BERLIN — Smaller than a growler, bigger than a pint glass, the new Burley Oak Brewery bottles will be just the right size for about 400 lucky customers.
“This is our first bottle run,” said Burley Oak owner Bryan Brushmiller.
Starting Monday, a series of 420 individually labeled 750-ml “champagne-style” bottles became available at the brewery. For the first run, Burley decided to release a barrel-aged version of their popular Bunker-C porter.
“We aged it in bourbon barrels for six months,” said Brushmiller.
By using the bourbon barrels, Brushmiller said the Bunker-C was lent a unique and rich flavor and added that a lengthy waiting period left the brew in perfect condition for bottling.
Each of the 420 bottles are filled by hand, a cumbersome process which Brushmiller admitted helped him decide to limit the size of the batch.
“Six of us filled about 400 bottles,” he explained, noting the amount of beer came from just two aging barrels.
After filling the bottles, Brushmiller and crew also hand labeled and capped them one at a time, marking each with an individual number without the assistance of an assembly line.
“There’s a lot of time and effort put into each bottle,” said Brushmiller.
In fact, even the labels on the bottles are a labor of love. Designed by Snow Hill resident Mat Shockley, co-founder of PLB Comics, the labels depict a unique image commissioned specially for the Bunker-C bottle run as well as a short biography about Burley’s first year and the bottling project.
Shockley’s design was intriguing enough that Brushmiller decided to put it on T-shirts, which, like the bottles themselves, are limited to a small batch, in this case only about 40.
With this batch being just the first of many, Brushmiller pointed out that using barrels to age the beer pre-bottling is especially interesting given the history of the brewery building.
“This building was originally a cooperage and they made barrels,” he said.
The cooperage would then ship those barrels out across Maryland. Brushmiller highlighted the cyclical nature of history. While the former cooperage shipped barrels out, Burley ships barrels in from other areas and uses them to create beer which the brewery then distributes in Maryland and beyond.
Future batches for the next bottle run are already in the works, with Free Labor, an amber saison, the next in line for release. On top of that, Burley is experimenting with barrel-ageing other popular flavors like Just the Tip and Rude Boy, which may not be bottled but will be available in the tasting room. With Rude Boy in particular, Brushmiller plans on taking the already intense beer and transforming it into the “Ruder Boy” and “Rudest Boy” variations that would pack double-digit alcohol percentages.
The current batch of Bunker-C is still available for purchase at the brewery in Berlin. However, Brushmiller warned that since becoming available Monday the orders have been pouring in. When combined with some pre-orders taken, the 420 bottles won’t last long. Bottles cost $12 each and Brushmiller has put in a limit of two bottles per customer.
The goal with each of the bottling runs, he said, is to offer something special for local customers who visit the physical location of the brewery.
“We’re going to stick with the exclusive batch … It’s done for the local community,” said Brushmiller.
If it appears that there will be a remainder on the bottle run, he explained that some will likely be sold out of the area. However, Brushmiller promised first pick will always be given to friends, neighbors and local customers.
According to Brushmiller, the next bottle run should be ready by late-November and he hopes to produce one every other month.