Texas-based Vista Brewing is launching a new barrel program led by award-winning brewer Josh Watterson, focusing on Lambic-style and Brettanomyces beers that utilize local ingredients and are fermented in freshly emptied wine barrels from Central Texas. Vista’s signature ingredient is nearby limestone-filtered well water that is an elegant base for the multitude of yeasts strains being used in-house.
In its first months of operation, Vista Brewing has over 50 barrels in process. The brewery expects to grow its reserve to 100 barrels and announce membership for an exclusive Vista bottle club by the end of 2018.
Watterson’s passion for barrel-aged beers began in the wine industry in Oregon, where he studied everything he could about the barrel fermentation process. He also built a library aging over 300 wood barrels during his time at Brasserie St. James in Reno, Nevada. Ten years on, Watterson’s brewing expertise has earned him numerous awards for both barrel and steel-aged beers, including 2014 Great American Beer Festival Brewer of the Year. In his new tenure at Vista Brewing, he has already earned a handful of awards, including National Grand Champion for Sour with the Rosanna Barrel-Aged Brett Ale at the 2018 US Beer Tasting Championships.
Horizontal barrel project
Watterson’s latest concept is a horizontal barrel project: Rosanna Brett Ale fermented in four different single varietal wine barrels. The base beer uses a strain of Brettanomyces known as Lambicus, which produces cherry-pie and earthy Brett flavors. The batch was split to age in fresh Anglianico, Tannat, Petite Sirah and Tempranillo barrels from Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas. The result is a horizontal set of four 750 ml bottles which allow exploration of the nuances that each wine imparts on the beer. Watterson is also expertly blending the four barrels to create a balanced Rosanna blend.
For Vista’s Belgian-style Lambic beers, Watterson is using yeast strains which mimic those found in the Senne Valley of Belgium. Texas grown and malted grains from suppliers such as Blacklands Malt are his choice for these recipes. These grains and house-aged hops, along with Vista’s own well water create a true Texas terroir.
The brewery’s first two fruited Lambic-style recipes highlight Italian plums and peaches from Jenschke Orchards in the nearby Texas town of Fredericksburg. Watterson is looking forward to growing the barrel program and offering beers brewed with ingredients that are unique to Texas, such as persimmons or other edibles foraged from Vista’s own 21-acre property.
“Working with our neighbors exclusively to pull barrels for our program showcases the unique flavors Texas wineries are offering right now,” says Watterson. “By using freshly-emptied barrels, the specific varietals accentuate the flavors created by my recipes. I literally pick up the barrels the day the winery is bottling, and barrel down the beer the next day.”
Vista Brewing’s barrel program is true to Watterson’s traditional European brewing background, but with a Texas influence. Every decision made is calculated and intentional, so the quality ingredients can speak for themselves. The next barrel-aged Brett ale, Laissez Faire, is slated for release in September and an exclusive bottle club is planned around the release of Watterson’s first Belgian-style lambics.