Jan 31, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterAfter a year of waiting, brewmaster Ted Briggs filled the first bottle of beer Lander Brewing Company ever produced for sale on Jan. 17. There was no time for festivities, though. Briggs and head brewmaster Phil Harris, who capped the bottles, had hundreds more to go that afternoon.
Both men spoke excitedly about the brew they had made, and what it represented: a new direction for their brewery. The beer, a barley wine called Devil's Advocate, will be the first beer the local brewery will sell in bottles.
So far the brewery has sold its products on tap, in kegs and in half-gallon growlers filled from bar taps.
Briggs expects the beer to be available in early February at the Lander Bar and Cowfish in Lander.
Other retail locations, including Bar 10 in Riverton, and Galloway's and the Liquor Shed in Casper, will probably carry the beer, Briggs said.
He was not celebrating, but Briggs had a couple of drinks in line with his brewmaster duties.
Sanitizing liquid running through hoses from the beer cask to the bottle filling device had mixed with the beer as the product moved through the lines. The only way to know when all the cleaner was gone was to taste it.
"No, that's only half beer coming through there," Briggs said about the first sample. He waited a few minutes and tried a second time and later a third. Then, after Briggs took a sip from the fourth glass he said, "There we go, that's better."
He then put the first 750 mL bottle into the filling device, purged it of oxygen with carbon dioxide and filled it with beer.
Briggs has been brewing for 17 years and Harris for three and a half.
Lander Brewing made about 90 gallons of Devil's Advocate. That volume will yield about 456 bottles, each of which will sell for $15 to $17.
Briggs thinks the price is similar to other comparable products.
"My idea is this is the kind of beer you're going to share," he said. "You're going to open it up on a special occasion like a nice bottle of wine."
Briggs decided to produce a bottled beer because it allows the beer to be bottle conditioned. Just before bottling, the brewers add yeast and sugar, which will carbonate the beverage in the bottle naturally.
Carbon dioxide forced into the beer typically carbonates keg beer.
"It's a better presentation," Briggs said. "It comes out to be a better pour when you do bottle conditioning."
Adding fine, bottled beer to its line of products will allow Lander Brewing to enter a new sector of the market.
"You get a higher quality beverage than we can do on tap, an elite level beer," Harris said. "(Bottling) gets our beer into places it hasn't been."
Briggs said the demand for quality beers is growing.
"I feel the drinking public is becoming better educated," Briggs said. "Craft brewing is growing."
Barley wine is a style of ale with particular characteristics, he explained.
"It's a strong, malty beer, more on the sweet side than bitter," Briggs said. "This is an English style (barley wine). It's sweeter, maltier and less hoppy than an American style."
Malt is germinated cereal grains from which brewers extract sugars. Hops are a flower and give beer a bitter tangy flavor easily noted in styles like India pale ale.
Barley wine typically has a high alcohol content, similar to that of wine. Briggs's is no exception. His beer is about 10 percent alcohol by volume.
The recipe for Devil's Advocate has won a World Beer Cup medal, and Briggs has brewed it a few times before.
He starts with floor malted Marris Otter malt.
"It's one of the best and more expensive barleys you can buy," Briggs said.
To the brew he adds English hops, and to ferment the beer he uses an English yeast strain.
He said all the ingredients are imported for authenticity.
After a month, when most of the fermentation has finished, Briggs transfers the beer into oak whiskey barrels where it ages for about a year.
For the recent batch of Devil's Advocate, the barrels came from the Jack Daniel's distillery, but Lander Brewing has others that once held Wyoming whiskey.
The whiskey barrels add whiskey and wood flavors to the beer, Briggs said.
More to come
Devil's Advocate is just the brewery's first foray onto store shelves. It has plans to release two more bottled beers in late February or early March.
The new batches are conditioning, but Briggs said he and Harris will bottle them soon.
The first is a brown ale called the 10 lb. Brown, which was also aged in whiskey casks. It is a doubly strong version of the brewery's 5 lb. Brown, named for a large brown trout.
The second is a blend of Lander Brewing's Russian Imperial Stout and the 10 lb. Brown fermented with a wild, Belgian yeast strain called brettanomyces.
The special yeast will impart kind of a funky flavor, Briggs explains.
Such flavors are not typical of stout or brown ale styles but are common in Belgian ales.
The brewing company plans to continue selling specialty beers in bottles beyond this year.
Briggs hopes to brew two Belgian "lambic" style beers to release in 2014. Lambic beers are distinct because wild yeasts and bacteria ferment them, as opposed to cultivated strains of yeast.
The first will be brewed with raspberries, a style called "framboise lambic." The second will be a "kriek lambic" because the brewers will add cherries to the beer.
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