Once again winemaking equipment pops up in the beer world, this time right in the name of one of Wander Brewing’s latest releases, Foeder WƎN. Pronounced Food-er, a foeder is a large wooden vat that is used to age beer. You are probably familiar with barrel-aged beers, where brewers often use a barrel that has previously held spirits or wine, to age beer. Barrels take up a lot of space, and are also very labor intensive to maintain and use. A foeder can be manufactured to any size, so a brewery can have one made that matches the size of their brew system, thus helping increase efficiency.
Generally crafted from Oak, the foeder will provide a more consistent finished product, as each barrel will have its own unique personality. In addition, each brewer takes a separate approach to how they use their foeder. When new, the oak taste will be strong, so for the first couple batches, they’ll put a stronger beer in, one that can stand up to the bold oakiness. With each use, the foeder loses some wood effect. Other breweries will fill or rinse their new vat with
water a few times so that the wood taste is lessened. Being a porous material, the wood will take on a certain amount of character from each batch of beer that passes through it. Eventually, enough brewers bacteria (Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, Brettanomyces, etc) will build up in the wood, and give each foeder its own charm.
WƎN is the first beer through Wanders new aging vessel, having spent about 7 months with beer in its belly. Chad Kuehl co-owner (along with his wife Colleen) and brewer at Wander said that it took that long for oak flavors to mellow to the point that the oak didn’t overpower the beer. Served in an 11oz flute glass, by Bellingham’s Best Beertender, Hope Collins (apparently, she reads these things, so in the interests of self-preservation, I like to mention that she’s Bellinghams Best Beertender) Wen poured a deep ruby color, with about a half-inch of reddish tinted head that had a low-to-moderate level of retention, which was appropriate for this brew.
The aroma had a very light wood scent, much lighter than I was anticipating (Chad said the earlier samples were overpoweringly woody, which is what lead to the length of time inside mentioned above. Chad hopes that with future uses, the time to age will lessen, and he’ll be able to turn more than 2 batches a year through his foeders.), but still pleasantly noticeable. There was a gentle tartness from a funky blend of yeast cultures and bacteria. Also in the nose was a nice fruit component from the elderberries the beer was aged with. On the palate the ale retained those aspects nicely, while also letting a bit of the grain bill show through. While never developing into a full-on sourness, the tangy aspect did build as I tasted my way through the glass. The berries gave a nice softness in the middle of the palate, while the tartness controlled the back end.
The body was crisp, clean, and light across the tongue. There was a very nice carbonation level that gave just enough effervescence to keep a nice, pleasant tingle throughout the duration of the beverage. Drinkability was very good, the beer is a nice sipper that is smooth, even, and very clean. I might not drink two of these in a row, but I would certainly have two during a given session, with perhaps a pilsener as a palate refresher in between. I would maybe pair this beer with some lamb kabobs, or perhaps a Lemon-Chicken pasta dish.
Overall, WEN is a pleasant, subtle, understated beer. Perhaps we might even call it “Subdued”? Yes, an Excitingly Subdued brew for the City of Subdued Excitement. I look eagerly forward to what future magic with pour forth from Wanders foeders, I suspect we lucky Hamsters will be enjoying those treats for years to come. 2016 Foeder WƎN on Elderberries earns a very respectable 5.9 on my 1-10 scale.