Terra Incognita is the second in a trilogy of Boulevard-Sierra Nevada beers. The breweries' first collaboration was an ale for the Brewers Association's SAVOR conference in 2012. The third release, another barrel-aged brew set for 2014, will be made at Sierra Nevada's Chico, California, brewery. Pauwels and Sierra Nevada brewmaster Steve Dresler discussed their creation with The Pitch during a recent conference call.
The Pitch: How did the collaboration come about?
Pauwels: So we were at a bar - there's always a bar story - and I asked Nancy [Johnson, SAVOR event director] how we could get involved, and she said, "Well, you can make the beer for next year." And then Ken [Grossman, Sierra Nevada founder] said, "Sure."
Dresler: I remember we were on the patio ordering oysters at Jax [Fish House in Denver] after the Great American Beer Festival. It was the first of a lot of conversations.
Pauwels: Our version had a lot of wheat. What we were trying to do is that we have two brewers, one in the middle of the country and one on the West Coast. So we thought, How could we connect them? One of the brewers came up with the name for Terra Incognita.
Pauwels: We were making beer that tastes and smells like dirt.
Dresler: Well, we succeeded. [Laughs.]
Pauwels: I should say we made it earthy.
Dresler: Blending is exceptionally fun and challenging. The folks on Steven's staff perform exceptionally well.
Pauwels: We had three portions ready. One was aged in whiskey barrels, one had been in wine foudres and the other was fresh beer. The wine just adds so much complexity. You're standing there for a couple of hours trying to create the best blend. And you go back and forth until you have that aha moment.
Dresler: The dialogue is critical as you're drinking together. You're putting beer components in different proportions, and there are lots of descriptors. You come to a verbal understanding of positives and negatives. The original blend took the better part of an afternoon. You kind of create as you go, and that's what makes it fun and a challenge. Then you have one, and it's delicious when you're done.
Pauwels: We've known each other for quite a while. I have a lot of respect for Sierra Nevada beers, and I know what Steve has in his mind. He knows what makes a great beer, and if you find people in the industry with the same perception of beer, you know you can go in the same direction.
Dresler: In the end, the barrels that got slightly soured were the ones that we liked. Barrel aging is relatively new for us at Sierra Nevada, and blending is something new to me. I picked up different things from the different wood. That was the most eye-opening part of the process. Oh, and Steven taught me how to dry hop with wet hops.
Pauwels: His name is in all the books, but I taught him how to do it.
Dresler: We had this year's version in San Francisco side by side with last year's. And last year's bottle has developed beautifully.
Pauwels: That's the whole idea about Terra Incognita - it's the unknown. This is probably one of the first beers that I would say buy and hold onto it. Buy two. There are some edges to it and, as it matures, they'll play nicely together.
Dresler: The aromas and flavors meld so well with additional time. This is new stuff for me. I've spent most of my career in the realm of very traditional brewing systems and traditional yeast. It's exciting now to have beer projects that evolve over time.
Pauwels: The spikiness of the young beer mellows out over time. I hope the same thing happens to this one.
The Pitch: Do you see more collaborations in the future for your breweries and the craft-beer industry?
Dresler: I don't think people were collaborating five or six years ago. It's a relatively new thing, and I think it speaks really nicely to the people in the craft-brewing industry. I've been doing this for 30 years, and there weren't many players. But now there are 2,300 to 2,400 breweries. That way that craft brewers work together is unique in a competitive industry. We're vying for market share, and yet we want to co-create. Have collaborations played themselves out? I kind of hope not.
Pauwels: We've done three and will do one this year. I think one per year is a good speed. There's some breweries that are doing almost one every month. You want to make it a project, create something unique that you can stand behind and not just another IPA.
Dresler: I don't look at it as a flavor-of-the-month club.
Pauwels: I want people to say, years later, "This is fabulous."