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The Wild, Wood-Powered Brewing of Cellador Ales

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When Kevin Osborne first tasted The Bruery’s Tonnellerie Rue, an oak fermented and aged Saison, it set off a spark.

“I thought [it] had a lot more complexity than others in the same category I had tried,” he says. “From there, I continued trying a lot more oak fermented beers and realized there seemed to be something more to those beers, something special about them.”

From that spark, Cellador Ales was born. Kevin and his wife Sara set out to build one of America’s few breweries entirely dedicated to oak fermented beers. They embraced the unpredictability of working with wood to create a unique collection of Wild Ales similar to producers like The Rare Barrel and Casey Brewing and Blending. From the start, Cellador placed a focus on mixed house cultures, a variety of different barrels, and seasonal fruits native to their home in Southern California.

It was after stints working at both Stone and Golden Road that Osborne developed an itch to start his own brewery. It was years of homebrewing on the side, devoted to crafting Wild Ales in his then one-and-only 15 gallon oak barrel, that led to an intrigue for the nuances of oak fermented beers.

Many modern craft brewers use wood as an ingredient -- it’s rare to find a brewery that doesn’t offer at least one barrel-aged brew in their portfolio. But a brewer that barrel ferments every single one of their beers? That's a true rarity (about as rare as an impolite Canadian).

The difference between barrel-aging and barrel fermenting all comes down to when the beer gets put in the barrel. In true barrel fermenting, the beer’s wort is put in the barrel from beginning to end, with all of the yeast activity taking place in wood. A barrel-aged beer, on the other hand, is often fermented with “clean” stainless steel and then placed into a wood barrel. True barrel fermentation allows for greater nuance of wild flavor, but also makes for a less predictable and more difficult fermentation.

The beauty of Cellador’s wood-powered creations is that they come to fruition at a precise intersection of time and inspiration: Instead of setting out to make a beer based on a specific fruit or a certain type of barrel, they use a holistic approach, and may never recreate the resulting brew ever again (unless they feel like it, and the stars align in the same way a second time, of course).

“We do a lot of different base beers, so it's really all about blending,” Osborne says. “Sometimes we rely on the flavors in the barrels to inspire us to find a certain fruit, and sometimes we have access to a certain fruit that is in season, or we just really like, and we find a beer to go with it.”

Cellador is best known for their stone fruit and berry beers like Akimbo (a table Sour Ale aged in Chardonnay barrels with Matsumoto peaches) and Murex (a blended Wild Ale with boysenberries). But they’ve also experimented with less conventional flavors and methods like Bourbon barrel-aging, rarely seen in the realm of Wild Ales.

“We started to play around with vanilla and coffee which is fun, but Wild Ales with these adjuncts are still a ‘newish’ thing for consumers,” Osborne says. “We've also used some more obscure fruits like Cherimoya, Buddha’s hand, and beets. It's fun to find fruits that stand out to us on their own, and then incorporate them into our blends.”

With a constantly rotating list of small batch brews, Cellador makes beers for pretty much everyone. Some more accessible examples are their non-fruited, balanced ales like In Principio (a blend of barrel-aged Saisons) or Restik (a Wild Ale dry-hopped with Motueka and Idaho 7). Among the more challenging of their brews are Oedipa Maas (a Dark Sour with Trystero coffee and vanilla), Firegold Grapefruit (a Farmhouse Wild Ale with Star Ruby Grapefruits - “very bitter from the grapefruits, so it tends to be a polarizing beer”) and their uncarbonated “still” beers like Psalm Spite and A Buried Lover.

Cellador’s constantly rotating catalog can only be found and purchased through their website -- and through Tavour, when we’re lucky enough to snag a few bottles. But that’s going to change soon, as they’re in the homestretch for opening a taproom. If everything goes according to plan, expect to see a location in L.A. open to the public by July or August of this year!

For now, these exceptional oak fermented beauties will continue to be prime rewards for extreme beer treasure hunting. Kevin, Sara and the Cellador team will continue to channel their passion and care into every brew -- with the help of some rousing pop anthems from Beyonce (“this is Sara speaking, but I would argue that Kevin likes her too”) -- to bring us some of the most unique and delicious Wild Ales the American craft scene has to offer. Let’s raise a glass to the wild and woody side.

Written by Sigmund Steiger

Featured image from CelladorAles.com

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