A Spokane man is working on a way to bring an oaky character to beer without the wood.
Cal Larson’s Soluble Oak, still in the test phase, is a liquid concentrate designed to produce results similar to aging in barrels or on oak chips and staves. Some examples will be offered in a tasting Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. at Bellwether Brewing, 2019 N. Monroe St.
Larson has made his living as an international lumber trader, buying and selling white oak worldwide.
“It’s not like trading plastics, it’s kind of like trading art,” he said. “From region to region it varies in density, texture and smell. It has such an amazing smell, I always thought, why can’t this be bottled?”
That idea came into focus a couple of years ago when an overseas customer asked Larson to export French oak staves to the U.S. for winemakers. “It was so bulky to send this thing that was completely full of fiber just to get a flavor,” he said.
Enlisting the help of a medicinal chemist and a neurobiologist, Larson developed a nine-step process, free from heat or additives, to separate the oak’s essence – more than 200 volatile compounds in all – from the wood.
“Other people are doing it, but no one so far as I know has come up with the results that we think we have,” he said. “What you get with other extracts is like drinking a two-by-four. It just hits you over the head.”
Oak barrels are typically charred, and some Soluble Oak varieties come from wood that has been roasted to varying degrees in a vacuum, to preserve more of the delicate flavors. There’s also an untoasted version, which Larson said “really does the crazy magic.”
For field tests, he’s been working with former Bellwether brewer Thomas Croskrey and Mountain Lakes co-owner/brewer Tim Hilton, as well as winemakers and distillers.
“You get the oak, you get the mild tannins, you get that vanilla and toffee depending on how much the wood was charred before he makes the concentrate,” said Croskrey, who has used Soluble Oak in an IPA and a stout.
Hilton has used it for brown ales, a porter and a forthcoming fruited Red Apple Kolsch which he said “actually tastes like applewood.”
Along with the oak character, Hilton said, “It sort of rounds out all the flavors in a beer. It creates a smoothness that’s almost velvety.”
The biggest benefit, Croskrey said, is saving time. Beer needs to age in barrels for several months to produce the desired results, and on chips for a month or more. With the different types of Soluble Oak, he said, “You can get more nuanced flavors, and eliminate that long wait time.”
Sunday’s tasting will feature a base red ale and five variations: three blends of various roasts and two untoasted, one using a little and the other a lot. All will be available as flights and full pours, along with an oak-infused sour.
March IPA Madness has returned at Manito Tap House (3011 S. Grand Blvd.), with weekly blind tasting flights of four Washington IPAs followed by a Final Four round starting April 8. Defending champion White Bluffs N.O.G. was the week one winner, joined by Reuben’s Hazealicious last week; the overall victor gets a permanent tap handle for the coming year.
Bellwether’s Remembrance imperial stout won the winter Lester Cup competition, topping other big beers by Black Label, The Grain Shed, Mountain Lakes and Whistle Punk in customer voting.
No-Li has joined the ranks of breweries producing hard seltzers with the rollout of its Day Fade line. First up is a huckleberry version in cans and on draft.
The latest releases from local breweries include:
A bright, juicy Raspberry Lemonade Pilsner (4.5 percent alcohol by volume) at Daft Badger (1710 N. Second Street, Coeur d’Alene).
The hazy, soft, aromatic Dave’s Google Project IPA (7) at Perry Street (1025 S. Perry St.).
A sessionable, pilsner-malted Spring Forward IPA (5.3) at Mountain Lakes (201 W. Riverside Ave.).
A fruity, dry-finishing Brut IPA (7) at Bennidito’s Brewpub (1909 E. Sprague Ave.).
The seasonal Irish Kate imperial red (7.7) at Iron Goat (1302 W. Second Ave.).
A Saison Blanc (5.8) collaboration with The Hidden Mother, dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc, at Whistle Punk (122 S. Monroe St.).
The Hidden Mother introduces its tangerine/peppercorn pale ale collaboration with Oregon’s Ninkasi as part of a brewery night Thursday from 5 to 8 at Northern Quest Casino’s Riverbank Taphouse (100 N. Hayford Road, Airway Heights).
Badass Backyard (1415 N. Argonne Road) releases a Caramel Apple Pale on April 5.
Save the date
English Setter (15310 E. Marietta Ave.) presents a Craft Beer 101 class Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. Cost is $25; call (509) 413-3663 for reservations.
Seattle-area beers seldom seen in Spokane will be featured in a four-course pairing dinner Saturday from 6 to 9 at Nectar Catering and Events (120 N. Stevens St.). Tickets are $59.99, through Eventbrite.com.
Bellwether hosts a three-course curry pairing dinner Monday from 6 to 8. Tickets are $40, through Eventbrite.com.
The Coeur d’Alene Growler Guys (225 W. Appleway Ave.) celebrates Idaho Craft Beer Month with brewery representatives and souvenir pint glasses April 4 from 6 to 8.
Bombastic (11100 N. Airport Road, Hayden) welcomes Kellogg’s Radio Brewing on April 6 from 2 to 7 with $2 Radio pints and Bombastic bottles for sale.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.