for three months and it goes through a blending process. Red Wine Saison’s one of our most complicated beers. What we want from these wine barrels, besides the dark fruit and the raisins in the background, is we want the tannins, and the tannins take a really long time to leach out of the barrel. But at the same time, saisons are supposed to be fresh and lively beers. The more fresh the saison, the better. So we do a blending process of different ages of that beer. We’ll do a lot older with middle aged and then very young so we get that nice fresh saison, but we’re still getting the tannins we want out of it. Every beer’s different.

Paste: Was it scary to change the brand?

Dearner: At first it was really scary. I was brought on with a new group that took over the contract when BBC was busted into two groups. I came in with the managing group that bought the facility and the distribution rights to BBC. At that point it was fledgling here in Louisville. We worked hard. It was our child. We worked 12 years on growing a fairly reputable brand. We had a lot of pride in it and we put a lot of work into it, and to up and leave it behind was kind of like leaving a child behind, at first. It’s a lot different environment today than it was 12 years ago. There’s so much more competition and so many other beers. There are a lot of variables, there are a lot of question marks. It took a lot of bravery or stupidity, I don’t know, to up and do this. We’re either breaking away from our mother company, or we’re just changing our whole concept. There’s no book out there. It was a lot of hard nights, a lot of nights sitting in the bed thinking, are we doing the right thing? The market has really accepted our concept and brand tremendously well.

Paste: Are you worried you’ll run out of wood to use or that using only wood will limit the kinds of beers you brew?

Dearner: Truthfully, I think we’re only scratching the surface with what we can do with wood. Wood aging, it doesn’t get real wild. Outside of bourbon barrels, you see a rum barrel here, and being located where we’re at, we have so many cooperages, which are houses that build and refurbish barrels, primarily bourbon barrels. And what’s happened because we have all of these cooperages here, Kentucky’s like a crossroads for barrel trading. So we can get our hands on the most awesome Bacardi rum barrels or whatever barrel we want. There are port barrels. There are so many barrels out there we haven’t done a lot of experimentation with. I think the possibilities for experimentation are endless.

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