You’ve got yourself a glass of Gravity Well. Excellent! You get a good whiff, eyes closed, slowly tilting your head back like someone who’s really sniffing a drink. Smell good? Good. You take a deliberate sip. It’s silky smooth, and warms the soul. You exclaim your choice of curse word or deity name, and say “That’s delicious!” You wonder about the barrel this beer had been aging in, where it came from, who its previous employer was.
You ask around, but either they don’t know or won’t tell you. What’s up with that?
At Minneapolis’ Insight Brewing, co-founder Ilan Klages-Mundt explained that some barrels must work their magic anonymously.
“Sometimes you get a distillery that will sell you a barrel, and they don’t want their name on it,” says Klages-Mundt. “People are a little careful to put their brand on something. Most direct distilleries usually do that, unless you ask specifically.”
Rum barrels and bourbon barrels have been aging Insight’s mighty imperial stout, Gravity Well, in preparation of Insight’s anniversary party this weekend – but their names cannot be revealed.
“If you don’t have prior consent, it’s actually illegal to claim that you used that producer’s barrel,” says Insight head brewer Matt Anhalt. “You can’t espouse it publicly.”
Bottles of this year’s Gravity Well go on sale at 2 p.m. Saturday at the taproom. Five variations were bottled this year, and 2,900 bottles are up for sale total. Of that, 28 cases are being shipped to select retailers.
“It’s still a very small amount, but we wanted to give the opportunity to some of our key accounts to be able to sell Gravity Well this year,” says Klages-Mundt.
Who’s ready to finally try a rum barrel-aged Gravity Well? You are! And it’s here! It’s the Gravity Well experience you’ve come to know and love, but with a little more yo-ho-ho. It’s got a hint sweetness. It’s nice and boozy. It’s enough to arouse the rum-lover, but even those who aren’t so receptive to that spirit – Klages-Mundt himself admitted he’s not – will have no problem appreciating Gravity Well in this form.
“It’s all about the end product. If you can get a tequila barrel-aged beer, it doesn’t mean you have to like tequila shots,” says Klages-Mundt. “There are a lot of spirit barrels out there, and we want to try them all.”
But who doesn’t like tequila shots?
The bourbon-lover in the family (hopefully that’s you) can have it two ways: bourbon barrel-aged and double bourbon barrel-aged. The bourbon barrel-aged model is a single-source batch, aged in barrels from A Bourbon-Maker Who Cannot Be Named. The double bourbon contains beer from that same batch, blended with a batch aged in Wyoming Whiskey barrels, then aged in Bulleit Rye barrels. Still with me?
Maybe it’s because I knew bourbon was in it, and I just always get happy from bourbon, but these variations made me really, really happy. At your family holiday dinner, bringing these will make you a hero among the few relatives you actually like and are willing to share them with. Enjoy them with a nice cigar; or, if you’re hiding and don’t want to give your location away, perhaps a thick stick of jerky.
The breakdown of bottle quantities goes like this: 700 original, 700 rum barrel, 700 bourbon and 700 double bourbon … and 100 of an extra-special Madagascar vanilla bean double-barrel. The Madagascar vanilla bean does have a purchase limit, one per person.
Not for nothing, Klages-Mundt said he will camp out at the brewery Friday night if anyone else does! The Weather Channel is forecasting a low of 18 degrees Friday night, with a high of 32 Saturday. If the beer isn’t incentive enough, just think of all the “urban camping” cred you’ll accrue.
They say the bigger the body, the deeper the gravity well. It makes sense, then, that this 12-percent ABV slobberknocker is getting whipped up at a brewery that opened with space to fit 40,000-barrel production. While Klages-Mundt was part of a four-person team (including Kevin Hilliard, Brian Berge, and Eric Schmidt) responsible for Insight’s launch as a business, the inspiration for the brewery came from his travels.
After a trip to Denmark turned his musical aspirations toward beer, Klages-Mundt put in time at U.K.-based Fuller’s, as well as breweries in Denmark and Japan. Those travels have precipitated a unique roster of beers at Insight, from a yuzu pale ale to a beer made in the stylings of a Gin and Tonic.
As for Insight’s barrel program, 150 barrels presently inhabit the brewhouse. This figures to reach 200 next year; and, with the acquisition of a new storage space, it could swell to 400.
Starting next year, even the original Gravity Well will be aged in barrels. Klages-Mundt says it will be aged in barrels used for previous vintages. He calls it “a nice, romantic tie-in to previous vintages,” and adds, “We will garner slight characteristics from prior vintages, but with more of a subtle barrel characteristic compared to the other versions.”
Every vintage of Gravity Well is aged a year, which means the first year’s batch was produced not long after Insight opened for business.
“Doing this so early after opening was tough on us, as we were fresh to the scene with few resources,” says Klages-Mundt, “so it really was a gamble whether the decision was a good one or not. When we released the beer a year later, we knew we had something special.”
The festivities kick off at the Insight Brewing taproom Saturday at 2 p.m. The Dead Pigeons kick off the music at 2:45 p.m., and the tunes go until midnight. Red Cow, Glam Doll Donuts, and others will provide food. Wristbands for those 21 and over are $2.
Editor’s note: take the photo captions with a grain of salt.