Wild Heaven Fest Beer returns for a 4th time (if our drinking memory serves us well) this weekend.
A few years ago, brewery co-founder Eric Johnson debuted Autumn Defense, a creative rendition of the popular fall lager. In that case, [Defense] was actually ale, with “pronounced bright citrus flavors, brewed heavy-handedly with Munich malt.” A festbier in spirit, but as Johnson admits – not very traditional. “You’re not a brewer if you’re not experimenting I guess,” Johnson once told us.
Wild Heaven Fest Beer follows a much more traditional path. This release is a true Marzen lager, leaving the idea of an “ale festbier” behind for good. Before even getting to here, tweaks to the recipe were in order. Johnson used Gungeist hops in years 1 and 2 of this release – a European hop of Hallertauer parentage. These hops did make a good lager, but ultimately traditional brewing just wins out. Now the lager is brewed solely with timeless (and traditional) Noble hops from Germany.
Brewing Fest Beer after giving up Autumn Defense was a journey unto itself. The result is definitely worth tasting, especially as fall looms.
Wild Heaven Fest Beer will be available on draft and 12-ounces cans seasonally starting this week.
Availability: 12oz Cans, Draft.
Latest Return: Early September 2021
Wild Heaven 4 Stories Quad
While 2020 was basically a stopped-up toilet in a dirty truck stop for everyone, Atlanta-based Wild Heaven Beer and Bulleit Bourbon gave us something tasty to help us cope with the mess. It was the boozy goodness we needed to round out a weird year.
Since the beginning, Bulleit was stingy with their empty bourbon barrels, sending most, if not all, overseas to be repurposed for whisky. Craft brewers never had the chance to age their beers in Bulleit. All that’s changed now.
Building off of the success of two 2020 releases – 437 Miles South Imperial Stout, and 95 Shilling Scotch Ale will be two new Bulleit barrel-aged releases released by Wild Heaven this year. Brewmaster and co-owner Eric Johnson is going Belgian-style for these next two creations.
This month Johnson, along with brewer Josh Franks created the Belgian-style tripel, started aging in in wet 10-year Bulleit Bourbon barrels yesterday. “It came out a touch higher in ABV than I expected – 10.75% going into the barrels. So it will most likely be 11-11.25% coming out. But it already is pretty great,” says Franks.
Expect a Labor Day release for the first beer.
The second collaboration will arrive by Christmas, a quadrupel aged a blend of Bulleit Rye and Bulleit Bourbon barrels.
Both beers will be available in limited quantities in 16-ounces cans.
The sun is setting over Wild Heaven brewery in Avondale Estates. It’s finally turning cooler in the south, which is perfect “beer and bourbon” weather. But then again, what weather isn’t.
This beer collaboration wasn’t easy to come by. Bulleit Bourbon barrels have never really been available to the broker market. You couldn’t broker a few barrels to age your beer of choice. The whole project exists thanks to industry networking, planning, discussions with the distillery, and of course, your PR push. Remember, beer is as much sales as it is an art form.
There’s Bulleit/Beer cocktails and food from Chef Shay Lavi cooking outside, but I’m here for the beer.
Drawing on something I said in part one of this series. Years ago, possessing a bourbon barrel-aged beer in your cellar meant you were winning. Being good at brewing barrel-aged beer meant understanding where the beer and barrel came together in a unity of amazing flavor. That means making sure it and doesn’t fall flat with no barrel notes, or worse the barrel overruns it. “Not enough barrel aging” was the “too hoppy” 1-Star rating on Untappd of a decade ago.
That’s not the case with Wild Heaven 95 Shilling. It’s the balance of toasty caramel, and rich vanilla oak that blend together in a greater sum of the parts of the process. Exactly what it should be. This beer is an instant reminder of the well-made classics that got so many addicted to craft beer in the first place. Beer meets barrel extremely well with fresh Bulleit barrels for the win.
“For me, this is one of the more rewarding parts of what we do,” says Executive Vice President Sarah Young. “The more we can spread Wild Heaven around in front of more than just beer people, is always something we look for.” The list of local partnerships nearly doubled in just 2020 alone. To date they have worked with Atlanta icons like Giving Kitchen, Mercedes Benz Stadium, The Fox Theater, 680 TheFan radio station, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Big Peach Running Co, CURE Childhood Cancer, Stuckey’s Corporation and more. Basically, Young has been busy.
One thing I can tell you for certain. Not every bourbon barrel makes great barrel-aged beer, but after trying Wild Heaven’s and Bulleit barrel collaboration, Bulleit definitely does.
Standing here drinking this beer at the brewery’s bar, campfire smoke heavy cold fall air whips through the open garage doors. For a second it feels like a fun dream after the year we’ve all had. The excitement about beer releases has returned to me. I’ve missed this.
Wild Heaven and Bulleit created a great beer here, with a second creation just a week away. Not everything in 2020 is terrible.
Nearly 10 years ago, the craft brewing world was just a fraction of what it is now. IPAs were see-through and the more bitter they were, the better. Beer style guidelines were still very much a thing, and barrel-aged beers were gold. “Bourbon Barrel-aged” was all you needed to emit a Pavlovian-style response to the thirsty beer geek. It proved your street cred.
A lot has happened since those days, besides the obvious 10,000 brewery swell from coast to coast. IPA has gone through quite a few phases. Sour beer has made a big name for itself. Food and candy now have a near-permanent home in many brew kettles. Barrel-aged beer never went away, but feels a bit like it’s not the cool kid in school anymore.
At Wild Heaven in Atlanta, barrel-aging was never a trend, it’s something brewmaster Eric Johnson just did. Quite artfully, I might add. Hell, the brewery was at least 3-4 years into operations before releasing their first IPA because Johnson wanted intention as well as science to have roles in the beer’s creation. Not some trend mandate. Simply stated, doing something just to do it isn’t in his vocabulary (unless it’s drinking).
A Bourbon Opportunity
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey has become a household name in Kentucky Bourbon over the past decade. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bar that doesn’t have Bulleit on their shelf. If you were a brewer hoping to snag some wet barrels to throw your imperial stout into, you were out of luck. Years ago, founder Tom Bulleit told Beer Street Journal almost all of the distillery’s wet barrels were shipped to Scotland. Frankly, the idea of aging beer in Bulleit barrels seemed foreign to him at the time when we asked about it. Over the past year, that mentality has changed.
The distillery and the brewery incidentally share the same distributor in the Peach State, Georgia Crown. GC brought the barrel opportunity to Wild Heaven who eagerly agreed.
Other than collaborations with Guinness in 2019, this Bulleit and Wild Heaven creation is just the second barrel-aging collaboration that Bulleit has done (that we know of).
It’s 2020, and you COULD throw everything from chicken wings to gummy bears in a Bulleit barrel, rip off some throwback 90’s cartoon artwork, and call it a day. Again, that’s not Eric Johnson’s style, and probably not Bulleit’s either. “I wanted to go with beers that would really compliment the wood and the original spirit,” Johnson says.
Two beers are born out of this collaboration, using both Bulliet 95 Rye and Bulleit Bourbon barrels. Each one a classic beer style crafted to express what beer and bourbon can create together. “I liked the idea of pairing a big Scotch ale that featured dried dark fruits, smoky peaty notes, and hints of molasses with the warm spiciness with the Rye barrels.” The original bourbon barrels were home for months to an imperial stout that leans hard into rich chocolate and coffee.
“That one drinks like vanilla chocolate milk and is just downright dangerous,” Johnson adds.
The first of the two releases is 95 Shilling, aged in Bulleit Rye. 16-ounce cans and very limited draft debut this week.
437 Miles South Imperial Stout (the distance from the brewery to the distillery), aged in original Bulleit Bourbon debuts in December.
This is part one of a two-part series on collaboration. Image: David Cone Films
Wild Heaven Haven Sent
Atlanta’s Wild Heaven Craft Beer has an appropriately named beer release this weekend – Don’t Stand So Close To Me.
Perfect for social distancing, Don’t Stand So Close to Me is a Vienna Lager, brewed with Saaz and Hallertau hops.
Georgia now has a shelter in place order, but both brewery locations will be open for beer-to-go, and food at their West End location. Free to every person WITHOUT purchase is a bottle of brewery made hand sanitizer.
Wild Heaven Don’t Stand So Close to Me is available in 16-ounce cans for your quarantine drinking pleasure.
Style: Vienna Lager
Hops: Saaz, Hallertau
Availability: 16oz Cans.