American Solera recently took a ride in its new coolship.
A coolship (or koelschip, as they are known in Belgium) is a big vessel that has a high surface-to-mass ratio that allows efficient cooling of wort during the brewing process. Wort is what beer is before fermentation begins.
It sort of looks like a huge old-style water bed without a cover.
Coolships aren’t common in the modern world because it takes a big vat to make it work, and it takes a particularly long time to get the finished product — beer.
Chase Healey, co-founder and brewmaster at American Solera, 1702 E. Sixth St., isn’t new to the process of making a coolship fermented beer. He has been doing it for a few years at his old American Solera location near the Arkansas River.
“It’s an exciting day today; we are filling our coolship in the new facility for the very first time,” Healey said. “This is about the fifth or sixth year we have done this. We have come a long way from being out on the original west side location. The first batch ever was in a dairy tank in the back of my pickup truck, then another just outside with pop-up tents over it.”
When you walk into the new American Solera, you will see a room that has two beautiful walls of wood and another wall of glass that allows you to watch as the steam rises from the hot wort as it fills the coolship.
“The room is designed to allow the cool air from outside to come in and drop wild yeast and bacteria onto the beer.”
The process can really only work well when it is cold outside. On this date, the overnight temperature was near freezing, allowing for a fast cool down of the wort.
“We will add this to oak barrels, and it will sit for as long as three years, then it will be blended into batches of our sour beer and make some really unique and complex flavors, but it takes a long time,” Healey said.
“An interesting thing now that we are in our new spot is it’s kind of in the center of town. Where we used to be was much closer to the Arkansas River and so the flavor profile may change some,” he said.
This is a very old-school way of brewing, done when there wasn’t refrigeration.
“I know the whole inspiration for this brewing process came from a brewery in Belgium called Cantillon, and they are kind of in the middle of an industrial area so I trust there are some good guys (the yeast) floating around and it should make for some delicious flavors,” Healey said.
Making coolship beer won’t make you a lot of money. The process is long, and when you can make beer in just nine days, the return on investment just isn’t there. But it is a cool process, and American Solera has some previously made coolships for sale.
“It is coming out of the kettle now in the 200s and overnight the cold air will blow across it to lower the temperature. Once we get around 100 degrees, it’s not so hot that the yeast that is there can live on it. From that point on, anything that falls in it will start chowing down on the sugar, but they go a little slower than your traditional yeast,” Healey said.
“That is why it could take a few years to make a beer this way. The flavor is unlike anything that can be created anywhere else in the world. As a brewer, it is one of the most rewarding styles to pursue.
“Coolships have been used for a long time, it’s not a new idea, but as technology has changed, it’s certainly one that brewers have found better ways to get beer fermenting. It’s a labor of love project to work on. In the meantime, we make plenty of other beers. So we are willing to do a few this way just to do something really unique.”
One unique coolship that is ready now is a collaboration with Austin’s Jester King Brewery and American Solera. The wild and sour-style beer scored a 99 out of 100 during a blind tasting by a panel of Beer Judge Certification Program trained experts and published in Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine, beerandbrewing.com/review/coolship-roadtrip.
The beer, called American Solera Coolship Roadtrip, was brewed in Austin, Texas, by Jester King four years ago and then took a road trip to Tulsa and cellared at American Solera. The beer is available in its taproom. It comes in at 5.9% ABV.