Posts Tagged ‘Kushal Hall’

Inside Speakeasy’s New Syndicate Series with Head Brewer Kushal Hall

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013


On a quiet Sunday afternoon in October, when most people are far from work, a team of taste testers arrived at Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. Twenty barrels of beer were waiting, aligned in rows, ready for inspection. Each contained one of several different beer recipes. All had been aging from one to just over two years.


Led by head brewer Kushal Hall, the team’s task was to sample the contents of each barrel, create several different blends, and choose the best one. Their choice became the first installment of Speakeasy’s new barrel-aging program, called the Syndicate Series.


According to Speakeasy, “Each Syndicate release will be a unique blend of strong beers that have been aged in American spirits barrels for no less than nine months. Syndicate No. 01 is a blend of six strong ales matured between 12-26 months in various bourbon barrels.”

The recipe for Syndicate No. 1:

- Old Godfather (51%) Barleywine aged 26 months
- Black Hand Volume 1 (15%) Imperial Stout aged 13 months
- Two Minutes to Midnight (14%) Imperial Stout aged 12 months
- Betrayal (11%) Imperial Red aged 12 months
- Double Daddy (5%) Imperial IPA aged 12 months
- Payback (3%) Robust Porter aged 18 months

After the blending session, Kushal Hall talked about the blending process, what went into the finished beer, and his approach to barrel aging at Speakeasy. Our conversation is below.

(Assistant brewer Joe Smith pouring a sample for Kushal Hall)


Talk a little bit about the base beer that went into Syndicate No. 1.

“So the first beer we put into barrels for this project was a version of our Old Godfather Barleywine, which is really more like an Old Ale. It was made with just two-row malt and a little bit of Vienna, kind of copying English pale malt. Then we added some Columbus hops for bittering and Cascade all the way through to dry hopping.

All of the color in the beer came from kettle caramalization on a four-hour boil. It was just kind of a big fun beer, and other than a keg I think we made for the brewery, everything went into Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. We had nine and half barrels of that for the base beer of the Syndicate No. 1 release.

That was the first beer we tasted to see if they were all good. We were happy with all of them. The one barrel that we had questions about was half full, but it was just a little more intense.”


So other than just seeing how good they tasted, you were also looking for flaws?

“Yes, anything that might have gotten sour or contaminated with bacteria that we would just completely dump down the drain.”


Have you encountered that before?

“Yeah, one of my favorite beers that I’ve ever made at Speakeasy, or homebrewing, was Payback Porter that we put into a zin barrel. That beer was incredible. We tried to recreate that like four times and they all went sour. We’ve had the most luck with bourbon barrels. They show up wet with bourbon and so you don’t have worry too much about any bugs in there like you do with wine barrels. It’s a little bit trickier with those. We’re not trying do anything sour intentionally. We mostly put barleywines, imperial beers, and stouts into the barrels now.”


Could you describe the blending process and what kind of flavors you were looking for? Also, how many different blends did you make today?

“I think we did a total of seven blends and we ended up going with the fifth one we created. When we blended the beers together and started sampling them we were trying to sort out the various flavors we had. We went through a few different scale tests and different variations of stout blends and imperial red blends.

The Old Godfather Barleywine was pretty thin on it’s own, so we added a fair amount of stout, which gave the beer more body and cut down on the boozy heat. It made it more drinkable as a barrel-aged beer and also really brought out more of the chocolate and dried fruit flavors that made it a lot more complex and interesting.

Then the Double Daddy and Imperial Red added some more bright hoppy high notes and a little more caramel. It was good, we were happy with it. We had a couple Firestone Walker Anniversary beers along the way for inspiration, and I think this stands up to one of those interesting and complex barrel-aged beers.”


How much barrel aging has Speakeasy done in the past?

“During the six years I’ve been here we’ve may be done, other then the barrels we put away for the Syndicate Series and our previous barrel aged Scarface Stout, we’ve probably done something like 20 barrels before that. We always did one barrel at a time just for fun. We did a bourbon barrel aged Payback Porter a few times. We also did an imperial version of the Payback Porter, which we’ve got to do again. That was awesome. It was a 9.5% version of Payback. It was phenomenal. We threw that in bourbon barrels and took those to Boonville. So it was just kind of for fun.”


What does the future of the Syndicate Series look like?

“The Syndicate Series is intended to be a series of 100% barrel-aged beers. They will be a blend of different beers in each release. No release will be the same as the next. No recipe will be repeated. Although some of the beers that go into barrels will be repeats on recipes, like Scarface Stout, Old Godfather Barleywine, Imperial Red, and some other beers that were never released, except into barrels, like Two Minutes to Midnight Stout.”


Photos © Brian Stechschulte

Guild Brewers Collaborate on Brew for SF Beer Week 2012

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Last Friday members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild gathered for an early morning brew day at Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. Every year they collaborate on a special beer that’s served around the city during SF Beer Week. They fine tune the recipe, contribute ingredients and lend a hand with brewing activities while talking shop. In 2011 they brewed an Imperial Common, a tasty high alcohol variation on San Francisco’s native beer style. This year they’ve decided to create an SF Strong Ale.

The brew day kicked off in the wee hours of the morning at 5:30am. That’s when the first mash-in took place. Speakeasy head brewer Kushal Hall didn’t expect much company. After all, it’s not a typical start time for him and apparently most of the other brewers, who started to stroll in around 7:30. Hall did get one very early surprise visit though. Anchor Brewing’s long time head brewer Mark Carpenter paid him a visit en route to work.

Anchor Brewing joined the Guild in 2011 and their participation in this collaborative brew day was highly anticipated. Earlier in the month, as the SF Strong Ale recipe was taking shape, Anchor offered the use of its ale yeast. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day. In fact, according to Anchor brewer Kevin West, he’s never seen yeast leave the brewery in his 18 years at the company. It’s safe to say that this was the first “official release” of the yeast and the gesture’s significance wasn’t lost on any of the attending brewers.

Anchor ale yeast

West brought over the ale yeast in two old-fashioned milk jugs that were acquired from the distillery. Once the first batch of beer was transferred from the kettle to the fermentor, the yeast was pitched onto the malt born sugars to feast. Hall had to hoist the jug to the top of the fermentor and dump it through the open hatch, which was a bit of a dicey move, but he safely returned to the ground.

Kushal Hall pouring the yeast with help from Kevin West

A second mash-in occurred around 11:00am, which should top off the total quantity of SF Strong Ale somewhere around 20 barrels. By now you’re probably curious about what went into the brew. The malt bill consisted of Maris Otter, Weyerman Organic Munich II, Weyerman Dark Wheat, Weyerman Carafa and Castle Biscuit. The Guild would like to thank Brewers Supply Group for donating the Maris Otter. As for the hops, Warrior was thrown into the kettle, while Cascade and Chinook will go into the dry hop session. Sound good?

Kevin West mashing out

The brew day started to wrap up around 1:00pm. Speakeasy’s Firkin Friday was taking place later that day and some of the brewers had their own work to do. The SF Strong Ale is now slowly and comfortably taking shape at a pleasant 80 degrees. You can get your first taste of it at the SF Beer Week Opening Celebration and then it will pop up at bars and breweries the rest of that week. Stay tuned for details and hints.

You should also know that we’ve decided to partner with Untappd on a SF Strong Ale badge that you can earn from February 10-19. All you’ll have to do is find it on tap, check-into it and you’ve earned the badge. More details will be available in the coming weeks.

Spent grain / All Photos © Brian Stechschulte