It would be fair to say that craft beer has infiltrated the mainstream. From a Saturday afternoon shopping trip to the nearest supermarket to a Sunday morning television segment, the sight of a bottle or can of craft is becoming increasingly commonplace. However, the struggle is still very real when it comes to convincing the average consumer that good independent beer is worth more than a mass-produced counterpart. Furthermore, and perhaps more evident during a period in which independent beer is experiencing massive growth, convincing consumers that beer can be considered in the same way as wine or spirits – that means in terms of both how much you’re willing to spend on it and the connotations attached to opening a bottle – is still an uphill battle for those within the industry.
The increase of available styles has undoubtedly allowed individuals to experience beer in new and unique ways. Larger bottles, smaller measures, higher ABVs, and flavours that drastically depart from what could once be considered the norm have allowed beer to infiltrate many occasions beyond a night on the sofa in front of the television.
In the four years since Siren Craft Brew’s conception, they have consistently pushed the boundaries of British beer outward. The Wokingham-based brewery have introduced beer lovers to a variety of dynamic styles and flavours through both their own ingenuity and a collaborative approach to brewing. Yet, in those four years, one beer has proved to be a constant.
Maiden was the first brewing voyage to be undertaken by Siren, and is the first new beer to be brewed each year. Aged in several different barrels and taking influence from the wine and whiskey world, the finished result is a strong and complex beer rooted in tradition and conceived with 21st century brewing expertise. Perfect for cellaring, opening up on a special occasion, or enjoying as soon as you get your hands on a bottle, this limited-edition anniversary beer is another milestone in Siren’s already storied brewing history. A beer which invites you to drink, discover and embark upon your own flavour adventure.
I was lucky enough to be invited to this year’s Maiden blend, a day long tasting session undertaken by Siren and their guests, including the Wild Beer Co team – a brewery already widely recognised for their expertise when it comes to blending beer.
Over 30 examples of barley wines aged in a variety of rum, tequila, bourbon, and wine barrels were tasted and rated throughout the day. A cold February morning in Siren’s barrel store was quickly warmed up by an industrial heater a copious amounts strong and distinctly flavoured beer. Favourites were selected by teams and blended with each other and a fresh batch of beer. Countless variations exhibiting a myriad of flavours were created, rated, disregarded and moved on to the next stage of the process. After a long day of tasting and experimenting, a final blend was decided upon: 16.66% fresh Maiden, 8.33% Armagnac, 8.33% Banyuls, 8.33% Heaven Hill, 41.66% Red Wine and 16.66% Rum.
Maiden is a wonderfully evocative example of just how far modern craft beer has come. The level of expertise, collaboration and expertise on show is highlighted in each and every bottle of the 2016 blend. Beer from some of Siren’s oldest barrels was included in the finished product (barrels include 007, 008, 011 and 016) highlighting both the great degree of planning and spontaneity in undertaking a project such as this.
Maiden is simultaneously a celebration of the past, a taste of the present and an insight into Siren’s future. Whether it’s the cost of storing the barrels, the countless man hours it takes to fill and maintain them, the level of scrutiny the blend is subjected to, or the sheer amount of brewing skill and passion packed into each and every wax-topped bottle, Maiden is far cry from what is typically found upon a supermarket shelf. A truly special excursion into the world of contemporary craft beer that’s worth far more than the recommended retail price. It’s time to take your very own journey.