THE DRINK NATION IS A FREE RESOURCE FOR FINDING EVERYTHING AWESOME ABOUT DRINKING IN YOUR LOCATION

A Look at Barrel Aged Beers, With 5 Great Examples

by Helene Golombek on Mar 19, 2012 in Beer
A Look at Barrel Aged Beers, With 5 Great Examples

Modern breweries traditionally use steel or copper tanks to age their brews, but by now, most craft beer drinkers have had a chance to sample a beer that has been aged in wooden barrels instead. Although used historically to great effect in Belgian sours and traditional Lambic and Flanders beers, it was only recently that modern American brewers widely adopted the practice.

One legend begins with Dougal Sharp of Scottish brewery Innis & Gunn. The original Innis & Gunn beer was “born by accident” during a distillery’s quest to create a whisky finished with ale flavors. Sharp created an ale that was stored in the barrels before liquor was placed in them for aging, at which point the beer was discarded.

But, it turns out workers on the distillery floor had been drinking the aged ale, and one day they told Sharp how good it was. Upon discovering that, he quit his job and took a year to perfect this new beer, bringing forth the style of barrel-aged beer.

It’s a good story, but the fact is that some U.S. breweries had already begun this practice, such as Goose Island, which brewed the first batch of its barrel-aged Bourbon County Stout in 1992.

However the trend began, more and more brewers are becoming enamored with the flavors and nuance that comes from aging in wine, bourbon, whiskey or even sake barrels. These days, barrel-aged offerings come from companies as large Budweiser, from large craft breweries like Samuel Adams and from micro-brewpubs like Baltimore’s Oliver Breweries.

Stouts, dopplebocks, and barleywines are typical candidates for barrel aging, because their malt character stands up nicely against the strong flavors oak barrels usually exhibit. Here we take a look at some classic examples of the style.

Bourbon County Stout: As mentioned above, Chicago’s Goose Island first brewed this big stout (14.5% ABV) back in 1992. It pours “as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel,” according to the brewery’s web site. Even better “one sip has more flavor than your average case of beer.”

Black Note Stout: This stout brewed by Bell’s Brewery in Michigan comes in at 11.5% ABV. It’s the blend of an Expedition Stout and Double Cream Stout (how can it be bad?), aged in freshly retired oak bourbon barrels for months. The result is malty notes of dark chocolate, espresso, and dried fruits.

The Angel’s Share: As a personal side note, this was the first bourbon barrel-aged beer I ever tried. The name comes from the tradition of whiskey distillers who refer to the evaporation of spirits from their barrels as “The Angel’s Share”. This Strong Ale (12.5%) from California’s Lost Abbey ages for a year in oak barrels (bourbon or brandy) before being let loose on the world.

Curieux: To make Curieux, Allagash takes their Triple Ale and ages it for eight weeks in a cold Maine cellar in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. They then mix the aged beer with a portion of fresh Triple. The result? A big, 11% ABV beauty that tastes of vanilla, sweet fruit, and, of course, bourbon.

Calabaza Blanca: Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin ages all its beers in oak barrels. They believe that “this contact with the wood gives beers unmatched depth of character, and subtleness of flavor.” The Calabaza Blanca, a Belgian Biere Blanche, is aged in oak barrels and subsequently refermented in the bottle. Coming in at just 4.8% ABV, this is one of the lowest alcohol barrel-aged beers I found. It has been described as refreshing, with earthy, funky, sour flavors and taste.

Top photo via Flickr user kingfishpies

Recent Articles

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
Things No One Asked For: Prosecco-Flavored Nail Polish

Things No One Asked For: Prosecco-Flavored Nail Polish

If you're the kind of alcoholic who needs to have booze on your person at all times, Groupon has just the product for you: prosecco-flavored nail poli...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Mar 22, 2017
The Sobro Refrigerator Coffee Table Means You Never Need to Get Up Again

The Sobro Refrigerator Coffee Table Means You Never Need to Get Up Again

A recent IndieGoGo campaign has resulted in a coffee table with everything you could want: the Sobro Refrigera...read more ›

by Alexander Frane Mar 22, 2017
Cold Brew Hard Coffee is Coming to Stores in May

Cold Brew Hard Coffee is Coming to Stores in May

Soon, you'll be able to enjoy cold brew coffee with the alcohol percentage of a strong beer with Bad Larry's Cold Hard Coffee. ...read more ›

by Alexander Frane Mar 17, 2017
SPONSORED
Budweiser Wants to Be the First Beer Consumed on Mars

Budweiser Wants to Be the First Beer Consumed on Mars

In what is undoubtedly the company's latest publicity stunt, Budweiser announced Saturday, March 11 at SXSW in Austin, Texas that they are looking int...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Mar 16, 2017
BrewDog's Latest Project is a Crowdfunded Craft Beer Hotel

BrewDog's Latest Project is a Crowdfunded Craft Beer Hotel

The publicly owned Scottish brewery announced their plans to crowdfund a craft beer hotel, called the "Dog House" via Indiegogo less than week ago. ...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Mar 8, 2017
Appleton Estate Celebrates 20 Years with Joy Spence

Appleton Estate Celebrates 20 Years with Joy Spence

Appleton Estate, the Jamaican rum label, is celebrating 20 years with its master distiller Joy Spence this year....read more ›

by Alexander Frane Mar 7, 2017
Guinness is Releasing Its Own Irish Whiskey

Guinness is Releasing Its Own Irish Whiskey

Guinness is getting into the Irish whiskey gave with Roe & Co, a blended Irish whiskey....read more ›

by Alexander Frane Feb 28, 2017
Channing Tatum is Starting His Own Line of Vodka

Channing Tatum is Starting His Own Line of Vodka

As if watching Magic Mike over and over again wasn't already good enough, Channing Tatum is gracing the world yet again, this time with his own line o...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Feb 28, 2017
Zima is Coming Back, and it's Zomething We Didn't Miss

Zima is Coming Back, and it's Zomething We Didn't Miss

Miller-Coors announced that Zima - which was originally discontinued in 2008 - will be buddying up (probably briefly) with its lineup of Henry's Hard ...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Feb 28, 2017
Pappy Van Winkle is Releasing a 25-Year-Old Bourbon

Pappy Van Winkle is Releasing a 25-Year-Old Bourbon

The holy grail of whiskies, Pappy van Winkle, is producing a new and extremely limited edition 25-year old version of its famously hard-to-get bourbon...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Feb 28, 2017
SPONSORED
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close