206: Shaun Berns of Phase Three Brewing Prefers the Pragmatic to the Romantic

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Breweries making barrel-aged beer tend to lean heavily on romance. From name-checking the origins of their barrels to weaving stories of long, laborious boils and careful searches for the perfect ingredients, there’s no story today’s brewers can’t embellish. But for Shaun Berns and Phase Three Brewing in Lake Zurich, Illinois, it’s the quality of the end-product—and not the romanticized mysteries of barrel-aged beer production—that matter.

In this episode, Berns walks us through their barrel-aged stout process, from base malt through barrel selection. Along the way, he touches on contrarian choices such as using dried malt extract in lieu of long boils, fermenting with dried yeast, weaning off higher finishing gravities, and not overthinking barrel selection. He discusses the challenge of forecasting consumer trends several years out, the benefit of debittered malts such as Carafa Special II, using malted oats more than flaked oats, selecting lighter crystal malts to control the expression of dark fruit flavors, the challenge of scaling when using low-efficiency ingredients, and more.

“It’s not romantic, it’s the truth,” Berns says, while behind the curtain of a market niche full of fancy beers. These stouts don’t need fantastic tales to sell. The proof is in the glass.

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