Since opening in 2015, Second Chance Beer Company co-founders Curtis Hawes, Marty Mendiola, and Virginia Morrison have focused on “crafting traditional and innovative beers of the highest quality”. From their award-winning Tabula Rasa porter to one of my personal favorite Extra Pale Ales, they’ve pretty much nailed it.
That dedication to restrained, yet bold brews is poised to continue into their latest venture. Dubbed “The Barrel Experience”, Second Chance is finally ready to release their assortment of barrel-aged products — some of which have been aging since their opening three years ago.
The first release, called “Journey #1”, is a 10.7% ABV imperial s’more oatmeal stout aged for 22 months in a bourbon barrel and finished with cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, lactose, graham crackers, and cinnamon sticks. Each bottle was hand-filled, hand-capped, and even hand-labeled, a venture Morrison laughingly calls “a labor of love”. Only 80 bottles were made and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis starting on December 15 exclusively at their Carmel Mountain Ranch and North Park locations.
Although The Barrel Experience barrels have housed everything from rum to whiskey to Pinot Noir, Morrison plans to amp up the wine barrel aspect of the program and promises that blending and infusions will be a big part of future releases. Always one to buck the trends, Second Chance is pushing the term “dessert darks” rather than “pastry stouts” (but I have a feeling even sweet-toothed sippers will find themselves imbibing in the high ABV options).
Despite being a veteran of the brewing industry, Mendiola is open to tweaking his recipes based on feedback to ensure only the highest quality products earn the Second Chance name. That’s why in early December, a gaggle of industry folk gathered in Carmel Mountain Ranch to taste, assess, and provide criticism on potential future Barrel Experience releases on everything from mouthfeel to the label and even the bottle logo.
Only after the notes were collected were the beers revealed: a 10.7% ABV “Pecan Pancakes” imperial oatmeal stout aged 22 months in bourbon barrels with toasted pecans, toasted coconut, and Vermont maple syrup, as well as two beers aged in barrels that were transferred to kegs over a year ago. Those included Tabula Rasa Toasted Porter aged for one year in a Pinot Noir barrel and Second Chance’s Scotch ale aged for one year in a bourbon barrel.
This type of transparent discussion is relatively rare, but can provide a competitive edge that’s becoming more crucial for brewery longevity. As more and more breweries close, it’s clear that churning out merely tasty beer in the Capital of Craft is far from good enough nowadays. The Barrel Experience already has some stiff competition in the barrel-aged and blended beer market, but armed with expert feedback and a demonstrated ability to be patient, Second Chance has everything it needs to make The Barrel Experience a great experience.