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‘Delicate product’: Kaktus Brewing uses shutdowns to create bottle-conditioned beer

Imperial Stout is one of three bottle-conditioned beers produced by Kaktus Brewing Co. (Courtesy of Kaktus Brewing Co.)

Bottle-conditioned beer is something Dana Koller had been wanting to take on for a while now.

But the process is complex and time-consuming. The pandemic shutdowns allowed Koller to focus on creating the special beers at his brewery, Kaktus Brewing Co. in Bernalillo.

“These (have) been under kind of research and development, if you will, for the past year, for almost 12 months, maybe even a little bit more,” Koller said. “They’re a pretty delicate product. And so we wanted to make sure we got it right before we release them. And so now we’re proud to say that we are confident and releasing them, you know, and super-excited to kind of move forward with them. They’ve been definitely a process.”

Bottle-conditioned Imperial Stout, English Ale and Barley Wine are available for purchase at Kaktus. All three bottle-conditioned beers are limited in quantity and cost $16 per bottle. Cases also are available for purchase.

The flavor profile changes as each bottle ages, but there are some distinct qualities each contains.

“The Imperial stout, I mean, virtually no matter what, you’re going to get some beautiful coffee notes,” Koller said. “Because it’s a roasted malt, you’ll have kind of that dark chocolate, slightly coffee, but a little bit more kind of caramel or like softening to it. And so it will feel actually very silky. The body of it will be very silky and really smooth.”

Koller described the English Ale as “liquid bread.”

“It’s the easiest way for me to explain it,” Koller said. “It has a lot of characteristics of, you know, you really get the barley flavor. You get just enough hops to really taste the hops, but to balance the alcohol in it. It’s a slightly higher alcohol content, but because of the aging process, it softens it a little bit more. And that’s the one that’s going to really appeal to whiskey drinkers that like that kind of barley and kind of woody flavors.”

The Barley Wine is slightly sharper and slightly more alcohol-forward. It has a sharp intensity on the front end and pairs well with food.

Creating bottle-conditioned beer is an intricate process.

“We go through your normal brewing process,” Koller said. “We go through that entire process, and then at the end, instead of just going straight to full fermentation and into the kegs, what we do is we take the product and we put them into each individual bottle, and there’s currently no machinery that can do this. Every bottle is done by hand. And so we fill the bottles and then we implement a little bit more proprietary sugars and yeast to the bottle to allow it to go through what’s called secondary fermentation. During that secondary fermentation, this bottle is capped kind of like Champagne. And what ends up happening is this becomes a live beverage.”

Once the bottle is capped, it goes through a secondary fermentation.

“It’s breaking down all those sugars, producing slightly more alcohol, but also natural carbonation,” Koller said. “So unlike forced carbonation out of the tap, or in most beer bottles, there’s absolutely zero forced carbonation in this. And it’s all natural. … This allows for the product to be a little higher alcohol content, which is kind of nice because it has such rich flavors.”

The decision to make bottle-conditioned beer was to give Kaktus an edge in the local brewery scene.

“I think it’s always important to stay competitive in the market,” Koller said. “And during this closure, we realized that if we really want to shine as a New Mexico brewery, it’s not about how big we are, how small we are, you know, it’s really what we’re the best at. And so we wanted to come out with a product that not only targeted the current brewery industry, but we wanted to come out with a product that really encouraged people that are big wine drinkers or whiskey drinkers, that really enjoy that culture of those two. We wanted to come out with a product to capture their attention and to get them to realize that beer could be just as romantic and classy and delicate as well and age-able.”

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