Interview with Green Flash Cellar 3 Barrel Master Pat Korn
We have watched Green Flash Brewing grow exponentially over the past 5 years. They’ve gone from a rather small brewery in Vista, CA to a medium sized craft beer powerhouse with near-nationwide distribution, now running two other brands (Alpine and Cellar 3.)
While their reputation was built on aggressive hop forward San Diego style hoppy beers, in 2010, Green Flash made waves with a barrel aged version of their Double Stout, dubbed Silva Stout. From my fond recollection, the first iteration of Silva Stout was truly remarkable. Think of a bourbon infused dark chocolate pudding. Since then, and with their move to Miramar San Diego, Green Flash has been slowly ramping up their barrel program to the point where they now have a dedicated program and facility in Poway, CA called Cellar 3. Other early projects like Sleeping With Shaggy (Barrel Aged Barleywine) and Flanders Drive (A wood aged Oud Bruin) would now accompany about a dozen other experimental barrel aged beers. The flagship offering from the new Cellar 3 brand was the highly reputable Silva Stout last year.
Interestingly enough, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the Cellar 3 Silva Stout release. There was initial shock over the suggested retail price over this iteration of Silva Stout. Many had it for around $25.00, which was a bit of a hike from the ultra limited 4-pack/12 oz. bottles. This was a much nicer package, however beer geeks can be fickle. Worse than the belly aching about the price point was numerous reports of the beer having off flavors. Because I am not a biologist or a brewer, I don’t want to say infected, but many have pointed to infection as the issue with this batch of Silva Stout. I had a few pours at bottle shares, and I can tell you first hand A) the beer did not taste like the previous two batches of Silva Stout and B) there were some undesirable flavors you would not associate with a barrel aged stout.
Right after last year’s Great American Beer Festival, Green Flash’s Brewmaster and Silva Stout namesake Chuck Silva resigned from his post at Green Flash and Cellar 3 to start his own small brewery on the Central Coast of California. It was only inevitable that Green Flash would have to address the quality issues of last year’s Silva Stout, and likely rebrand it after the departure of Chuck.
Last month, The Full Pint broke the news that long time Green Flash brewer has now been designated the Barrelmaster of Cellar 3, and that they will be releasing a very small quantity of barrel aged stout dubbed Cellar 3 Barrelmaster’s Reserve Lustrous Frumento with Mostra Coffee on May 21st. My curiosity piqued, all beer names aside, this sounded like Silva Stout with Mostra Coffee. So we reached out to the man in charge of Cellar 3, Pat Korn and discussed this latest sub-series of barrel aged beers from Cellar 3 as well as the controversy surrounding last year’s Silva Stout.
The Full Pint: Could you give us your brief history with Green Flash Brewing. How many years, position you started out of, etc?
Pat Korn: I started working at Green Flash in August of 2010, helping on the bottling line. In October 2010, I was hired and spent 4 months building out Mira Mesa. I returned to Vista for 4 months to brew and shut down Vista. I worked as a shift brewer at Mira Mesa and took over the Barrel Program in early 2013. Chuck and I came up with the concept for Cellar 3 shortly after that and presented it to Mike who asked us to come up with a budget, we did and Mike gave us the go ahead. We got the Cellar 3 building in August 2014 and received our permits in October 2014 and I have been here, building out, and ultimately running the facility to this day.
TFP: How involved were you in the early versions of Green Flash’s barrel aged offerings? My first introduction was Silva Stout, Sleepin’ With Shaggy, and Flanders Drive.
PK: I was not involved with the 1st Silva Stout, but all of those other ones I was involved in. Waxing the bottles for the first batch of Flanders was the first time I was in charge of a barrel-aged release and I have continued from there.
TFP: Green Flash has just shared some interesting news, not only making an announcement you are the head of the barrel program, but that a new sub-series of extremely small batches would be bottled and sold in very limited quantities. Can you share with us the process and idea behind this initiative?
PK: The Barrelmaster’s Reserve series really grew out of our experimentation with taking beers we brewed on a regular basis and putting them into various barrels, and sometimes adding wild yeasts and micro floras and seeing what we got out of it. From there we grew into doing larger R & D batches of these beers and tasting them. Some of these became larger National Bottle Releases. At the same time there were things we decided to try knowing full well we would never make the beers in larger form because it was just to cost prohibitive.
TFP: As we both know, sometimes the vocal minority has a bit of influence in the craft beer world. Upon the release of last year’s Silva Stout Cellar 3 release, it was met with some negative feedback on price point, and numerous reports of off-flavors in the bottled product. What is your story behind that account of last year’s release?
PK: First off I do not know what “off flavors” are except the opposite of “on flavors” which I also do not know what that is. If you or other people would like to use a flavor wheel to critically discuss this beer then I am open to that. Also I have tasted over 150 bottles of that batch of Silva Stout and have not had a bottle that I deemed infected. Also have sent hundreds of bottles to other brewers and beer drinkers I respect and have heard nothing but praise from said people. That being said we have had reports from people about infected bottles and I have heard from people I trust so I do believe there are infected bottles out there. How many? I have no clue. This batch of Silva Stout was 10 TIMES larger than the last one we had done, and 40 TIMES bigger than the first one. So we made a huge jump in the amount we did. We did at least a dozen different things in the making of this batch that we never did when making the first two. Unfortunately looking back on it, I have come to realize I made some critical mistakes in the process of making the beer. I have learned from this and have taken appropriate steps to not do this again. My biggest regret is that we did not do our due diligence in our lab analysis of EACH barrel before we blended. That was my mistake and we do that now for every barrel we use in our blending. Overall I thought the sum of the total of the barrels and the percentage of fresh beer we added made for an extremely good Bourbon Barrel Stout.
TFP: Can you share with us details about this new product, Lustrous Frumento with Mostra Coffee? How is it different than Silva Stout with Mostra Coffee, a beer few saw at special beer events last year?
PK: Silva Stout with Coffee was made with some barrels I pulled out during the blending session because I thought the addition of coffee would complement what the barrel had made. These were an assortment of Heaven Hill barrels, but most were Elijah Craig 12 year old, and aged for 18 months. Lustrous Frumento with Mostra Coffee was put into Old Forrester barrels as the same time as the Silva Stout with the idea to see what an extended barrel aging would do, and were aged for 30 months. To be honest it was a big gamble on our part to try and age a non-funk/sour beer for that long. I think the beer turned out exactly, if not better, than what we had in mind we started this 3 years ago.
TFP: Has the Silva Stout formula of blended fresh and barrel aged beers been retired?
PK: First off Silva Stout has been retired as a GF beer. That was Chuck’s baby and we thought it was only right to let him have the name. I look forward to trying Silva Stout made by Silva Brewing. We may continue to make a beer in that style, in that way; or we may not. It’s up to what Erik wants to do, with Mikes input of course. But in my vision of where we take the Barrel Program I see us moving away from using non funk non sour spirit barrels and refocusing our energy on something else. Not to say those types of beers don’t have their place, just maybe not at Cellar 3.
TFP: There are many great coffee roasters in San Diego. Why has Mostra Coffee been the ideal partner for your barrel aged stouts?
PK: The biggest reason is Mike Arquines. Mike is the Roaster for Mostra, and is an amazing chef, as anyone who has had anything he has made during Toronado Beer Brunches (or any of the other amazing beer dinners he has done) will know. Working with Mike on coming up with the coffee blend for this beer was an honor for me. They are also the closest roaster to us and make a superior product. Mike and the Mostra crew are also some of the nicest, most down to earth beer loving people I have met. Great bunch of people.
TFP: What else do beer enthusiasts have to look forward from Cellar 3 this year?
PK: For our National Bottle Releases we have Natura Morta Boysenberry (a Belgian-style Saison is foudre-fermented with Brettanomyces, then aged and re-fermented in red wine barrels with boysenberry); also – our Blanc Tarte Barrique, which is a mix of 4 vintages from White Wine Barrels, Red Wine Barrels, and our Sour Foudre. The next release (in July) is Oculus Sauvage with Black Currant. As of today, the other three releases for the year are not quite set, but the beer is coming along nicely.
For the Barrelmaster’s Reserve series, we have a Barley Wine that is from the original batch of Sleepin’ with Shaggy which we aged in Brandy Barrels for 4 years, and then in Elijah Craig 12-year-old barrels for 2 more years – so that’s 6 years in a barrel. Tastes like a Tawny Port more than a beer. We have our Trippel, which we aged in Gin Barrels that right now has a great mix of botanicals from the barrel and esters from the beer. We did our first Cellar 3 Collaboration with Alpine (I know. Is it really a collab if it’s with our sister brewery?) that I am really excited about. Also – a Belgian Style Strong Golden Ale with Raisins that is aging in Malahat Bourbon Barrels and some in Woodford Reserve Barrels. Crazy raisin and booze flavors going on right now, I hope to release it by the end of the year. We are just filling and emptying barrels every day trying to make the world a better place through Fermentation Science.
TFP: Will you be heading up Cellar 3 (Cellar 7?) in Virginia as well?
PK: It’s in the works. When and in what scope is being decided. But I am very excited to work with some east coast winemakers to get some of their barrels.
TFP: What is your favorite non-Green Flash Barrel Aged Beer?
PK: Anything Firestone Walker. Jim and Jeffers are good friends and have really helped us out with any questions I might have or are just there for support. All their beers are just so on point and have an amazing refined finesse I strive for in our beers. Also a big fan of Libertine. They are truly a Wild Ale House and I respect them for not only their beer, but their commitment and ethos. Also had a really nice Brett IPA at the Mikkeller grand opening and was impressed by its flavor – was just the right balance of hops and brettiness. Bill Batton is a great brewer.