Brewers are always looking at ways to stand out in an increasingly crowded and competitive field. This often means using local ingredients to boost the flavor of a recipe. And for one Florida brewery, this means using the abundant freshwater sources not far from the taproom.
Originally, the brewers at Marker 48 Brewing in Weeki Wachee, Florida, thought about trucking in water from a local river or spring to brew a batch of beer, but the logistics proved difficult.
So 4 years ago, they decided to take an imperial IPA recipe, load it into a barrel, and sink it in a local freshwater spring for a few weeks to see what would happen. Marker 48 had hoped to dunk the barrel in a spring inside a state park, but logistics kept that from happening. So, they relied on the kindness of friends who just happen to have springs on their property.
“The first time around, we didn’t know what would happen,” says Maurice Ryman, owner of Marker 48. “It was a shot in the dark, and yeah, it might be a little gimmicky, but the worst that would happen is that it would fail and we’d dump it.”
Instead, the resulting beer, when it was pulled from the water in 2016, showed a bit of an earthy characteristic that a twin barrel that was aged on dry land inside the brewery didn’t exhibit.
The brewery made the beer, named Spring Release, the following year, again as a spring seasonal, and skipped 2018. Now back and to be released this weekend at the brewery (again promoted as a spring seasonal, but because the beer spent almost 2 months under water, it’s getting a summer release), the IPA continues to show that marked earthy quality, says Ryman. This year’s version, is an 8.5% ABV imperial IPA brewed with El Dorado, Ella, and Citra hops.
The first time the brewery submerged a barrel, the water had about a 5 percent salinity content, Ryman says. So, the barrel dropped pretty easily but was still secured with an anchor, and a buoy was connected to mark its location 50-feet down. This year, the brewery used a different spring that had about 10 percent salinity, “and the barrel was trying to rise up, so we definitely had to secure it.”
Getting to and from the springs with the beer has its challenges as well. After brewing the IPA, the brewery kegs the beer still and transports it to the spring where it uses a Bulldog, or similar device, to fill the barrel. Then, before it’s submerged, a special metal lock is affixed around the bung to keep it from opening under water.
After the aging process, the barrel is lifted to the surface, and the beer is transferred back to kegs, and then into a bright tank at the brewery, where it’s carbonated and then bottled or ready to be served.
“It’s a labor intensive process, but still a lot of fun to do,” says Ryman.