Sun King Brewery King's Reserve Bourbon Barrel-aged Batch 666: Sympathy for the Devil

Thursday, October 23, 2014

666: WTF?!?!


October 30th will see the release of our 666th batch of beer, aptly named Sympathy for the Devil (I think it’s an important point of reference that we recently brewed our 1814th batch). Batch 666 is a unique and complex beer that was recently honored with a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Strong Ale category.


When we release Batch 666 next Thursday at noon, there will likely be a line and there will definitely be a limit on the number of cans each individual can buy. With a cost of $25 for a 2-pack, there will also be a number of people who are upset about the price! Therefore, we thought it would be good to share a little bit more information about the Sun King Brewery King’s Reserve series, this particular beer, and how supply and demand works for a constantly growing brewery like ours.



The Sun King Brewery King’s Reserve series takes advantage of a packaging technology called Alumi-Tek that was developed by Ball Corporation and is currently only utilized by four breweries in the United States. Two of those breweries are part of an international conglomerate, and the other two are Oskar Blues and Sun King. The project to create a filler/capper that would meet the needs of Craft Brewers was undertaken as a joint project by Ball, Cask Brewing Systems, Sun King and Oskar Blues in 2012, and took nearly six months of conversation, collaboration, and innovation to complete.



The end result is a very manual operation that is an adaptation of the original two head canner that Cask built and Oskar Blues implemented to kick off the craft canning revolution over 12 years ago. The entire operation takes six people to can a whopping six cans a minute! I like to say it’s putting the hand back in hand crafted, but all joking aside, it gives us a way to package our smallest batch, rarest beers from our Bourbon Barrel and Wild Fermentation Series.  Each of these beers are lovingly cared for in an adjacent building to our original brewery spacethat contains two separate 2,000 square foot, temperature controlled barrel aging room.

The Alumi-Tek project was amazing to be a part of, costly to implement, but ultimately beneficial to our beer and the conditions in which it can be served. Alumi-Tek can have to be purchased in very large quantities (68,000 at time - hence the universal design and hand stickered cans) and their cost is three times your typical aluminum can. Our Alumi-Tek filler (which is manufactured in Canada) and capper (which is manufactured in Japan) cost upwards of $75,000 dollars, so in packaging alone, we have incurred a significant and unusual cost to produce just six cans a minute. 


Batch 666: Sympathy for the Devil is a Belgian-style Black Ale, which isn’t currently considered its own style by the Brewers Association. It might be easier to think of the Batch 666 as an Imperial Porter or Stout that was fermented with a unique blend of 6 Belgian yeasts. Our Head Brewer Dave Colt selected these particular varieties of yeast based on the unique flavor profiles they would impart on the beer. We brewed Batch 666 in 2012 and when it finished fermenting it weighed in at 10.5% alcohol by volume.

The beer was delicious, but the heat from the alcohol was so overwhelming that it needed to be cellared for a while in order for its full flavors to develop. Unlike the process used in creating our usual assortment of house, seasonal, and specialty beers, cellaring a beer takes space and a vessel or vessels to do so. We were fortunate enough to purchase a used bright beer tank from Caldera Brewing in Oregon, which we had shipped in in order to hold the beer and others like it in the future.  


After cellaring 666 for nearly a year, we moved it into a variety of spent Bourbon Barrels. We are fortunate that our proximity to Kentucky gives us access to lots of bourbon barrels, but since distilleries can only use virgin oak barrels to age bourbon, they like to recoup a portion of their investment. Each barrel holds 50 gallons and costs somewhere between $100 and $200 per barrel, depending on what was in it and for how long. 

Our Barrel Aging Program has over 300 barrels in process and we store these barrels at cool temperatures in order to maintain the integrity of the beer and ensure that it is optimally delicious at the end of the process. Our average beer in a bourbon barrel ages for nine to twelve months and each barrel ages at its own pace. When we feel the balance of beer and spirit has reached its peak, we extract the beer into kegs and wait for the other barrels until they have attained the desired flavor and character. It’s amazing that two barrels that housed the same spirit in the same ricking house for the same amount of time will develop at a completely different rate and often create different flavor profiles. Once we are sure that each and every barrel has reached its peak, we release the beer to the public.



The price of these beers is directly the results of all these efforts, the cost to produce the base beer, the wages of the people who make the brewery work, the cost of the barrels, the time it takes to mature, the space aging takes up, the costs of packaging,and, lastly, how much of the beer is available. Just like any other business, we use the basic law of supply and demand to help us determine the fair price of our products. 

Given that each packaging run from the Sun King Brewery King’s Reserve series yields an average of 50 cases of beer and that these beers are packaged in two packs, we end up with 400 units of available beer. In addition to that limited supply, we realize that there is a strong demand for a beer that was recently judged at the Great American Beer Festival® as one of the best Barrel Aged Strong Beers in the country.  For every person that thinks $25 per 2-pack is absurd, there are a good number of people that would be happy to have the opportunity to buy two. 


I think it’s important to note that 2 x Alumi-Tek cans has the same volume of beer as a liter bottle. Unlike other similarly priced large bottle barrel aged beers, these two packs provide you with the opportunity to drink them in more than one sitting. You can drink one and save the other, or you can drink half of one can, reseal it like a growler and then enjoy the other half the next day.


We have quickly learned that as a brewery, we cannot please everyone. Our first rare beer release was Johan the Barleywine, and we did an online reservation that sold out in minutes. Only a handful of people got the opportunity to make a reservation and sadly, half of the people never came to pick up their beer. The leftover cans were eventually released on a first come, first served basis, and the whole process was a big mess and a pain in the ass for everyone involved, so we moved on to new options.

We tried releasing on a Friday, but Fridays are crazy busy at the brewery already. We tried it on Thursdays at 4pm, but found that most people are still at work. Our current approach is to release the beer at noon on Thursday so that people can hopefully stop by out on their lunch breaks, but of course that doesn’t work for everyone either.

We have typically had a limit of 2 x 2-packs per person, so we are talking about limiting it to 1 x 2-pack per person in order to ensure that more people have the opportunity to enjoy these beers. We’re still not sure what the best method is, but we’ll continue to discuss, debate and do our best to make it better.

To summarize, I would like to apologize in advance for anyone who is upset about the cost and/or availability of Barrel Aged Batch 666 and any of our past or future Sun King Brewery King’s Reserve releases. We are doing the best to continue to operate, grow, hire more people and make the best beer possible, all while sharing it with as many craft beer lovers as we can.


Clay Robinson


Sun King Brewing Company





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