Brother Barrel has a hole in the floor with beer underneath.
This is honestly slightly frightening to walk over. Lester Black

Okay, this isn't actually a secret sour brewery, but Brother Barrel in Lake City deserves a lot more attention.

Brother Barrel opened in May of 2017, making it 1.5 years old in normal beer years, but this isn't a normal brewery. It's a barrel-aged brewery, which means we need to handicap its age by the number of years it takes to produce a fine aged beer.

It takes three years to make a Gueuze, the Belgian beer that is the world standard for fine barrel beer. So, by handicapping Brother Barrel by this Gueuze metric we can say that Brother Barrel is actually still in the negative digits. And for a brewery that is still technically negative 1.5 years old, Brother Barrel is making some fantastic beer.

Medieval monkish fantasies on the walls. Barrel aged beer on the tables.
Medieval monkish fantasies on the walls. Barrel aged beer on the tables. Lester Black

A saison called Luna on tap this week was a sweet lemon dream. It was tart like a lemon candy but had a finish with almost no lingering sweetness. Luna spent 28 months in her wine barrel, where a mixed culture of different yeast and bacteria slowly ate away at the beer’s sugars. That doesn’t leave much sugar behind, hence the dry and clean finish.

Brother Barrel’s bar itself is a testament to how much better breweries can be when they're designed for the adults paying the bar tab and not their children. There's a full bar of liquor and cocktails for the fools not into beer and a menu of new American food: pizzas for under $20, plus burgers, fish and chips and a range of small plate appetizers.

The restaurant is designed well with a mix of subway tiles, steel beams, wood, and a mural painted on the wall of a Medieval European monkish fantasy. The lights are low and the music is a comfortable mix of indie bands from ten years ago. Half of the bar at any given moment could be on a Tinder date.

When you walk in the bar you'll pass over a hole in the floor where translucent glass allows you to walk over barrels of beer that you can see aging in the basement below. This piece of flare should occupy your Tinder date conversation for at least 5 minutes.

A good sour brewery gets better with age and I have seen Brother Barrel only improve over the last year. My first few visits had high points, the Ambrosia Kriek has been good since the day they opened, but some of the beers tasted hot and unrefined. As time has passed I’ve noticed their beer menu fill up with great beer.

I tried a spontaneously fermented beer made with only the natural yeasts that were found on cabernet sauvignon grapes, which was then aged in Syrah and Mourverde barrels from Cullin Hills Winery in Woodinville. It was tangy, sweet, and sour and named Spontaneous: Cabernet '17, which is the least inspiring beer name I've seen in a while. It was enjoyable but it lacked the developed flavor of Luna. The menu said it had spent 6 months in its barrels and it seemed like it could spend another year.

The beauty of these kinds of breweries is that Brother Barrel might be continuing to age this beer further. What does this beer taste like in a year when that Brettanomyces has another 12 months to slowly eat away at what remains? Come back in a year and you might be able to find out. The world’s great sour breweries, like Cascade Brewing in Portland, are able to serve the same beer aged to different years in a single flight. Breweries call these things “verticals” because they give you an ability to see the same beer across multiple years. Drinking a 2016 Sang Noir next to a 2015 and 2014 at Cascade Brewing in Portland should be on every beer nerd's bucket list.

I waited till everyone left the bar to take this photo. Usually these stools are full.
I waited till everyone left the bar to take this photo. Usually these stools are full. Lester Black

I finished my night at Brother Barrel with Long Strange Trip, a 9-percent Belgian Quad aged in used sherry casks. This was a challenging beer. A mixture of herbal, fruity, sweet, and even savory flavors force you to contemplate if you like this beer. It’s sweet like fruit leather, but also spicy and herbal. Certainly boozy. This beer has pieces of Spain, Alaskan Way, and Lake City in it. Long Strange Trip was aged in a barrel that started its life holding sherry wine in Spain, then it held gin distilled in giant copper stills across the street from the Seattle Aquarium.

The last leg of this barrel's life was holding a strong 9 percent beer made in the Belgian Quad style at Brother Barrel. By the end of my glass, I was still deciding if I liked it or not, but either way I couldn’t stop thinking about what I was drinking.

Barrel aged beer grows and responds to these kinds of barrel cycles. As do barrel-aged breweries. I've started to follow Brother Barrel's life; if you're interested in beer you probably should too.

Did we mention theres a hole in the floor?
Did we mention there's a hole in the floor? Lester Black