Elysian releases the first beer from its sour program. Kind of.

Yesterday, Elysian Brewing announced the release of the latest beer in its Dick’s Picks series of beers: Knock on Nelson IPA. See the press release below. In a way, this is the first beer to emerge from the company’s fledgling sour beer program. Well, sort of, but not really. Allow me to explain.

Elysian Brewing conditioned Knock on Nelson IPA for several months in one of the two new foeders that will be at the heart of the company’s sour beer program. For the uninitiated, a foeder (pronounced fooder) is a giant oak conditioning vessel. In the beer world, a foeder is most commonly used for the production of sour beer.

What’s a Foeder?

Elysian Brewing Company’s foeders, pictured below, enjoyed a previous life at a winery in California where they were used to age Cabernet Sauvignon. Elysian acquired the foeders about a year ago and began preparing them for action, patiently readying them for their new lives in the beer world. Reportedly, Knock on Nelson IPA picked up some character from the time it spent in the foeder, but it’s an IPA, not a sour beer, so it really isn’t part of the sour beer program. It’s just related.


Foeders are more commonly used by old world breweries in Belgium. In the United States, New Belgium Brewing is the most notable user of foeders, and no visit to that brewery is complete without a walk in the foeder forest, which is nicknamed Cache La Foeder. Literally, they have dozens of foeders—the actual count is 64 foeders.

Foeder vs. Barrel

Barrel-aging beer is a labor intensive proposition. Foeders impart the same flavor characteristics into a beer as barrels, but with less labor and more consistency. Like a barrel, a foeder must be maintained, but it is more efficient to maintain a single foeder compared to 30 individual barrels.  Also, transferring beer into a foeder takes a couple hours, compared to spending all day transferring beer into 30 separate barrels. That aint all, as the beer conditions, the brewer must babysit the beer and it is easier to keep an eye on one foeder compared to 30 separate barrels. (Note that foeders and barrels come in various sizes so my numbers are for illustrative purposes only.)


A corner of New Belgium Brewing's foeder forest. (photo: New Belgium Brewing)
A corner of New Belgium Brewing’s foeder forest. (photo: New Belgium Brewing)

A life of its Own

In a way, a foeder is a living thing and develops its own personality. A couple years ago at a sour beer symposium, I heard Eric Salazar, the sour beer swami at New Belgium Brewing, talk about how they use IPA to tame wild foeders. When one of the foeders gets a bit too uppity and starts to affect beer in an undesirable way, introducing a batch of IPA often mellows things out. Apparently something about the hops’ acidity, or the elevated alcohol content, brings everything back to zero. I suppose you could say that IPA conditions the conditioning tank, which is probably a good thing to do if you want to start making sour beers in a foeder with which you are not yet acquainted.

I don’t know, but I’d bet that’s why Elysian conditioned Knock on Nelson IPA in a foeder. Regardless, now you have learned a new beer term: foeder, pronounced fooder.

Knock on Nelson IPA

Knock on Nelson IPA is a draft-only product, available at all Elysian pubs and wherever else you might happen to find it on tap. Here’s the official press release from Elysian Brewing:

Knock Knock — Who’s There?

Knock on Nelson Wood-Aged IPA

Knock on Nelson, the latest in Elysian’s Dick’s Picks series of favorite old and new beers, has been a long time coming, and for us, like Admiral Nelson himself, it’s a real pioneer. Knock on Nelson is the first beer to be aged in one of the foeders we acquired a year or so ago and have since been prepping for eventual use in our fledgling sour program. Hold on a minute–Knock on Nelson is not a sour beer–it’s a wood-aged IPA–but it has undoubtedly picked up a bit of a tang due to its residence for several months in a wooden tank once used to age the Cabernet Sauvignon of a majorly venerable California winery which for the moment shall remain nameless. We certainly wouldn’t want you to blame them if you don’t like it (though we hope you will).

Like the beers that down the line will be coming from the foeders, Knock on Nelson is a blend. We started with a Nelson Sauvin-heavy IPA of fairly straightforward construction. Pale, Munich and Cara-Vienne malts went into the grist, and then lots of Nelson Sauvin was used to finish and dry hop, and after fermentation into the foeder it went. Then, after several months, as time took its toll and wrought changes on the beer–some soaking into the wood and some evaporating by the slow and inexorable process that is wood aging–we found that some topping up was required. After some taste trials we decided that about 10% Space Dust was just the ticket. The fierce Amarillo and Citra finish brightened up the aged IPA just a bit, combining Northwest citrus fruitiness with the more tropical passion fruit and mango notes of the New Zealand hops.

Knock on Nelson picked up a fair amount of wine character during its time in tanks previously used to age Cabernet, and after the scraping and reconditioning undertaken by cellarmaster Dan-o Beyer, there’s some wood character on display as well. It’s a richness beyond what most IPAs generally show, and the brightness of the hops remind you what element in this beer is boss. It’s already poured at the Portland Winter Beer Festival, but you can check it out in all the Elysian pubs and here and there wherever Elysian beers are distributed.


  1. Perhaps you should undertake a Washington foeder census. I know Holy Mountain has one. I’ve seen lots of barrels around but no other foeders. Are there any others out in the wild yet that we should know about?

  2. Yes, Holy Mountain has one but beyond that, I don’t know who else does. Either that or I’m forgetting. Perhaps people chime-in here.

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