El Catador Club: Past, Present, and Future
Established in 2013, the goal of the El Catador Barrel-aged Beer Club is to foster a community of beer lovers who appreciate our most ambitious and interesting brewing projects. We are vigilant about quality first and foremost, and every El Catador release is one we are proud of; we hope that our members consider each bottle a world-class beer. Cigar City Brewing is growing, and we are pushing the limits of our capacity, but the El Catador Club remains a top priority as do its members.
Those who have been with us since the inception of Club #1 have seen our strides in consistently trying to improve processes for sign-up, bottle pick-ups, trustee assignments and nearly every other thing we can think of to make this club a success! No two clubs have been exactly the same, just as no two beers have been.
Every step of the production process in creating barrel-aged beers is an exercise in patience and balance. We are currently producing as much beer as we can at our brewery in Tampa, meaning production of our year-round beers like Jai Alai and Guayabera do have a direct impact on our ability to produce seasonal, specialty, and barrel-aged projects. However, this never impacts the quality of our club beers, only the timing of their release. Our production team works extremely hard on new barrel-aged projects and it’s not as easy as scheduling a single, small batch of beer like you may see in our Spruce Street Taproom; there needs to be enough beer to supply the entire club and have some wiggle room for unplanned circumstances like spillage, failed barrels, and other minor catastrophes — all the things that make Cigar City Brewing a true craft brewery!
Once the beer has been produced and transferred to barrels, a variety of factors can contribute to the speed (or lack thereof) that a barrel-aged beer will be ready to bottle. The condition of the barrels when we acquire them varies from strong, clean, and wet to leaky, dirty, and dry.
- A barrel that’s been emptied of a wine or spirit very recently will be able to hold beer much more quickly than an older barrel that will require cleaning or rehydrating and will impart spirit character much more quickly.
- The temperature and humidity of the environment where barrels are stored is critical to the speed of barrel aging and with our current barrel storage area, we are certainly at the whim of our Florida climate.
- Finally, the ability for wood to harbor beer spoiling organisms like brettanomyces, wild saccharomyces, lactobacillus, pediococcus, and acetobacter also make wood-aged beer fraught with danger. Unfortunate run-ins with each of these organisms can ruin very promising beers.
Once the beer is in barrels, we are essentially at the whim of the beers. Sometimes we find that the wood and spirit character that we’re looking for from a barrel is present in a few weeks, sometimes it can take several months. Frequent tasting panels are conducted to monitor the progress of these barrel-aged beers and though we try to anticipate how quickly different beers will mature, we find over and over again that “the beer is ready when the beer is ready,” to quote Brewmaster Wayne Wambles.
As a result of all of these colluding elements, we’ve always been hesitant to set any guarantees on club timeline. However, our goal moving forward is to release seven unique barrel-aged beers for our El Catador Club members. We are confident this goal is attainable, but as the information above indicated, the process is tricky! So this is indeed a goal, not a guarantee.
What else can you expect from the El Catador Club? More ambitious beer projects, more El Catador Club exclusive events, more improvements to our online portal and in-person pick-up processes. We’ve always aimed to create a barrel-aged beer club that we ourselves would like to be a part of, and that means constantly evaluating our processes and procedures. If something is going to make El Catador Club membership a better, more valuable experience, we’ll try and make it happen.